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Social Media Marketing vs. Email Marketing: Who’s the Winner?

Most marketers promote their business through both social media and email. Both are useful, and you can get great results using either one, but which is more effective overall? If you've ever wondered whether you should spend more of your time (and marketing budget) on, social media or email, this post is for you.

Social media has become a major fixture in the online marketing landscape. It's easy to see why – Facebook, Twitter, and similar platforms make it easier than ever to share updates and promotions with a virtual crowd. Social media helps you grow your brand publicly, and it's gratifying to see people like and share your posts in real time.

Email, on the other hand, has been around for quite a bit longer. On the surface, it's less exciting than social media. If you underestimate the power of email, though, you could be seriously missing out. Email is still very much alive, and it's not going away anytime soon. In many ways, email is even more effective than its charismatic social media cousins.

Here's a rundown of how social media and email stack up to each other in a few key areas.

What Kind of Results and ROI Can You Expect ?

First things first, as a marketer, you want to get results. Which drives more customer engagement, click-throughs, and conversions – email or social media?

You might be surprised to find that the answer is actually email. On average, one in five marketing emails gets opened, with a click-through rate of 3.57%, while on Facebook; you can expect a click-through rate of a measly 0.07%. Clearly, if you're trying to market as efficiently as possible, email is the way to go.

In fact, of all the marketing strategies you can adopt, email marketing has the highest ROI. The median ROI for email is 122%. Social media comes in at a distant second place, with a ROI of 28%. Below shows, dollar for dollar, email having a higher ROI than social media from a 2016 emarketer study:


How Many People Can You Reach ?

Obviously, you want to get your message out to as many people as possible, so what's the best way to do that?

Again, email dominates in this area. Email has been around longer than social media, and it's used for more things, so it naturally has a bigger user base. The Radicati Group estimates that by the end of 2017, more than 3.7 billion people worldwide will use email.

By contrast, Facebook, which is far and away the most popular social media platform, sees "only" 1.9 billion unique visitors every month. Two of the other most popular networks, Instagram and Twitter, have 600 million and 317 million visitors every month, respectively.

People also tend to check their email more frequently than they do social media. In fact, more than half of internet users (58%) check their email first thing in the morning – before looking at Facebook, doing a Google search, or even checking the weather – and almost 9 out of 10 email users check their inbox at least once a day. With numbers like that, the odds that your subscribers will see your marketing emails are pretty good. Below is an infographic from Exct that shows these numbers graphically.


Your odds of getting noticed on social media, on the other hand? Not quite so good, even if you have an equal number of email subscribers and social media followers. Why is this? It has to do with social media algorithms. Users don't see every single post, tweet, and pin from the people and businesses they follow, because there are simply too many updates to fit on an average news feed. On Facebook, for instance, you can only count on about 6% of your fan base seeing anything you post according to Social Ogilvy.

One Place Where Social Does Come Ahead for Reach

Despite all this, social media does have one significant advantage over email: it offers the possibility of going viral. Your posts aren't restricted to your own network of followers. If someone shares your content, a certain number of their followers will see it too. Sometimes this can result in far more exposure than you'd get through email. But going viral isn't easy to do, so it's better not to count on that happening.

How Will Your Marketing be Received ?

In general, people use social media for enjoyment. Sharing photos, playing games, chatting with friends – social media is where people go to relax. Email, on the other hand, is geared more towards business. This gives email an edge when it comes to marketing.

It is totally possible to promote yourself on social media, whether you choose to buy ads or simply interact with your audience organically, but you've got to do it carefully.

Too much self-promotion and people will get turned off.

It's better to treat social media as a place to connect with your audience, not a place to push your product or service, which you can learn more about here.

Also, be sure to monitor your successes and failures on social media with a social analytics tool. By measuring your success, you can be more certain if social media is an effective channel for your business.

With email, it's a different story. Everyone on your email list has already opted in to receiving promotions from you, so they're less likely to get annoyed, even by overtly "salesy" tactics. Of course, you've still got to be careful not to overwhelm your subscribers. In general, though, people will be more receptive to marketing materials in their inbox than in their news feed. Monitor your email analytics with AgencyAnalytics to see if this is true for your business.


Security and Targeting Winners and Losers

When it comes to security, email beats social media hands down. You own your email list – no one can decide to wipe it out or take it away from you on a whim. The same can't be said for your list of followers on social media. While it doesn't look as if Facebook or its kin are going away anytime soon, we all remember what happened to MySpace. There's also always a small risk that a platform might shut your account down. Even if social media marketing is your main strategy, you should at least have an email list to fall back on.

Targeting is another major thing to consider. The better-targeted your marketing materials are, the more successful you'll be. With email, you can segment your list as many ways as you want to target specific demographics. Paid social media ads also offer sophisticated options for controlling who sees your promotions, which you can learn more about here. Organic social media, on the other hand, has little to no targeting potential, since you don't have much control over who sees your posts.

The Takeaway

Does all of this mean you shouldn't bother with social media marketing? Not at all. Email marketing might be a stronger marketing approach overall, but social media is still important, and it can offer great dividends if you do it well.

Social media does have a few distinct advantages of its own. For one thing, it helps you connect with new people. A person has to be aware of your brand before they can sign up for your mailing list. Social media can help new leads discover you in the first place. Social media is also still growing and evolving. It may not be the highest-performing online marketing option right now, but it could be in the future. Staying up-to-date on current social media marketing trends will help you be prepared to make the most of any new opportunities that arise. Agency Analytics recently integrated social media into its interface, which you can see below and learn more about here. This is the best way to make sure that you're seeing your social efforts grow in relevance to your bottom line.


The final word? Right now, both social media marketing and email marketing are well worth your time and effort. If you had to pick one over the other, though, email marketing would be the better choice – it reaches more people, drives more conversions, and has a higher ROI than social media marketing (but fortunately, you don't have to choose between the two). The best online marketing strategy right now is a well-rounded approach. Focus the majority of your energy on email marketing, but use social media and other strategies to supplement your efforts, promote your brand's image, and grow your email list.

Do you get better results from email marketing or social media marketing? Tell us about your strategy in the comments! Also be sure to check out our social media dashboard.

Additional Reading: Facebook Ads vs. Google Ads: Which platform is the best choice for your business?

Written by Joe Kindness

Joe is the CEO of AgencyAnalytics, but often spends his day programming, designing or executing marketing tasks. And like most Canadians, he can be found playing or watching hockey!