Companies that provide list segmentation and data append services have been around almost as long as direct mail. Some will take your existing database and fill in the blanks, others will verify, clean and remove duplicate information. A recent development is the emergence of companies like FlowTown that allow you to append data obtained from social media profiles about a person to his email address.
What Social Media List Append Services Offer
The idea is simple: You import the email addresses of your contacts into their database, and the service, in this case FlowTown, will return the name, age, geographical location and Social Media memberships for each one.
Using the Social Media Information for Your Business
You can now send emails to your contact list, through the FlowTown system, targeted to specific Social Media site users. For example, you could mail out an invitation to follow you on Twitter only to those contacts on your database who are already Twitter users. Similarly, you could invite only Facebook users to connect with your Facebook Fan Pages, or invite only LinkedIn users to join with you there.
This kind of segmentation makes it easier for you to connect with your contacts in ways that are convenient for them. It also means you can use familiar terminology without alienating those of your users who are not on that particular service. So, for example, you could talk about tweeting and RTing to your Twitter contacts without having to explain for the uninitiated that you're referring to status updates on the site, or the act of forwarding someone else's status message to your contacts every time.
Conversely, you could send an email to everyone on your list not yet using a particular service, inviting them to join you there and outlining the benefits of the service.
Things to Consider About List Append Services
This last suggestion brings up one of the issues to consider when using list append data services, though, and that is reliability. Whether it's due to the privacy settings of your contacts on the individual social media sites, or down to inherent flaws in the system, they are not yet that reliable. In testing, a list exported from Facebook contacts and imported to the system failed to pick up a single contact on Facebook and returned only sporadic results across the other networks. So while in theory the ability to communicate with lists based on social media membership could be valuable, relying on these kinds of services alone could mean your message fails to reach a large chunk of your audience.
There is of course one other major issue to consider, and that's your readers' likely response. Although you're not doing anything wrong by entering email addresses volunteered and opted in for email marketing into a list append system, some of your potential customers may still object to what they perceive as “spying on them” if you start sending overly familiar messages with information they did not give you.
As with other methods of personalization, the trick is to find the right balance between showing you care enough about your reader to send them only relevant information, and not appearing to collect, store or use knowledge there is no reason for you to have.