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Social Median

Driving Engagement By Delivering Relevant Emails (Attention Apple, iTunes!)

As a consumer - and an inbox owner - email marketing can range from highly effective wildly annoying and irrelevant. The respective consequences can lead to activity / purchases or permanently blocking emails by classifying them as SPAM.

As a marketer, email marketing is a highly effective medium to drive user retention, promote new features / products and relay important news.

Andrew Chen, author of the Futuristic Play blog, recently wrote that 'depending on notification-driven retention sucks'. The key word there is 'depending'. In reality, you never want to depend on anything - whether its SEO, SEM, direct traffic, referrals, etc. It's too risky and often places control in other player's hands. Unlike most of his work, I disagree with Andrew here: when done right, notification-driven retention is:

1. a critical lever to engage and reengage users 2. an opportunity to standout among the clutter of web and reach user's in their preferred setting (whether it be .com, email, mobile, etc) 3. an opportunity to convert traffic into direct, more active users

Furthermore, I found Andrew's article ironic as allows users to subscribe to his blog via email, citing "I don't write often, so sometimes the easiest thing to do is to subscribe to my blog (which you can do below)"... sounds like notification-driven retention right?

Focusing on email, here are a few forms of notification-driven retention - ranging significantly in effectiveness. While I've chosen to focus on email for this post, notifications can exist in numerous forms. Twitter and Facebook are terrific examples. My entire Twitter experience is predicated on notifications (both as a pusher and a puller). If I had to visit Twitter directly each time, I would certainly be a less-engaged user and perhaps wouldn't even be a user. 90% of my Facebook visits begin with an SMS or email alerting me of new activity (friend, email, connection, etc).

Below are a variety of different emails. Some are terrific. Some trigger my SPAM filters (and rightly so).

Amazon = Best in Class. I read nearly every Amazon email I receive. They deliver content based on my purchases and site activity - and they tell me that in the email: "As someone who has shopped for high-def players or high-definition movies and games..." They know that I'll be interested in the offers and the major discounts. I actually enjoy these emails and regularly start my shopping from them.

iTunes = I Tune These Out. I have written about how untargetted and irrelevant iTunes emails are. Here is the most recent: a spotlight for iTunes latest videos... but this is worthless to me as I have NEVER bought an iTunes video. If you are going to send me spotlight emails - make sure that the spotlight fits my filter... by not doing so, this email appears exclusively commercial, demonstrates no relationship we me, and fails to get me back to iTunes.

JCrew = SPAM. This is the worst big-brand email I've received. First, it comes from "crewcuts" - when I saw that on my blackberry, I immediately assumed it was SPAM and deleted it (attention marketers: every component of an email is important - including the sender's name!). More disturbing parts about the email: I don't have a son, I don't need to shop in 'boys swimwear' and there isn't a single other message in the email (even if I wanted to find something that might interest *me* on

Live Nation = I Look Forward to These. Live Nation has email marketing down: send scheduled emails that are relevant based on geography, highlight upcoming and new shows and give readers an incentive to open them (ie exclusive news, pricing, etc). I always open these emails as, sadly, it's a way for me to stay current with music.

Social Median = News in My Network. I registered with Social Median precisely to receive these notifications. Social Median works on my behalf to find new content that is relevant to the interests and topics that I previously designated. They then send scheduled emails that deliver this news. As reader, I always scan the headlines (usually on my blackberry). As a publisher, I know that other readers do the same (I get a fair amount of traffic from Social Median).

Google Alerts = Customized Notifications. I love Google News and have dozens of alerts created. Some arrive instantly and some are scheduled to deliver daily summaries. Google knows that by enabling users to create customizable notifications, they drive News activity and retention. Again, I look forward to these emails and receive dozens of them a day (which is my choice remember!).

Speaking of email - you can now subscribe to this blog via email. Just enter your email address into the box on the left side-bar. It's powered by Feedburner.

Why iGoogle is About to Be Game Changing - For Google and for Us

A couple months ago, I had the following email exchange with one of the sharpest, big internet-thinkers I know. I thought very little of the discussion until the past few days. Speaking about iGoogle:

...My wife didn't have an account, but could play with it and then had to set up account to personalize and save. She also set up a series of custom "vertical" searches now much more easily.

I frankly -- mostly due to my schedule -- had not played with their gadgets in some weeks. I reset up my entire information world in about 12 minutes...

Me: Is 12 minutes short or long? I created one but don't go back to it... Still just navigate in and out to each destination.

For us, very short -- because it is amazingly comprehensive. iGoogle may become our homepage now.

That's a powerful notion: recomposing your entire 'information world' in a matter of minutes. At the time though, I passed over the comment because iGoogle wasn't (yet) overly differentiated (Netvibes, Pageflakes, etc); nor was it more than a one-dimensional delivery of content (or as he puts it, "information"). I've seriously rethought that premise as Google is quickly turning iGoogle into a multi-dimensional hub that might very well become the base of your distributed web... and personalization / distribution are the key tenants of web 2.0.

So how does iGoogle get there?

- First, leverage Google. It's already happening. Google is already a one of the top two start pages and has begun making iGoogle a default page. Add that (which is the most valuable asset anyone can ask for) with an unlimited marketing budget, and iGoogle will have no issues with traffic (previously an issue with Froogle, Gmail, Base, etc). iGoogle ads are appearing in *heavy* rotation throughout AdWords campaigns and AdSense units. They are everywhere.

- Integrate Google Reader I think the web is still in need of the killer RSS app. Think about BlogRovr, SocialMedian, FriendFeed and Digg - to different extents, they are about finding relevant and interesting content based on relationships, browsing history, popularity and so on. iGoogle, which got it's start with RSS-feed based containers, is an ideal platform to push out a killer social RSS app (alongside other Google properties like Reader, Feedburner, Google Accounts, etc).

- Integrate Friend Connect and Open Social... Tightly. Two of Google's other current focuses are about enabling social interaction and graphing across other platforms. But Google can also power Friend Connect and Open Social through their own platform: iGoogle; and just as FriendFeed is able to leverage (and lure users from) Twitter, iGoogle will be able to do the same with platforms like FriendFeed. Once iGoogle becomes social, it shifts from pushing content one-dimensionally into an intelligent, fully social and multi-dimensional platform.

- Open it Up. Make it Consumer Facing. One of the values of a robust iGoogle is the sorts of data and interactions that will be collected... and should be reflected. One of the current failing of Google Trends and Google Hot Trends (and for that matter, Google News and Google Analytics) is that they aren't transparent - either on a network or social graph level. iGoogle can become Digg for networks, verticals and any form of content. Hacker News is a terrific example: it gets a small fraction of Digg's traffic, but the tight community makes the sharing of content immensely valuable. That can and should exist for any size network or type of content.

Based on their advertising alone, it's evident that iGoogle is a focus for Google (and I have to imagine internally the strategy is deeply connected to their other social focuses). It's an important strategy for Google because, if they can amass a powerful enough user base, iGoogle represents a platform to launch new products (a struggle in the past for non-search related products) and opens up a new revenue platform (ads will be live soon enough and Gadget Ads will follow soon after).