What Social Media Knows That Broadcast Email Must Figure Out

Conversation Clip Art
©Clay Sinclair

Social Media is the digital equivalent of having a really smart and cocky younger sibling. Everything he does seems to overshadow the rest of the family… and it’s all stuff the older kids did (maybe half as well) years and years ago. The older kids, in this overly extended metaphor, are of course the Web and Broadcast Email.

The oldest child is of course the Web. Producing a website takes writing skills, a tremendous amount of design skill, and if you are lucky, a large chunk of coding skill (although coding seems to be the least invested in). The web has to be “rebuilt’ every 3-5 years, and someone needs to own a long term vision for how it will be received by not only end users, but internal stakeholders, peers, bosses, business partners, and the list goes on and on.  Running a university’s website is a full time job for three or more people, and to do it well you need five or more.

The middle child, in this scenario, is Broadcast Email (we don’t call them Blasts because that’s tacky). Building, curating, cultivating, and data mining lists is the difficult background work, and it largely goes undone. It’s just plain easier to send everyone everything. Segmentation is possible, but the more segmentation the more extra work is created, and a disincentive springs up around innovation and creativity. Most Broadcast Email strategies are centered around speaking loudly in one direction to fill the business needs of a unit or program. Users are almost never considered during planning – other than how they can become ticket buyers, donors, participants.

Social media on the other hand, has decided to start having conversations with audiences (Novel, I know). And so much like a younger sibling, most social media managers don’t have a long history of trying, and failing and trying all over again at technical and design tasks that, at times, seem as large as painting the ocean. I’m thinking pre-CMS, pre-CSS… No, instead they have dashboards, vendor tools, built in analytics and reporting. No grinding of teeth to get something to align 255 pixels right of center.

So sure, social media get’s picked on. But most of what social is doing (timely posts, audience interaction, measuring ROI in near real time) are things both Web and Broadcast Email can learn a lot from.

Like listening and responding to an audience. Does your email strategy include answering every question generated by your last email send? Are you soliciting a two-way conversation directly within the copy and designs you send out? Are you trying to generate engagement *and* awareness? Your social media manager is. And social media is eating your lunch broadcast email. You better hurry up and figure out how to create relevancy before the your audience tunes you out for good.

This blog post came out of planning for a lunch and learn being held at University Communications’ South Campus Gateway offices later this month. If it goes well, and is well received, i.e. adds value for folks, I’ll turn it into a UC Academy session.