Sep 9, 2010

Is your email marketing human?

loveI was reading this article on Mashable:

A World Without Email: One Man’s Vision of a Social Workplace

about Luis Suarez, who works remotely for IBM (in the Canary Islands!), and who has used social media to reduce 90% of the email in his inbox. It’s not a doom-and-gloom, "email is dead" kind of story. He basically gives common sense advice about how you don’t have to use email for everything for Pete’s sake. For example, let’s share files on intranets, not our inboxes. Let’s update each other using twitter, or if you’re at work, yammer. Share your funny YouTube clips on Facebook, please. Just keep as much junk out of the inbox as you can, but keep the personal, human communications that you truly care about.

Look closely at some of his advice on how to get to inbox nirvana. I can’t help but compare his advice to what’s happening with Gmail Priority and Hotmail’s Sweep feature

1. Don’t Reply

First of all, Luis says that if you want to train people to stop sending you email, stop replying to them.

Gmail and Hotmail look at emails that you reply to, and considers them important. Senders that never get replied to may get swept into junk, or some other nether region of the inbox.

2. Study Your Inbox

Luis says to evaluate the "personal interactions" taking place in your inbox. Classify stuff into groups like "family & friends," and "Q&A" and "newsletters."

Gmail suggests they can automatically prioritize emails from your close friends, while those pesky "special offers" from corporations will get the secret-trap-door-treatment:

Fun clip from Gmail Priority Inbox video (don't be annoying)

Hotmail posted some fascinating reserach on how people use email (note the "communicate with family" vs. "communicate with friend" vs. "communicate with a company"):

from Email in a world of social networking - Microsoft Inside Windows Live Blog

from "Email in a world of social networking" - Microsoft Inside Windows Live Blog

Then Hotmail built their "sweep" tool to automatically sort your emails appropriately.  Airline ticket emails go into one folder, shared photos into another, Office documents into another, social notifications into another, and so on.

3. Unsubscribe

Luis suggests that you look at these different groups, and start weening those interactions out of the inbox. If you get too many Q&As, start a blog and publish what you know there. Unsubscribe from email newsletters that you never read, and follow those businesses on Twitter or Facebook instead. Hmm, have you customized your unsubscribe forms with links to your twitter and facebook pages?

Better yet, try to make your emails more human and engaging, so people think of you more as a friend, instead of some annoying marketer.

Changing Expectations?

The Social Web is changing all our expectations (for anyone who just rolled their eyes at me, I highly recommend clicking that link and reading the research). We want more personal, useful interactions. That’s the future of email (Microsoft and Google seem to think so). Then again, it’s kinda what email was designed for in the first place:

“We will still have e-mail in ten years,” says Suarez. “I don’t want to kill all e-mail, but I want to help people re-purpose it. We will see traditional tools like e-mail redesigned to be used for what it was originally designed for.”

Fun email history lessons here and here.

How can we make email marketing more human?

That’s a question we’re asking a lot lately at MailChimp. We just barely started scratching the surface with our recent launch of Social Pro. It syncs your email marketing list with the social graph, so you can see who you’re talking to and learn more about your subscribers. Have you looked at the faces in your list’s member profiles lately? If a member has a gravatar, we’ll include it. If you have Social Pro enabled, we’ll pull their avatar from Twitter or Facebook.

Seeing who you’re talking to changes the way you look at that database. They’re not records. They’re humans:

We’ve always told people, "If you don’t have anything useful to say, don’t send."

But when you do send, being human is more important than ever. Because now, the machines are watching us.

More On Being Human:

More on Gmail and Hotmail: