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The convergence of online connectivity, social media and mobile devices has changed the relationship between audiences and creators - or should that be consumers and marketers? Researcher Mark Bonchek identifies six major shifts in social dynamics:
1. Media: From Audience to Community
2. Individuals: From Consumer to Co-Creator
3. Brands: From Push to Pull
4. Organisations: From Hierarchies to Networks
5. Markets: From Products to Platforms
6. Leadership: From Control to Empower
It’s the first three that we’re interested in there, which highlight the fact that marketing, and business in general, is no longer a one-way street.
The traditional interpretation of a marketing email is a message ‘to’ someone, but it can be the start of a conversation. And that conversation can, in turn, lead to some original, audience-led content.
The new relationship
Email marketers aren’t addressing disparate and passive individuals - they’re talking to an active community. This network of peers shares opinions, which create brand loyalty and consumer resistance. The consumer community doesn’t want to be told what to read, do, buy or say, and it’s vocal about that - so why not listen to those voices and let them create content for you?
How does that work?
The key is to change the way in which you think about email. Rather than a one-way invitation into a transaction, email marketing should encourage a dialogue between you and your subscribers. They’ve signed up for information, they’re engaged with your business, and they want something different to the social media subscribers for whom your content is just another brick in their wall.
Since you have a way of communicating directly with them, on an individual basis, you can ask them more developed questions. Ask them for quotes on a subject and write a piece using them. Invite them to write for your newsletter, maybe offering a reward. Open submission windows for images and use them to illustrate your content.
Lest it be thought that we’re all talk and no trousers: Marc’s ‘On The Winbox’ video series is delivered by email and by social media, and encourages readers to email in their own questions to be answered next time. It’s collaborative content that builds on the commitment our email subscribers have made by signing up.
What’s the payoff?
For your subscribers, it means reading stories from real people, not just transactional emails produced by a company. There’s the pride of being featured in a newsletter; promotion for their own endeavours if they’re in business themselves; and a sense that their opinions matter to you. They’ve been consulted by a business with which they do business - they gained something from subscribing to that mailing list.
For you, it means less time spent creating content. It means more variety, as you’re drawing on perspectives and vocabularies that aren’t your own. It means promotion beyond your subscriber base, as subscribers whose content is featured in an email are bound to share it around. Overall, it means a happier and more engaged subscriber base, who feel listened to and included in your business. And most of all, it means more conversions - consumers trust consumer content, twelve times more than they trust anything a company’s sent them.
Co-creation may feel unnerving - like you’re giving up control of your marketing to the people you’re marketing to - but that’s an illusion. You’re inviting the contributions and deciding what to feature - you decide what makes it to the readers. Both you and your subscribers have a lot to gain.