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Email Marketing vs Social Media

There is a heated debate inside marketing circles right now about whether email marketing (EM) or social media marketing (SMM) is a better option when it comes to focusing your marketing efforts.  Recent research suggests that the question in and of itself may be steering you in the wrong direction.

First off, it’s no surprise that the debate on email marketing vs social media is raging within the marketing community.  After all, what is the most fundamental purpose of marketing?  To sell more products and services by highlighting why they are the latest and greatest and why customers needed to be using them yesterday!

At times, this can lead consumers to constant distraction with the ‘new shiny object’ syndrome.  The next latest and greatest tool that will finally get them over the hump to attaining their goal.  So, it is no surprise that the marketing industry itself succumbs to chasing the latest ‘new shiny object’; which at times comes at the expense of the ‘tried and true’.  And at the end of the day, this can be a very costly mistake for a business to make!

For example, in the online marketing world, social media marketing is all the rage.  Whereas Facebook ‘Comments’ and ‘Likes’ and Twitter ‘Followers’ and ‘Retweets’ are the new hot topics, previous methods like email marketing are looked at as old and dated.  By looking at the numbers below, you’ll see that this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

According to data from respected industry research organizations like Marketing Sherpa and Forrester Research, projected spending on email marketing will increase to $2.5 billion by the year 2016. Between the first quarter of 2011 and the first quarter of 2012, just as social media marketing hype reached a fever pitch, retail email volume was up 18%.

email marketing vs social media

Other industry research also shows that spending on email marketing campaigns increased by 60% in 2012, which resulted in a 4,000% return on investment.  A 4,000 return on investment!  That certainly supports the idea of keeping email around as a part of your marketing toolbox.

While purveyors of the new shiny object tend to position existing alternatives as passé or doomed to the scrapyard, the reality is that social media marketing and channels are more complementary and additive than displacing.  After all, radio did not cause print to go extinct any more than T.V. did with radio, because both are still effective today.

While the absolute level of spending in each will vary or even decline over time, legacy marketing channels like direct mail, radio, and T.V. will continue to be used so long as they are profitable. Overall, it’s important to recognize that email marketing is not dead.  To the contrary, it’s one of the best ROIs you can find!

The enduring appeal and performance of email marketing compared to social media marketing likely stems from the direct nature of email versus the indirect nature of social media marketing opportunities, like Facebook and Twitter.  And in that sense, social media marketing has not surpassed email marketing by a long shot.  For all the allure of SMM, the bottom line is that email has some inherent advantages over social media.

For example, email is converting better for a variety of reasons.  Whether it be the laser targeting email offers or the ease of relationship building email can provide, email converts, and converts well!

email marketing vs. social media

Here’s why: When someone opts in to a list, it is typically in the context of an interest to learn more about a product or service.  After they opt in, email subscribers often download a free report, or watch a video tutorial, or they may be directed to a sales page.  As a result, the relationship with an email subscriber often has a commercial intent from the start.  This offers a huge advantage over social media as the pre-selling process has already started.

That being said, it’s important to note that when done correctly, there is a potential for a profitable synergy between email marketing and social media marketing that puts this on steroids!

Also, the ease at which you can segment your list and provide your subscribers with pinpointed offers via email, is a huge benefit as well.  For example, once a subscriber elects to buy from an email promotion, they can be added to a highly valuable customer list.  Savvy marketers will maintain separate lists for prospects and customers because the highest ROI can be expected to come from promotions to customer lists, since they have already demonstrated a willingness to buy.  The more targeted you are with your new opt in subscribers, the more potential new customers you can add to your buyers list.

Another huge advantage emails offers is the benefit of a being a source of traffic on demand.  Whenever you want to send out a campaign to generate sales, peak interest in a particular topic, or even to simply get valuable feedback, this highly targeted audience is just a mouse click away.

While there are many valid and profitable reasons for adding social media marketing to your toolbox, the current research shows that it would be a costly mistake to toss email marketing into the dust heap.  Email Marketing is indeed not only alive and well, but thriving.

The overall key is to recognize that both email and social media are distinct and different marketing channels that can both be effective for your business, if you design your campaigns to leverage the strengths of each.

Written by Heather Seitz

For over a decade Heather Seitz used email marketing to build successful companies and had to solve the biggest barrier to consistent profitability: deliverability.  Today she is the Co-Founder and CEO of Email Delivered.

For more information on how to maximize email conversion and keep your subscribers engaged for long term profitability,  click here http://www.emaildelivered.com/email-marketing-vs-social-media. Remember to sign up for the FREE Email Delivered Pulse newsletter for articles, tips, and recommended resources for email marketers.


Apogee Results (2012). “White Paper: 2012 Online Marketing Trends”

Dan Freeman, President, Marketing Growth Strategies (2011), “Email Marketing: An Industry Overview”

Borrell Associates (2012). “Main Street Goes Social: SMBs Give a Big Thumbs Up to Social Media”

Marketing Profts (2011). “Social Media Ad Spend to Reach $8.3 Billion by 2015”

Awareness, Inc. (2011). “The State of Social Media Marketing: Top Areas for Social Marketing Investment and Biggest Social Marketing Challenges in 2012”

Merkle (2011). “View from the Digital Inbox 2011. Digital Marketing Insights from the Annual Consumer Attitudes and Usage Study”

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December 4, 2014


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