Answer: RSS and social media have some very important characteristics that marketers should be paying attention to—selected, organized content and delivery from a trusted resource. Sure, you can sign up for an e-mail marketing newsletter, but it can be widely impersonal and is delivered among the clutter of everything else in your in-box.
Not too dissimilar to e-mail—at least e-mail that is delivered based on user preferences—RSS allows people to select the content categories that interest them. But, unlike e-mail, users select and deselect at the drop of a hat what content they wish to be alerted to. There's no spam, and content is easily sorted. Users personally determine the frequency with which they review their feeds.
Social networking sites use a wide variety of formats, from glitzy sites such as MySpace to business networking sites like LinkedIn. While not currently a strong business marketing tool, Facebook is a great indicator of the direction social networking is taking. This phenomenon began as a tool for networking college students, then added high schoolers and eventually branched into workplace and regional networks.
For many, Facebook is the method of choice for sending party invitations, making announcements and communicating in general with their groups. Facebook recently made the decision to offer Craigslist-style listings, with items that are directly relevant to users' groups.
Less ambitious in scope than Facebook and more targeted to business users, LinkedIn provides a way to keep track of your extended network. Now, updating your college about your new job no longer requires an e-mail, only an update to your LinkedIn profile.
So what does this mean to e-mail marketers?
As users increasingly adopt alternative means to convey and receive important information, their use of e-mail itself will decline, inevitably reducing the efficacy of e-mail marketing campaigns. Allowing users to select how they receive content will mean a stronger likelihood that messages perceived as important will be seen and acted on.
Does this mean e-mail is dying?
Not at all. E-mail will always have its place as a business tool. E-mail marketing programs in the future will have a very strong CRM focus, with messages being sent to highly targeted, loyal subscriber bases.
Raghu Kakarala is VP-strategy and strategic partnerships for Spunlogic (www.spunlogic.com), an interactive marketing agency.