Before social network sites like Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and Twitter became household names around the world, it was good old-fashioned email that connected us all. Instead of the quick 140-character Twitter update or Facebook status update, you'd type a few paragraphs about your week or your day and send to a group of your closest friends via email. Then the Reply All option was used over and over and everybody was officially updated and connected. In the business world, the growth of email marketing exploded as companies realized the instantaneous messaging to customers, prospects and the general public was incredibly cost-effective compared to the magazine or TV ad they had previously purchased. It was also a new way to segment and target specific audiences with very personal and meaningful messages.

Email marketing continues today as a very important piece to most businesses' marketing arsenal – if used the right way.

However, the landscape has changed a bit with the popularity of the social media sites mentioned above. And it's changing email marketing from a 'direct response' and 'top-down communication' tool to more of an engagement and sharable piece of communication between companies and the public.

Before, with traditional tactics, companies PUSHED the message on their customers, and then with the growth of search marketing, paid search and blogging companies were PULLING their customers into the message. Now, by engaging and sharing information across networks, those PUSH and PULL tactics should change to into more of a CONVERSATION participant.

By building email marketing pieces with 'Forward to a Friend' options and Facebook Share buttons and/or Twitter links, companies can make it easy for their audience to pass it on. So, instead of ending up buried in the inbox of one person, they have the ability to forward it to their circle of friends and contacts because the message is compelling and engaging – not just an advertisement or promotion.

Some tips to remember:

  • Brands were once defined in a board room of people wearing expensive suits – today brands are shaped and molded in the marketplace through social dialogue.
  • The corporate executives don't have as much control as in the past with their brands unless they are deeply involved in that dialogue.
  • Instead of focus groups and surveys, social media and email marketing strategies allow for immediate and constant 24/7 insight into what people think about your brand or products. The web never sleeps and thoughts and opinions can spread faster than ever because of it.
  • By making your message worthy enough to share amongst friends and contacts, companies can show their relevancy to the times and build trust between them and their customers.
  • The long newsletter style is a thing of the past now that the social dialogue is the accepted way of the world. Write your message similar to how we talk to each other.
  • Continuously monitor what's being said about your brand and your competitors – don't end up surprised.
  • And finally, when using the Shared Links and Icons that come with Facebook, LinkedIn and Digg, place those pieces prominently on your email messages. This can be tested over time to find the most effective location and stick with it.