Email Marketing vs Social Media: Are you focusing on the wrong channel?

By Aaron Beashel on 1st July 2014

Take a moment to think about your average day. If you’re like many other marketers, a good chunk of your time is probably spent on social media - writing status updates, creating ads, monitoring your mentions, replying to wall posts, etc.

Now, take a moment to think about the time you spend on email marketing - growing your list, crafting great email content, and looking at analytics on your list growth and engagement.

If you find you’re spending a majority of your time on social media, and little to no time on your email list, it could be a potentially tragic mistake that could be costing you sales. Here’s why.

Just the stats: users, open rates, and click through rates.

With Facebook boasting over 1 billion active users per month and Twitter boasting 255 million, we certainly couldn’t blame you for being persuaded to focus a large portion of your marketing efforts on social media.

But what you don’t see so frequently touted are the statistics on email usage. According to Radicati, the total number of worldwide email accounts was 3.9 billion in 2013, and projected to be 4.9 billion by 2017.

To put this in perspective for you,

From a marketing perspective though, it’s the statistics on reach and engagement that show the real story. Did you know that organic reach on Facebook (I.e. the number of your fans who actually see your posts in their Newsfeed) is only 6%?

On the contrary, open rates for email marketing messages are generally in the 20 - 30% range,

Similarly, click through rates from email are generally in the 3% range, while click-through rates on Tweets are generally in the 0.5% range.

In order to show this in action, influential marketing blogger Derek Halpern ran a test where he sent his latest blog post to the same number of people via both email and Twitter. Here are the results:

  • 300 people clicked through to the article from Twitter
  • 4,200 people clicked through to the article from email

But is it easier to build a social media following than an email list?

While it’s clear email has a much better engagement and response rate than social media, you may be thinking that it’s much more difficult to get people to give you permission to email them as opposed to get them to become a fan on Facebook or become a follower on Twitter.

But that’s not the case.

Always a fan of testing, Derek Halpern did an experiment to see which would be harder: getting people to subscribe to his email list, or getting people to follow him on Twitter. You would think people are more likely to click a follow button than give up their email address. But you would be mistaken.

In his experiment, he sent 1,000 visitors to his email opt-in page, and 1,000 visitors to his Twitter page. The results? He received almost 500 new email subscribers, making it a conversion rate of almost 50%. While he doesn’t give the exact number of Twitter followers he gained, he did say it was no where near 500 new followers and that the Twitter page underperformed significantly compared to the opt-in page.

In the same piece, he goes on to talk about different ways you can grow your email list successfully and how one of his readers got a 500% increase in the number of people subscribing to their list each day just by putting opt-in forms in the right places on their website. That’s a significant increase, and best of all it was a one time thing that doesn’t require devoting an hour or two a day to creating, participating in, and monitoring discussions.

It all boils down to these three words: return on investment.

Let’s open this portion with a killer statistic - the Direct Marketing Association found that email marketing has a ROI of 4300%. Monetate’s Ecommerce Quarterly also showed that email drove more conversions than other marketing channels, including search and social.

Traffic source Q1 2012 Q2 2012 Q3 2012 Q4 2012 Q1 2013
Search 1.83% 1.77% 1.96% 2.49% 1.95%
Social 0.49% 0.60% 0.73% 0.88% 0.71%
Email 3.06% 3.24% 3.48% 3.58% 3.19%

It’s not hard to see why either. According to Facebook there are 1500 stories they could show on a user's Newsfeed at any point in time, so it’s not surprising your brand’s posts aren’t making the cut amongst photos of friend's holidays. And even if your post was to appear, you’re competing for a user’s attention with friends, family, and the latest viral video from BuzzFeed.

On the flipside, when a user logs in to their email account your email campaign has just as much chance of appearing in the list and getting noticed as everybody else’s. This is more than most brands can say about the reach of their status updates on Facebook and Twitter.

When you see emails from people you know and the companies you love, you’re going to open them and likely click on any links that catch your eye, whether they are to great pieces of content or special offers. If you think about the number of clicks you’ve made on Facebook ads or Twitter promoted tweets compared to the clicks you’ve made in email, I’m willing to bet the latter number has been higher.

In conclusion: should I just give up on social media?

We’re not saying you should give up on social media. In fact, social media can be an integral part of growing your email list by using things such as the Facebook subscribe form and the Twitter Lead Generation Card to get your social media fans and followers on your email list.

What we’re saying is rather than getting lured in by the hype of social media, stop and consider whether it’s really the best marketing channel to be focusing your limited time and effort on. We think you might find that email is a channel that’s worth a lot more of your time than you think - but hey, we’re biased :)

How much time do you spend on growing and engaging with your email list? How do you think your results on social media versus email differ? Please share your story with us in the comments below!

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10 Comments

  • Kim
    1st July

    It’s a solid article and I appreciate the points put forth. However, it is poorly written and could do with an editor, as there are grammatical, contextual and substantive errors.

    Inbound marketers should have some sort of writing or journalistic background, or the company is exposed to a number of professional and legal issues. Something to think about.

  • Ros Hodgekiss
    2nd July

    Hi Kim, thank you so much for your feedback here - we’re always keen to find out how we can improve our content, so definitely taking your suggestions on the chin. Consequently, we did an extra check this morning and made a few improvements. Glad you liked our analysis and we hope we can lift our game on all fronts from here on in!

  • Christian
    3rd July

    Social media even though I dread it, it going to be a
    important part of the internet and it’s not going away.

    I still like email marketing over social media anyday.

  • Jonathan
    3rd July

    Amigos. Derek Halpern’s test is from September 2012. And as you say yourselves, he doesn’t even share his results for the other “experiment”.

    Come on. You’re better than that.

  • Ros Hodgekiss
    3rd July

    Thanks for pointing that out, Jonathan. That said, there are more recent examples where people have found that email has outperformed social. Adii Pienaar has written a few articles on how email has been a core part of his marketing efforts with both WooThemes and PublicBeta - and we’d say it’s true of us here.

    That said, you’re totally right - we can totally provide more recent and better documented examples. Results are something we’re hoping to focus on more in the blog in the months ahead, so stay tuned - or even better, help us come up with our hypothesis and subscribe to our email updates using the blue button to the right ;)

  • Jonathan
    4th July

    Thanks Ros. Yes, as the nature of the beast is changing so fast, good new data will be very valuable.

  • Mark
    9th July

    I was talking to a mate the other day about social v’s email.  They said there’s no need for email anymore as the kids are only using social.

    I asked how the kids signed up for social media accounts without an email address.

    I would have felt quite witty but my response was about 5 mins after the original conversation.

  • Rick Siderfin
    26th January

    I don’t think we have to choose between the two, but if I had to make a choice I would definitely go for email marketing. While I think social media is effective for attracting potential customers, my personal experience with both strategies shows that email marketing is much more powerful when it comes to marketing to existing customers and generating sales.

    Maybe this is because email feels a bit more personal and people have to make a concious effort to sign up for a company’s newsletter while with social media many people can’t even remember what pages they “liked” sometimes.

  • digital transaction management
    28th March

    Really i am impressed from this post. I haven’t any word to appreciate this post..

  • Jordan Dibb
    28th March

    No words needed, Digital Transaction Management! We’re just so happy that you like it :) Thank you!

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