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4 Reasons the Social Business Evolution Starts Now

Is today the day we start thinking about social media as part of an integrated program?

My friends at ExactTarget announced a moment ago that they have acquired CoTweet, the leader in enterprise Twitter management, and will be building a social products lab to add tie-ins for Facebook, YouTube, and other elements of the social communication ecosystem.

All members of the CoTweet team, including uber-sharp CEO Jesse Engle will stay on board, and the CoTweet name will continue.

This is the first salvo in what I anticipate will be a flurry of moves to bring together email and social media into a coherent whole. As I wrote just a couple weeks ago, email and social media are more alike than different, and the major corporations that comprise much of the customer bases of ExactTarget and CoTweet are embracing that concept.

Really, what is social media from the brand perspective but email 2.0? A way to remain top-of-mind with your customers, in a way that’s (hopefully) relevant and engaging. Not the ready, fire, aim email that’s the bane of your inbox, but smart, contextual email that sends the right message to the right person at the right time.

That’s been ExactTarget’s territory for a long time, and extending that concept of message-centric, platform-agnostic to social media is a natural fit. And the fact that Forrester Research projects social media spend in the U.S. to be larger than email by 2012 doesn’t hurt, either.

4 Milestones to Social Business

There are numerous granular issues to consider, and it will be fascinating to watch ExactTarget and CoTweet work out the operational details (I might even get to help a little, as ExactTarget is a client), but I see 4 primary hurdles that have prevented the full synergy of social and email to-date. This move will start to eliminate all of these obstacles:

1. Personnel Integration
In many (most?) mid-sized and large companies today, the email group and the social media group are not the same, and communicate infrequently. Having a single platform (the combined ExactTarget/CoTweet) will enable those groups to work together, creating operational efficiencies.

2. Database Integration
While CoTweet has made the most progress toward solving it, the big flaw with customer service and consumer interaction via Twitter (and Facebook to a lesser degree) is a lack of knowledge about the person on the other end of the keyboard. If someone asks a question or complains to @yourbusiness on Twitter, you can possibly provide some immediate triage and basic assistance, but because you don’t know who the person really is, what their account history is, etc. it’s difficult to get into much detail.

And then, if you do solve someone’s problem via Twitter, how do you capture that data? Print out your tweet stream and put it in a file folder?

I suspect ExactTarget’s database capabilities (quite robust due to heavy email customization needs of customers like Microsoft and Home Depot) will be tied to CoTweet and other platforms quickly, enabling companies to use ExactTarget (or its tightly integrated partners, Salesforce or Microsoft CRM) as the customer database of record, with a variety of API-driven messaging options riding on top.

This will provide companies with an holistic view of their customer relationships and each customer’s communication modality preferences. You can look at Jay Baer and determine that he’s a follower of your Twitter account, and has commented on your blog 3 times. But, he’s not a fan of your Facebook page, nor is he a subscriber to your email newsletter. And, you’ll be able to send relevant messages to him accordingly.

3. Messaging Integration
This type of unified understanding of who is connected to your company via what social outposts will usher in a new era of messaging strategy, where companies develop content ladders that dictate how a particular piece of content is modified and syndicated across Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, blogs, brand communities, email, and elsewhere.

This will be a major time saver for brands, as today there is too much reinventing the wheel on the content side, with different people creating disparate messages in each platform. It will also enable companies to move faster, and with more messaging consistency in the event of a social media-fueled crisis.

4. Metrics Integration
Due to its online nature, social media is inherently measurable. Today, however, creating truly meaningful success metrics often requires a custom statistical hodge-podge that tries to tie together data points from across the social spectrum. Try to figure out what your Facebook fan page’s impact is on your number of Twitter followers, for example.

The social media community is starving for a viable way to track customer behavior throughout all social outposts (as evidenced by the massive number of retweets for this post I mentioned recently about a new way to tie Google Analytics to your Facebook fan page).

With ExactTarget and CoTweet working together (not to mention ExactTarget’s built-in ties to Omniture and WebTrends), can the holy grail – an integrated, customer behavior-based, social media metrics dashboard be far behind?

Both Social, and Media

There will probably be social media purists out there wringing their hands raw about this, as a big email company that has <gasp> never exhibited at South by Southwest bought one of the (rightful) darlings of social media. Sure, ExactTarget is a company that’s about messaging – the media side of the social media equation.

But, speaking from firsthand experience, they’re a smart crew that’s not about to turn CoTweet into some sort of spam bot. They bought CoTweet as a first step, not a last step, and as I understand it, are throwing a huge development effort behind it to create major advances in the social/email integration area that go well beyond today’s announcement.

Fundamentally, we’re entering the era of social business, where we have to start treating social media with a level of oversight and accountability. We can’t continue just tweeting randomly and hoping to make “viral videos.” The big companies understand now that all of this needs to be about dollars at some point, and we’ll all be making the social media to social business leap soon enough.

This is a major step in that evolution.

(A good post on this news from my friend Kyle Lacy)