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Email, Social Media Level Playing Field For SMBs

Partnership between StrongMail and Net Atlantic spotlights continued integration of email with social media and other digital marketing channels, and increased technology access for small and midsize business.
"In the past, SMBs didn't really have access to these enterprise-grade systems," Cece said. "It's a great opportunity to offer our technology to these companies."

The CEO noted StrongMail's "email marketing heritage" but said that today he prefers to think of it "less as an email marketing company and more as an online marketing company." StrongMail added social media to its service offerings about 18 months ago, and plans to expand into mobile marketing next.

Mark Schmulen, general manager of social media for Constant Contact, which offers email marketing, social media and other tools to small businesses, cautions customers that social media is not a replacement, but rather one component of a complete marketing mix. In fact, he said that marketers would probably do well to worry less about defining channels -- email, social, mobile, et cetera -- and more about their content, then leveraging the strengths of each tactic in an integrated approach.

"Email is still the best way to reach your audience," Schmulen said. "Social media is the best way to grow your audience and facilitate word-of-mouth."

In July, Constant Contact began giving customers the option to include social sharing links in their emails. Since then 500,000 individual campaigns have been shared by recipients via social sites, to the tune of 3.4 million additional unique views, according to the company. And that type of syndication appears to be on the rise: roughly 1 million of those views occurred in the last 30 days.

Schmulen said the evolving integration of email, social media and other online tactics is a good thing for SMBs.

"Now we're seeing a further democratization of marketing channels," he said. "It's an environment where small businesses can compete against bigger businesses. Doing it effectively is the trick."

An interesting footnote to the new partnership between StrongMail and Net Atlantic: both define a customer's size by its email marketing volume rather than by revenue or number of employees. So while Net Atlantic's customer base might aptly be described as SMBs, it could include some outliers like, say, a division of a massive health insurer that sends a relatively small amount of email. While that could lead to peculiarities of categorization -- a company with 4,000 employees, for example, doesn't quite fit the SMB paradigm no matter how modest its email marketing volume -- it also calls attention to the leveling of the playing field: In online marketing, the difference between large and small may be getting harder to detect.