Recently I shared how everything I know about blogging I learned from advertising. As a companion piece, I think its equally worth noting the engagement lessons for Facebook and Twitter that you can learn from email marketing. Often forgotten as the un-sexy, boring older sibling of new media, email marketing has many valuable insights for marketers working to build a brand-driven community with social media.

Start with a Clear Objective
In email, as in all marketing campaigns you need to start with a clearly articulated goal. This will drive execution and help you measure results. Are you emailing to drive sales? Site visits? Interactions? White paper downloads? You need to know going in. The same holds true for social media. Define your goal and use that to drive your engagement strategy and your measurable outcomes of success.

Always Be Testing
Test, test, test! Just as this mantra was passed down from direct mail to email, it’s equally applicable to social engagement as well. In email we test time of day, day of week, and other variables to achieve optimal opens and clicks. With Facebook insights and robust Twitter tools like Hootsuite we can monitor engagement data based on many of the same variables like dates and times. In some cases, our social intel is a bit more primitive but that doesn’t mean we can’t try to optimize. We need to consistently use testing to analyze results for continuous improvement in our social programs just as we would in other marketing channels.

Be Relevant
I’ve always said that the inbox is a very special place for our brand messages. Nestled between notes from friends and colleagues, emails are given great mental real estate. As such, we need to stay relevant. We need to remember holidays and special occasions when friends reach out and make sure we have an appropriate brand touchpoint. In email, it’s the soft sell (or no sell) holiday e-card. With Facebook and Twitter it’s crafting a brief wall message to acknowledge the time of year and maybe even start a conversation around it. Brick and mortar, offline touchpoints are closed for business during the holidays but our digital channels have an opportunity to build long-term loyalty by being relevant to what’s going on.

Words Move the World
One of my favorite quotes from The West Wing states that “the world can move — or not — by changing a few words.” Your Facebook update or tweet carries the same weight and potential as your email subject line. In a world of crowded inboxes, walls, and feeds, these words lead to action and should be chosen with great care. I always tell new marketers if there’s one skill to hone, it’s writing. Between social engagement and content creation, there’s more than enough work to keep writers busy in business today.

Design Skills Are Not Optional
There’s seldom a visual project where you shouldn’t engage a designer in some capacity. And just as your email needs to be carefully designed, cut, and coded, your Facebook and Twitter avatars need to be designed for optimal use in each channel. For example, Facebook allows a specifically sized skyscraper that you can use on your page however this needs to include a legible, squarable portion for the thumbnail which is seen more often in users’ walls. Where as Twitter allows you a small square that needs to stand out in a crowded sea of avatars. Get help from the pros!

Regular, Consistent Updates Build Expectations
In most cases, a brand should be reaching everyone on a permission-based list at least once a month if not more. Preferably through a planned sequence of monthly email touches. This consistency is also required when engaging the audience via social media as well. And while there’s no one-size-fits-all answer as your community will be unique unto itself, in general your Facebook audience needs contact once every day or every other day while your Twitter followers will probably require multiple tweets each day.

Monitor Unsubscribe Rates
As you increase your update frequency in email, a good way to tell if you’re contacting your audience too much is by monitoring your unsubscribe rate. If this climbs it may be time to back off. Similarly you can keep an eye on your likes and followers to gauge if you are being a little too social.

In Closing …
When I speak about social media I work to impart how un-different it is from our other marketing channels. The core principles of planning an email marketing effort apply to social media marketing as well. You need to start with a clear plan including objectives and measurable outcomes. From here, many of the same engagement best practices are applicable across media and help us execute with success.

Did I miss any other similarities between email and social? What’s been useful to you as you’ve planned a successful social media campaign?