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Making Email Newsletters More Social Four tips to create content customers will share on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social networks.

By Gail Goodman Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Among the many moving parts of a successful marketing plan, email newsletters are still a vital component. It remains the most direct, one-on-one place to engage customers. And email marketing's integration with social media means greater opportunities -- and challenges -- when it comes to creating content that can ignite conversation and inspire sharing on social platforms like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Last month, I discussed how social media websites have profoundly changed how consumers expect to interact with brands. Business owners can no longer compete by talking at customers and prospects. Instead, people now want businesses to talk with them. They want to know their viewpoints are not only heard, but also make a difference in how a business operates. They want to be a part of your story.

While planning out your e-newsletters for the remainder of the year, consider these four ways to make your content more sharable on social media.

1. Engage customers in content creation. You may think you know what's most important to your customers, but you can glean a lot more about their needs if you ask them. Use surveys, polls, and crowdsourcing (asking questions on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and blogs) to find out what's affecting your customers' lives. Invite them to share their experiences related to your business and industry. You can feature the most compelling stories in your newsletter and across social channels. The individuals you feature are likely to share that content over their own social networks. Of course, remember to ask permission before sharing customer stories in any public forum.

2. Vary your newsletter content. Readers are most engaged by content that's relevant to their lives. Help them see themselves being helped by your business in the stories you create. Formats that work for newsletters and social sharing include:

  • Common problems customers encounter and your solutions. Share your secrets, knowledge and advice freely, and invite customers to share theirs.
  • Start a discussion or debate and ask everyone to join in. Kick it off with a point of view or perspective that is likely to garner some comments.
  • Customer testimonials, profiles, success stories that are told in their own words, with their pictures, video, etc.
  • Offer case studies with more in-depth customer stories and detailed descriptions of problems and challenges, products and services, solutions and results.
  • Invite customers to submit their stories related to your products or services. Offer a prize for the best one.
  • Review products and books related to your business, service or charitable cause.
  • Offer industry news, insights, trends, and statistics (think discussion-sparking tidbits).
  • Aggregate information and resources of interest, including guest articles and interviews with experts.

3. Create content people will want to share. People like to share information that's practical, interesting, timely, funny and thought-provoking. Don't be afraid to ignite conversation on social media around controversial topics related to your business (but stay away from controversial political or religious topics unless that's your area of expertise).

For example, you might read an industry article that provokes strong opinions. Chime in with your opinion and gather the opinions of others on social media websites. Then report on the social conversation in your next e-newsletter.

4. Share content across channels. Be sure to cross-pollinate your content with teaser links across all media. That includes linking to your Facebook, YouTube and other social media pages from your e-newsletter, blog and website. Post teasers about the content on Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media sites that lead back to your content destinations.

Some people say we're entering the era of "email marketing 3.0," where email and social media integration are even more streamlined and intertwined. I like to call it an opportunity for email marketers to create their most relevant, engaging and social content ever.

Gail Goodman is the author of Engagement Marketing: How Small Business Wins In a Socially Connected World (Wiley, 2012) and CEO of Waltham, Mass.-based Constant Contact Inc., a provider of email marketing, event marketing, social media marketing, local deal and online survey tools and services for small businesses, associations and nonprofits.

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