By Nick Heys, CEO of Emailvision

Take Adam and Jane, a couple we have watched playing out their lives on our TV screens as part of BT’s long-standing ad campaign since 2005. The deal was clear; we liked their stories and we knew BT well.

Fast forward to 2011 and Adam and Jane are planning their wedding to coincide with the Royal Wedding. Now the deal has changed; BT’s storytellers have downed their tools and instead it is left to us, not as viewers, but as members of a community, to write the story for them. It’s a new deal — we have become the storytellers of the brand.

Some of the most successful brand campaigns are those that have built communities online, driven people to specific promotions, and as a final step, directed traffic to the brand’s website. Look at Hallmark, who, rather than selling to its customers, has been reaching out to them asking them for their favourite “Hallmark Moment” in honour of the company’s 100th birthday.

It was this concept of storytelling through integrated email and social media marketing that was the key to the success of the campaign. So, how can other brands adopt this approach to enhance and humanise their efforts?

Tip 1 — Building an engaged social media community enhanced by email marketing

First, monitor online conversations to find out where your audiences are engaging. Don’t follow the hype around certain social sites — follow your audience.

Consider launching a dedicated email marketing campaign encouraging existing customers to join your Facebook page or Twitter page to re-engage existing customers.

Provide clear benefits and incentives that will be available to the fans of this page. This type of campaign will produce an increased number of fans who see value in engaging with your brand and it will help you to start building social profiles of your customers.

Ensure your campaign drives quality followers, rather than a huge volume of fans.

Ensure your emails are optimised for social media sharing, carrying your content further via Twitter, YouTube and Facebook.

Tip 2 — Encourage customers to bring their stories to the community

Use the same channels as your customers and engage them where ‘they want to be’.
Give your audience a reason to contribute — if you do this in the right way, your followers are more than likely to contribute their own stories, photos, and videos.
One of our customers, Filofax, spoke about how they are listening to their followers. By posing questions and asking for comments by email or via Facebook on specific themes, Filofax has been able to uncover a huge array of customer stories and some surprisingly emotional ones. Stories revealed on Facebook are used in Filofax’s email newsletter to drive further engagement with the brand. Meanwhile on Twitter, Filofax can get instant feedback on a new idea and find out if there’s a new trend they can pick up on.

Tip 3 — Develop content but don’t dominate the conversation

Start a community story — bring together like-minded people and host an online event that brings passion to the brand, but isn’t based solely around the benefits of the product.
For example: Often many companies forget to go beyond the mail blasting and selling and fail to convert their brand messages into conversational material. A company that is bringing conversations to the brand is the whiskey maker Laphroaig. On their website they started the “story of a community” — engaging people who enjoy the finer things in life and once a year the brand hosts a highly successful ‘online tasting session’ when members across the world can dial-in to share a drink and a story.

Tip 4 — Measure the impact of your integrated marketing campaigns

Collect customer feedback and use integrated email marketing and social media tools to gauge your impact and measure multi-channel responses.

Use this information to feed customised content based on the channel preferences of your customers.

What does the future hold?

Once your client base supports your brand, the story will deliver a clear path towards successful viral marketing through email and sharing on social media channels. This will be supported by an increasing number of software tools and services that measure the impact of integrated campaigns. The future of social media is an exciting chapter in storytelling. However, social media should be seen as more than a direct marketing channel with rich opportunities for revenue, but as a vehicle to revolutionise the relationships between brands and their audiences.

Engage and interact with your customers – or someone else will! The Fresh Business Thinking Guide To Social Media looks at how businesses can harness platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube etc to engage with customers, employers and others. The event will be held at the Microsoft HQ, in London on 28th June 2011 and will feature a number of social media experts who will introduce you to the mechanics and benefits needed to survive in today’s connected world.

To find out more, please visit Fresh Business Guide To Social Media and book your place now. Pay only £95, saving you a total of £200 (usually priced at £295!) Offer ends 20th May 2011.