While many b-to-c marketers have become enamored of social networks, they tend to focus on using them as amplification for their communications platforms while ignoring the value of the data that these networks create. B-to-b marketers, however, can't always depend on social networks for their viral capabilities. (How many people, for instance, want to tell their friends about the latest news in, say, industrial cooling fans?) As a result, the data that these networks generate become all the more important.
Make no mistake: social networks generate data just as any other targeted communication channel generates data. In turn, just as marketers can develop insights from email, call center, point-of-sale or direct mail data, so, too, can they develop insights from social network data.
At the highest level, social network data give marketers a minute-by-minute read on what their audiences find interesting. Tabulations of "retweets" or "likes" by consumers give a raw look at what elements of your offering resonate with your customers and prospects at any given moment. Marketers can use these data to help develop email editorial calendars. After all, if the audience engages with a given topic in social media, it's a safe bet that they will engage with it in email as well.
At a more detailed level, marketers can learn more about the nature of their audiences based on social network data. Many platforms, including Facebook and LinkedIn, allow approved users to get access to selected demographic information of their users. Marketers can employ these demographic data to create some richness to data they may already have.
For instance, social network users may differ in some key respects from a marketer's customer base—they may tend to come from one section of the country or from one industry, for instance. As above, marketers can use these data to help program their emails. As an example, let's say that customers who connect with the marketer via social networks disproportionately work in the retail industry. The marketer could then test including more retail-focused content and offers in its emails and learn from the change in response.
In short, a close examination of social networking data can help email marketers keep a close eye on what their customers and prospects find important.
Kara Trivunovic is global director-strategy, StrongMail (www.strongmail.com), a provider of online marketing solutions for email and social media.