The From Line

Sending, Managing & Monetizing Email

RSS to Email & Automated Message Assembly

When most people think of mashups and automation with regards to email marketing, the thought of data sharing and intertwined applications usually come to mind.  However, these terms can easily apply to messages even though most email marketers rarely take advantage of such mashup technologies.  In fact, a large portion of email marketing budgets and time are spent performing message assembly and managing content.  Dynamic content features have helped to alleviate some of the complexities of message assembly but it falls short in bridging the gap between desperate content sources and precision timing for delivery.  This is one of the reasons why SMS and Twitter have cannibalized some of email's footprint for mobile delivery of commercial messages. 

The answer to help unwind some of the vagaries of message assembly is incorporating RSS feeds into email messages.  This process is somewhat ironic since a few years ago RSS pundits were pronouncing the death of commercial email with the medium's popularity.   Sad for them however, RSS never took off as they had hoped and marketers never took too much stock in the medium's ability to capture eyeballs.   Yet RSS as a delivery medium on the wholesale side of email marketing provides much promise that has been overlooked.

Web Publishing to Email

Many email newsletters today are comprised of articles from a website with four or five line teasers and a link back to the actual article.  With the simple incorporation of an RSS feed to a pre-defined template, an email marketer can save countless hours cutting, pasting and configuring text automating the majority of the message assembly process.  The RSS feed not only includes text but can also include images as well as the "Read more..." link.

Web Publishing from Multiple Sources

For the email marketer that needs to work with multiple web sources the same thing can be done as with a single source.  An example of this is the Smart Brief news updates provided by many trade associations that compile news and information from a number of sources.  As valuable as this service is, it is simply a daily compilation of RSS feeds from different news sources delivered via email.

Automated Item Stock and Price Alerts

Some very large retailers who provide automated item stock and price alerts from their website have laboriously spent hundreds of programming hours to provide this service.  Using a simple RSS to email feed, a small or mid-sized retailer can easily affordably provide an automated email updates to subscribers every time a hot item is in stock or there has been a price drop. 

Redistributing Social Media and Web 2.0

In addition to RSS feeds from websites, you can include Twitter and other types of social media feeds with automated timed delivery as soon as the feeds are updated.  This process helps to reach parts of your subscriber base that's not always in the social media loop.  Aside from Twitter updates, you can also automate the inclusion of blog and feedback content using an RSS to email process widening their reach and saving you time during the message assembly process.

For all the great things RSS has to offer, its lack of market penetration and end user understandability prevents it from being relied on as a true marketing medium. However, from the examples above there's a big place for RSS in the email world and the technology can be vital component for automated content assembly.  Just about all content management systems (CMS), blog software and social media accounts come with some sort of RSS or XML feed so half of your message automation battle is already won.   Now you just need to get it into your email.

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Q&A: What is Social Media Marketing and Why Should You Use It?

What is social media marketing (SMM)?
Social Media Marketing or SMM is the ability to successfully create dialogs with existing and new customers through social media networks such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Flickr.  Successful dialogs are created by identifying and reaching out to influencers – people who regularly share content and opinions. Continued personal engagement and targeted content with influencers are the biggest challenges with Social Media Marketing.

Why should I have a SMM strategy?
Since marketers love to have reasoning backed by statistics below are Facebook’s most recent stats for your reference:

       General Growth

  • More than 250 million active users
  • More than 120 million users log on to Facebook at least once each day
  • More than two-thirds of Facebook users are outside of college
  • The fastest growing demographic is those 35 years old and older

    User Engagement
  • Average user has 120 friends on the site
  • More than 5 billion minutes are spent on Facebook each day (worldwide)
  • More than 30 million users update their statuses at least once each day
  • More than 8 million users become fans of pages each day

    Applications
  • More than 1 billion photos uploaded to the site each month
  • More than 10 million videos uploaded each month
  • More than 1 billion pieces of content (web links, news stories, blog posts, notes, photos, etc.) shared each week
  • More than 2.5 million events created each month
  • More than 45 million active user groups exist on the site

    International Growth
  • More than 50 translations available on the site, with more than 40 in development
  • About 70% of Facebook users are outside the United States

    Platform
  • More than one million developers and entrepreneurs from more than 180 countries
  • Every month, more than 70% of Facebook users engage with Platform applications
  • More than 350,000 active applications currently on Facebook Platform
  • More than 200 applications have more than one million monthly active users
  • More than 15,000 websites, devices and applications have implemented Facebook Connect since its general availability in December 2008

    Mobile
  • There are more than 30 million active users currently accessing Facebook through their mobile devices.
  • People that use Facebook on their mobile devices are almost 50% more active on Facebook than non-mobile users.
  • There are more than 150 mobile operators in 50 countries working to deploy and promote Facebook mobile products

 

Even thought these impressive stats are just for Facebook the growth trends, engagement and generational penetration are not limited to Facebook alone.  There are hundreds of other social media sites and your customers are there, somewhere.


How can I develop a SMM strategy?
Just as with any emerging marketing techniques mastery comes from education, patience and a lot of trial and error.  Any successful marketing strategy involves goal and objective setting and social media is no different.  Once you’re secure with your objectives you will not only need to do research as to which social media sites your customers use, but if they will be receptive to creating a dialog with you via these sites.  For example, if you’re a B2B company with an objective to do lead generation, there may be a number of prospects that don’t want to hear from you via Facebook because they consider it more for social communication amongst close friends however would be more receptive to hearing from you through a business site such as LinkedIn.  

After determining the proper social media outlets content should be created, tagged and linked specifically for your social media strategy.  For example, if you send an email newsletter with multiple stories, a social media sharing link should be created for each story, not just the entire newsletter.  This makes the sharing of the exact content easy and seamless to the end user instead of putting additional obstacles to subscribers.  Once you start to receive feedback you’re your campaigns you will notice a certain group of people who consistently click on the share links to pass your content to their friends.  These people are the influencers and it’s important to develop an entirely different strategy of communicating with them once they are identified. 

What do I have to do to implement SMM into my emails?

Implementation is very simple. In eLoop it’s a simple three step process which takes about a minute..

Most important is your strategy.  This is the key to your SMM success. When devising your strategy, think about your end goals.  Perhaps you are promoting an event, encouraging an action, or simply just providing valuable information. Each of these tactics takes a slightly different approach.  However, the one component that is similar to all is that you want to make it exciting! There is no point in posting dull and boring information to Facebook or Twitter.  Give them something to talk about, post about or tweet about!

Once your SMM is included in your email, you must TEST, TEST, TEST! You have put a lot of brainpower and elbow grease into your strategy and the last thing that you want is for a mishap to be posted all over the social media marketplace.

What is the “Add This” feature in eLoop?
Gold Lasso has partnered with AddThis, the #1 bookmarking and sharing button on the Internet.  We chose AddThis because of its ease of use for our clients, it’s quick setup and it’s transparency with eLoop.  The AddThis button can easily be integrated in to your email marketing efforts after a quick less than a minute setup.  Once setup, you can include a preset button of your choice or a custom button that you can design.  eLoop gives you four choices on what to post using your button.  The most common usage is to link to the current message that you are sending out.  We also offer the ability to link to another message in eLoop, a link to a website, or a link to a Data Collection page in eLoop.

When recipients receive the message, they can click on the button and post your link to more than 50 social media sharing sites.   This will help to drive your message home by letting your recipients help to pass the word along.

To help with your Social Media Marketing efforts, you will now see that social media is reflective in your eLoop reporting.  You can measure the amount of clicks on your AddThis button in the Campaign Reporting section within eLoop.  For more detailed analytics, you can use your AddThis username and password that you created during the setup process and login to AddThis’s website.  From there you can measure sharing trends, top content, top services and much more.  In the future we will be integrating this valuable information in with your eLoop account.

If you are interested in developing a SMM strategy or have questions regarding implementation, please contact your Gold Lasso Account Manager at 301.990.9857 or via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Message Mashups and Automated Assembly

When most people think of mashups and automation with regards to email marketing, the thought of data sharing and intertwined applications usually come to mind.  However, these terms can easily apply to messages even though most email marketers rarely take advantage of such mashup technologies.  In fact, a large portion of email marketing budgets and time are spent performing message assembly and managing content.  Dynamic content features have helped to alleviate some of the complexities of message assembly but it falls short in bridging the gap between desperate content sources and precision timing for delivery.  This is one of the reasons why SMS and Twitter have usurped email for mobile delivery of commercial messages.  

The answer to help unwind some of the vagaries of message assembly is incorporating RSS feeds into email messages.  This process is somewhat ironic since a few years ago RSS pundits were pronouncing the death of commercial email with the medium’s popularity.   Sad for them however, RSS never took off as they had hoped and marketers never took too much stock in the medium’s ability to capture eyeballs.   Yet RSS as a delivery medium on the wholesale side of email marketing provides much promise that has been overlooked over the years.

Web Publishing to Email

Many email newsletters today are comprised of articles from a website with four or five line teasers and a link back to the actual article.  With the simple incorporation of an RSS feed to a pre-defined template, an email marketer can save countless hours cutting, pasting and configuring text automating the majority of the message assembly process.  The RSS feed not only includes text but can also include images as well as the “Read more…” link.

Web Publishing from Multiple Sources

For the email marketer that needs to work with multiple web sources the same thing can be done as with a single source.  An example of this is the Smart Brief news updates provided by many trade associations that compile news and information from a number of sources.  As valuable as this service is, it is simply a daily compilation of RSS feeds from different news sources delivered via email.

Automated Item Stock and Price Alerts

Some very large retailers who provide automated item stock and price alerts from their website have laboriously spent hundreds of programming hours to provide this service.  Using a simple RSS to email feed, a small or mid-sized retailer can easily and affordably provide an automated email update to subscribers every time a hot item is in stock or there has been a price drop.  

Redistributing Social Media and Web 2.0

In addition to RSS feeds from websites, you can include Twitter and other types of social media feeds with automated timed delivery as soon as the feeds are updated.  This process helps to reach parts of your subscriber base that’s not always in the social media loop.  Aside from Twitter updates, you can also automate the inclusion of blog and feedback content using an RSS to email process widening their reach and saving you time during the message assembly process.

Gold Lasso now provides an RSS to email feature at no additional charge.   Gold Lasso offers eLoop as an all inclusive system – meaning we never charge extra for advanced features that are developed by Gold Lasso programmers.  If you would like to learn how to use this feature please contact your Account Manager for guidance and instructions.

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Get Ready for Email 3.0

It's definitely not the most elegant collaboration tool however email is the most widely used for sharing thoughts, documents and other communication essentials.  So it's surprising it has taken this digital medium over forty years to evolve from plain ASCII text to a soon to be social application for managing relationships and efficient collaboration on business documents.  Get ready for Email 3.0, a one inbox mix of social media, instant messaging, text messaging, news feeds, widgets and other mash-ups all swirled together creating a better organizational environment for the user and greater challenges to the email marketer.  

On May 27th, Google demonstrated Google Wave, a new Open Source application based on HTML 5 standards.  The presentation by developers Lars and Jens Rasmussen and Stephanie Hannon from Google's Sydney office show's a Gmail inbox on steroids where the worlds of email, social networking, instant messaging and document collaboration collide creating an integrated string of desperate communications call "Waves" where the lines between various mediums and real-time, on and off-line communications are blurred.  Microsoft too is trying to change the versatility of email with its upcoming release of Outlook 2010.  Mainly geared toward businesses, this new version of Outlook will try to mimic some social networking allowing users to view emails as conversation threads coupled with the ability to hide threads they aren't interested it.  The announcement that Microsoft plans to continue to use Word as the main HTML rendering engine for Outlook is providing a lot of grumbling in the email marketing community because of the message design obstacles the application causes.

New Protocols On The Horizon
Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) hasn't changed much since it was widely adopted in the 1980's when ARPANET was converted to what is known as the Internet today.  The protocol lacks the processes necessary to facility a seamless real-time collaboration and interactivity that newer technologies such as social networking encompass.  However simple, SMTP's wide implementation and open roots can be directly attributed to the successful proliferation of email use among Internet users.  SMTP is also blamed for the wide spread of spam because it lacks sender authentication technology.   Enter the Google Wave Federation Protocol, an Open Source communications protocol to facilitate Google Wave technology.  If you think Microsoft, Yahoo and FaceBook are going to sit idle while Google muscles influence over the guts of future email communication protocols think again.  It is absolute that one of these companies will extend their current platforms to compete with Google Wave and they will be reluctant to support the Wave Federation Protocol.  Eventually, some will cave as users demand cross platform compatibility (Microsoft users able to communicate with Google Wave users).

The Carry Over From Traditional Email
When these new communication platforms become compatible it will open the gates to marketers however enforce challenges from traditional email.  For one, it is possible that spam could be curtailed, as authentication and security technologies would be built into these new security protocols.  This would force marketers to solicit a true opt-in from subscribers giving them full and true control of permission.  Gone will be the days of implied opt-ins, purchased lists and other forbidden fruit that have tempted too many email marketers.  Another challenge Email 3.0 will offer users is an easier way to sort, categorize and mute different types of communications.  The continued challenge for marketers will not only be to get permission but to be relevant enough to stay at the top the inbox queue.   Even though the marketer might obtain permission, once muted, a marketer's message may never been seen again.  Many email pundits stress the importance of creating a dialog with subscribers by using more engaging content.  With Email 3.0, a true bi-directional dialog will become necessary as communications start to look more like Twitter with subscribers expecting immediate responses to questions and inquiries.  Telling subscribers not to respond or not responding will quickly get marketers muted rendering their efforts useless.

These new advances in Email technology are long overdue however will be surely welcome amongst consumers and business alike.  These technologies will help to lift the overall email experience by providing a true integration of social media and other technologies.  In addition, email marketing efforts that are slapdash and executed in haste will be rendered completely useless as traditional challenges come to the forefront of the discipline demanding greater respect from marketers.
 

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Streaming Video -- Coming To An Email Near You

According to comScore, more than 10 billion video clips are viewed online every month -- providing companies big and small with an incredible opportunity for cost-effective branding, product display and demonstration.   Ironically, the ability to incorporate streaming video into an email campaign was practiced in the early days of the commercial Internet, yet stymied when inbox providers and software developers started blocking javascript in email for obvious security reasons.   With cutting-edge video technologies now available and the pent-up demand for video integration with email from both marketers and consumers, inbox providers are heeding the call by developing new programs for marketers to tinker with email video delivery.

Gmail YouTube Capabilities

Gmail recently announced a new "Labs" feature allowing users to preview YouTube videos in emails. This technology is currently only for Gmail users, and is limited to YouTube videos, but it stands as significant progress in the move towards true video embedding.  Many marketers are experimenting with Gmail-only campaigns, segmenting their lists for gmail.com subscribers and embedding short video clips as part of the campaign. 

GoodMail Systems CertifiedVideo

GoodMail Systems has also found a way to insert and play videos from email messages. The CertifiedVideo platform enables qualified senders to incorporate rich video and audio content directly in email messaging, without additional mouse clicks and pop?ups.  CertifiedVideo is based on Goodmail's core CertifiedEmail technology with the addition of a new CertifiedVideo tokenclass. Senders' messages are delivered directly to the inbox and ISP restrictions are lifted, enabling video to be instantly viewed by recipients. CertifiedVideo supports streaming and progressive download of .SWF and .FLV files, playable in Adobe Flash Player.  I met with Peter Horan, GoodMail's CEO, a few weeks ago at the Email Insider Summit in Captiva Island, Fla.  He seemed very enthusiastic about the beta testing that was completed with select clients and was eager to roll it out to the rest of us.  If you qualify for GoodMail services, you should definitely take a look at CertifiedVideo.

For those of you who do not have a lot of Gmail addresses and can't qualify for CertifiedVideo, there's still some hope for you.  Below are two additional tricks that work but are not as optimal as the above solutions.

Text Link

The simplest alternative to embedding video is to insert a text link to the video from your email. The video then opens in an external browser. While this approach is straightforward and uncomplicated, it lacks the obvious visual draw and speed of an embedded video or a related image. For this reason, the best practice for most marketers has been to insert a clickable screen shot or animated image of the video (discussed below).

Link with Image/Animated GIF

Simulating video with images typically generates more visual interest. How it works: once the video is loaded to your referring Web site, a screenshot is taken. HTML is coded to display this screenshot image when the email is opened, linking it to the eb page where the video resides.   Because images will render across all email platforms, this approach is considered a safe and alternative to embedding. Unfortunately, images also get blocked. Animated GIFs no longer run properly, as they are also blocked because spammers used to bypass filters. Marketers have a few options to bypass this obstacle, including the addition of a text link below the image and using alt attributes in the HTML code.  While using images to simulate video is an industry best?practice, this approach has its limitations.

What the Future May Bring

If none of the above sounds appealing to you, don't despair.  It is my intuition that email as a delivery mechanism for video will become so important in the coming year or so that inbox providers will make it much easier for marketers to do.   After all, they're going to have to continue pumping out new tricks to compete with social media for ad dollars.  And what better way to keep someone glued to their inbox than an old rerun of "Welcome Back Kotter" (for me at least).  As Vinnie Barbarino would say,  "up your nose with a rubber hose," social media.

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