Because many small businesses are being dragged into social media kicking and screaming ("it takes too much time!"), some of the vendors that offer email and digital marketing applications or services are integrating social media publishing capabilities directly into their tools.
One of the latest to do so is iContact, which has added Facebook and Twitter tracking and publishing features into the latest update of its service.
Jeff Revoy, iContact's chief product and marketing officer, said the service now allows small businesses to publish to Facebook or Twitter in real time or to schedule communications for certain dates or times of day. These campaigns can be linked into traditional email marketing initiatives or handled as standalone outreach. The software allows SMBs to measure the impact of their social media efforts, counting the number of "likes," "comments" or "retweets" that a particular post garners.
Revoy said the new functionality is part of the core iContact subscription. The company's reason for integrating the functions rather than offering them separately was simple: many small businesses find social media to be time-consuming, which is one reason many are still reluctant to use it.
Publishing to both Facebook and Twitter can be done from within iContact; small-business marketers or managers don't have to log into the social media services separately.
Healthcare provider Raleigh Geriatic Care Management uses iContact on an almost daily basis to share news, tips and other pieces of information that have relevance for its clients. "iContact provides a robust platform where we can efficiently manager our social media and email marketing needs in one location, saving us valuable time and resources and providing the tools we need to succeed," said Lauren Watral, geriatic care manager.
Notice that Watral is NOT a marketing professional, which is one thing that small businesses really need to consider when launching social media marketing efforts. The more connected and real a person is to his or her followers, the more genuine your social media messaging will seem and the more its impact will be felt.
I am sure that many of the email marketing platforms are moving in this direction. At least they would be smart to do so. But the one I am using for a non-profit that I am involved with (I won't say which) still handles them pretty much separately. So, make sure you ask when you reconsider your email marketing investments for 2012 and ask yourself whether you can afford to overlook a social media component.
Like many email marketing services, iContact is priced according to the number of contacts that are touched by messages. For example, the service starts at $14 per month for 500 contacts (there is a 15 percent discount on per-month pricing if your business signs up for the full year).