Remember email? That word that used to be spelled “E-Mail” as if to clearly and unequivocally underscore that it’s different from “Mail.” It was spelled that way until it became so ubiquitous, so ingrained in our way of life that we felt at ease to drop the “-” and capitalization.

In the last couple years, the mantra of “social media” has began to take hold, and our old friend, email, has been denigrated and demoted. I’ve seen it slammed by social media evangelists as “1.0,” “disruptive,” and “cumbersome.”

To be sure, in some contexts email is all of these things. It is an old Internet technology, it can splinter our concentration as we alt-tab back and forth from app to app, and it utterly FAILS when used as a collaboration tool (you try keeping up with a conversation that’s 6 threads deep!). Google Wave was hailed as a replacement to email. Apparently, all things social media are good, and all things email are bad.

Well…

It’s different in practice. Email is brilliant when used for the right kinds of communication. Stick with me on this; as the real-world example below illustrates, if you proactively reach out to the right customers, at the right time, with the right message, email can push your results off the charts over and above social media. I know, utter heresy!

Some background first: Atlassian has embarked on a mission to modernize our email marketing system. We send a lot of emails already — nearly half-a-million emails per year! — for all types of things:

  • When customers evaluate our products
  • For new product announcements
  • Event (e.g., Atlassian user groups in your area) and special promotional announcements
  • A monthly newsletter that has been going for nearly four years
  • All sorts of “transactional” email such as purchase confirmations and renewal reminders
  • Etc.

We set a goal to consolidate and better track the results of our emails. To achieve this, we needed a system that could not only handle simple campaigns like sending newsletters, but one that could also manage “drip feed” campaigns — the automated kind you get when you register or sign up to try a product.

Ultimately, our goal for a new email system is to make our emails as lustworthy as our products by being relevant.

We looked at 25 — truly — different email systems, from the one we had been using (CampaignMonitor: a great tool for sending newsletters) to complete lead generation management systems (like Eloqua: an BIG system for lead scoring, email, web metrics and more) and ultimately settled on something in-between (ExactTarget). (Our list of criteria and reasons for choosing ExactTarget are fodder for another blog post.)

Email 1, Social Media 0

While we are mid-way through a phased rollout that will eventually incorporate all the emails mentioned in the bullet points above, we have scored some early victories. We recently announced JIRA 4, a new version of our flagship product, and new $10 Starter licenses. In the case of the Starter licenses, we emailed nearly 30,000 people to let them know about the new license type. To make the emails relevant, we split the list into about 5 different segments based on the individuals’ product profile and sent each segment a customized message.

But before I get to results, it’s important to have some context on the launch of the new Starter licenses.

  • We announced the Starter licenses on our blogs and on our website home page
  • Dozens of Atlassian employees Twittered about the new Starter licenses
  • The beneficiary of the sale of Starter licenses — Room to Read— issued a press release
  • We had briefed some journalists prior to the launch

In other words, we made a big fuss about the new licenses. Given the so-called “power of social media,” why, oh why, would we use a “1.0” application to spread the news? I submit to into evidence a chart that displays the total number of orders of the new Starter licenses per day.

Email blew the socks off the campaign. Even with thousands of subscribers to our blogs, even with thousands of followers on our corporate and personal Twitter feeds, email took the message to the masses.

“We still love you, social media”

Spreadtheword.jpgI don’t want to discount the power of social media. In fact, we included a very prominent footer in our email template (the image to the right of this paragraph) that encouraged recipients to Twitter about the sale. Due to a dearth of good Twitter analytics, we don’t have good metrics on the Twitter effect but from just watching my RSS filters, it’s clear that the email helped to encourage hundreds, if not thousands, of people to spread the message even more.

Moreover, social media has a shelf life. Social media provides a long tail effect that keeps the news alive longer and could potentially expose the news to a much bigger demographic. For that reason, we still love you, social media.

I would love to know how your marketing mix is changing. Are you “still” using email? Or have you completely switched over to social media campaigns?

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