Recently, both Google and Facebook have — within 24 hours of each other — initiated major manoeuvres to become the unequivocal masters of the inbox. With the social media migration deadlock still hanging in the balance after the launch of Google+, the email arena has been primed as the next battlefield between the information superpowers.
In the blue corner: Facebook is now gunning to consolidate its users’ social and email activities all under one roof, re-inventing itself as a major email service provider (ESP) by adding a few frills to its own in-house email service and promoting its use more aggressively.
In the red corner: Google is jostling to catalyse users of minority ESPs to leapfrog to their service and divert sign-ups away from Facebook via its clever “email Intervention” campaign. Centred on the classic friend intervention model, Google is betting on peer pressure to get those “behind-the-times” and “misguided” email users to make the switch, thereby creating a default entry point into its Google+ social network.
Strangely, however, there has been little in-depth reporting done on either development. While some might think that a little, unpronounced fistfight over inbox dominance pales in comparison to the tussle for social media hegemony, both Facebook and Google have products which span the scope of eCommerce and email marketers cannot afford to meet changes in their own backyard with benign neglect.
Email and social are different channels offering different benefits. Twitter and Facebook are great for offering casual connections to brands. For brands that you really want to hear from through opt-in campaigns, email is the right tool for the job. Now that social and email are meshing, however, marketers will need to evolve their techniques to make communications viable for either channel while addressing new adversities.
Google made the first move. They have created emailintervention.com, which is a simple site where Gmail users can send intervention letters to convince their friends to convert. Additionally, a “switch friends to Gmail” tab has been placed next to the settings field inside the inbox zone, channeling users to the same site.
Conversely, challenging major ESPs for their slice of email marketing revenue, Facebook has fully integrated its very own email inbox service into its existing direct messaging platform.
Since May 2011, users have had their own firstname.lastname@example.org email address available, to which emails and newsletters can be sent. Facebook is now rolling the product out in full steam and it is ceaselessly prompting users to activate their new Facebook-hosted email box as part of wider FB integrations, which include mobile messaging and video chat.
Just over a month after Google+ was first unveiled, it had signed up well north of 10-million users. Phase one of Google+ was clearly a success, but now comes the challenge of keeping those users around and engaged, and pushing past its current sign-up slump to uplift those treasured metrics and prove that they can stand toe-to-toe with Facebook’s social prowess. To address this gap, Google knows that it will have to pick off long-time users of competing email services to fuel its own growth. Facebook, in turn, hopes to stifle any increase in Gmail’s user numbers while skimming off the top of other major ESPs, with its shiny new mailbox.
Behind the scenes, an unprecedented paradigm shift is happening: Email is no longer a means used to support and punt social media. We are, instead, seeing an equalisation of these channels.
Gmail already provides an excellent environment for email marketing in terms of accurate frame-working for faithful newsletter display and image rendering, as well as enforcing spam protection by utilising reputation and content filtering. Facebook still needs to prove that it can offer users the same level of support and functionality as an ESP.
Sustained efforts from Google and Facebook to redirect all inbox traffic to themselves could spur the largest email client exodus of the decade.
Facebook’s hasty mailbox implementation could see tried and trusted email checks and balances sacrificed in a bid to lure in subscribers faster. Playing footloose and fancy free with deliverability fundamentals might see the majority of email newsletter campaigns sent through their service flounder.
With Google siphoning off as many email users as possible, there should be a noticeable increase in the amount of undelivered (or “bounced”) email sends as time goes on, since a large number of addresses used at other webmail clients could then become defunct.
Given the prevalence of both Facebook and Google, any extensive success in goading email subscribers can upset the proverbial apple-cart for email campaigns, as address lists become slowly invalid and loopholes open up for spammers.
The world of email is all about deliverability since it has a direct impact on your bottom line. Improving email deliverability is a highly specialised and ongoing process. It’s a balancing act involving business, technical practices and management of the greater email organism, inside and outside of your organisation.
According to this deliverability white paper, 17.8 percent of legitimate marketing emails failed to reach subscriber inboxes in Europe and 19.9 percent failed to do so in the USA and Canada last year.
Facebook and Google have both given birth to communications channels that provide services which are breaking down the distinctions between social and email, playing gambits that could alter the chemistry of email marketing and botch deliverability, unless you are intimately familiar with its precepts and intuitively adapting your send stratagems to compensate for social-email advancements.
What taunts ESPs into action is always going to be the subject of who has the most names signed up to their service. Whatever features or platforms you introduce, once show and tell is over, inflating user headcount is the priority. It remains to be seen if the communications heavyweights care more about magnetising new users to their service than how reliably your emails are getting through to intended recipients and how well spam is being fended off.
Wikus Engelbrecht is a writer, journalist and digital poet. His professional career in language and media has spanned the film, print advertising, magazine publishing, food theatre and online content industries since 2003. More