For email marketers, there only appeared to be one major trend that mattered in 2010. It's a game changer that presents both opportunities and challenges for businesses to connect with customers. You guessed it: It's the impact of social media. You can't just "talk at" customers anymore. They now expect to be part of the conversation and part of your business story. Social media has irrevocably changed the email marketing landscape.

Persuading readers to share the content of your email content is the key here. This is accomplished by providing content that demonstrates you're in touch with what's important to customers and you provide information that not only solves their problems, but also entertains them and asks for their feedback and participation.

Email marketing and social media are complementary. While email offers a way to directly contact your customers via their inboxes, social media provides new ways to share your content and engage in conversations with networks of people. One without the other is an incomplete solution to your marketing needs.

As you plan your email marketing campaigns for 2011, take advantage of the opportunities to reach new prospects, revive existing customer relationships and recruit new fans who can spread the word about your business.

Here are five things you can do to create a more social e-mail experience in the new year:

  1. Make every message shareable. Include a Like/Tweet button or a social share bar in every email newsletter. The "Forward to a Friend" feature lets subscribers share your newsletter with another person by email. But by adding social icons at the top of your e-mail, those same people can now share it with their entire Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn networks. That extends your reach to a highly qualified audience of prospects.
  2. Kick-start your social presence using your email marketing list. Invite e-mail subscribers to connect with you on social networks. Include links to your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn pages in your e-mail marketing communications. Don't forget to provide reasons why subscribers should join you on social media destinations -- and how that experience will be different from your email communications.
  3. Include a "social call to action" in every email newsletter. Don't rely solely on social media icons and buttons to get readers to visit your social media outposts. Entice readers with a link to a hot conversation you want to continue on Twitter (or another discussion destination), or to an exclusive contest or survey you're featuring on Facebook.
  4. Solicit feedback and find newsletter content. Use crowdsourcing on social media sites to find out what topics are trending with your customers. Invite questions and feedback, and join the conversation. Then use the frequently asked questions and the feedback gathered as material for newsletter content. At the same time, spark a conversation and continue it via email and social media. Don't forget to include and encourage social media feedback in every issue of your newsletter.
  5. Cross-post to all your communication channels. Always post your newsletter content on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Keep conversations going by re-posting different snippets across social media channels. Even better, fan the discussion flames by sending out a separate email letting readers know about conversations happening on social media and inviting them to participate.

You may find one social media channel works better than others for sharing content and sparking conversation, depending on where your customers spend time. But you won't find out until you dive in, test the waters and monitor your results.

Email marketing has undergone some major changes since I first started working with small businesses, nonprofits and entrepreneurs many years ago. Today's opportunities for email marketers to share content and reach customers on social media were unimaginable back then. Now they're here -- so let's all take advantage and get the party started.

Here's to a happy, prosperous and social 2011.