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Social Media vs. Email Frequency: How Much is Too Much?

by Karen Talavera

07 19, 2011 | Posted in Email Marketing, Messaging Strategy, Social Media, Twitter | 0 comments

Social Media vs. Email Frequency

photo credit: katerha

This question was recently posed in a private online marketing group I belong to called Only Influencers: “If I can tweet five times a day, why can’t I email five times a day?”

Keep in mind Only Influencers is an invitation-only group of highly experienced and savvy digital marketers (most of the industry’s “big names” in email already belong) from established and well-known brands, so they were not flippantly, but seriously, pondering the messaging norms we’ve come to think of as “acceptable” in different online marketing channels.  The question and the depth of discussion around it made me think, Why can’t we? And if we can’t or don’t or won’t, why not?

Here’s my take on the question. I’d love to hear yours too so please share it in comments below.

I’m all for greater email frequency when it’s relevant and useful to recipients at least as much as to marketers.  However, there are obvious fundamental differences between email and social media: the two that relate most to this question are1) the differences in how people interact with email vs. social media, and 2) their expectations of messaging in each medium.

When it comes to the average inbox, most people still feel compelled to process every email message that arrives in their inbox. This “processing” can be a quick skim of message subject lines in order to decide what to open and read vs. delete. It might also be to check various folders at different intervals, as many inbox owners auto-route different types of email (or email from different senders) to different folders. Whatever the message triage process, every message is at least glanced at and accounted for in the average inbox, even if it’s for a swift move to the junk bin.

Not so with social media.  Twitter and Facebook are point-in-time communication streams much more than email is. I don’t think most people expect to read every wall post from every single friend in Facebook, or every Tweet from those they follow on Twitter.  (Those that try quickly find their eyes glued to a screen sixteen hours a day). Rather, because our eyes need to be other places, like on the road or watching the kids or, say, closed when sleeping, people logically jump in and out of these networks when they have time or are specifically prompted.

The bottom line: there’s a great sense of spontaneity in social media whereas there is still a sense of obligation centered around email.

All of which means it makes perfect sense to have high frequency and even intentional redundancy in your social media messaging because one can safely assume the average social media friend/follower won’t see all – or even close to all – of your status updates, only a fraction of them.  You want to catch people while they’re in the social network interface, knowing that will be different times for different people and that if you don’t catch them while they’re there they likely will not see your previous or subsequent communications ever.

With email on the other hand, repetition and high frequency is much more noticed and if not relevant, HIGHLY irritating, because once people do get around to checking their inbox ALL of your communications are there waiting for them in one place.  They’ll see the entire chronological stream so if you’re repeating messages without relevancy, they won’t understand why because there’s nothing in it for them.

While I recognize there is value in frequency from a brand impression and recall standpoint (meaning even being in the inbox with substantially the same message multiple times can boost brand recognition), if you’re planning on increasing email frequency, at least consider a creative tactic such as a sequence that tells a story or breaks a topic into shorter more frequent messages and relevantly justifies why you’re sending more often.  People enjoy connecting the dots and will follow a series to its conclusion, but don’t appreciate being beat over the head with boring redundant messages repeatedly.

The real question may not be why you can’t email five times a day, but this: What do you have to email that warrants it?

In other words, how do you justify your email frequency? Have you tested it to the point of diminishing returns in response and an increase in unsubscribes? Do you maintain low frequency in fear of complaints or high frequency in the face of them? Is every email you send useful and relevant, or repetitive and self-serving? These are worthy questions deserving exploration. I encourage you to give them serious thought, or put some solid tests into place to prove or disprove your assumptions.

If you’re a business owner, marketer, agency or consultant interested in joining Only Influencers and posing questions and discussions there, tell me in comments below if you’d like to be nominated and why (but first, it pays to read the qualifications for membership here).  If you’re a social media marketer there is currently a free six month trial membership available. The group is invite-only and the membership investment is (a well worth it) $20 per month or $200 a year.

Creative Commons License photo credit: katerha

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