Is Email or Social Media More Effective for Engaging with Customers?

Is Email or Social Media More Effective for Engaging with Customers?

As inbound marketing strategies grow in popularity, two methods have emerged as clear winners in the field: email marketing and social media marketing. Both of these methods engage potential and current customers, provide timely and valuable information in a targeted manner, and drive shoppers or leads directly to your website or store.

If you’re busy – and I know you are – it may be difficult to find the time to devote to email or social media, much less both of them. You may be wondering “is email better than social media?” or “can I pick just one?” In this post, I’ll try to answer some of those questions, and give you all the information you need about customer engagement via email and social media marketing so you can make a smart choice.

The Advantages of Email Marketing

mail-on-phoneEmail marketing has been a common practice since the 1990s, when companies began building lists of emails for the sole purpose of advertising. It has evolved since then, thanks to the introduction of the CAN-SPAM act (which prevents companies from contacting those who have not opted in to receive email) and the establishment of some industry best practices. However, the general premise is the same: send emails to interested consumers to motivate purchases.

As a component of inbound marketing, email is used to convince potential customers to choose your business, or to draw current customers back to your website to make additional purchases. Email marketing still drives traffic and sales, but is now typically considered a way to increase awareness and build relationships with customers.

The biggest advantage of email marketing is its deliverability. Email delivery rates average around 96%, so when you send your customers a message, it will more than likely reach their inbox. Also, due to the evolution of email marketing platforms, you can now send highly targeted messages to very small groups, or automate your activities based on segments you control. For example, if you wanted to automatically send new customers a “welcome” email, or provide customers who have made one or more purchases with an exclusive coupon, you could do that with very little manual intervention.

Email is not without its drawbacks, though: due to the busy lifestyles of subscribers, and changes like the “Promotions” tab in Gmail, many marketing emails are not seen, much less read. Also, if you aren’t able to find the right frequency, tone, or content for your emails, you may find yourself losing subscribers very quickly.

The Advantages of Social Media

Social media emerged as a marketing practice around 2005, after Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and YouTube began to attract attention from brands looking to reach customers on these new platforms. With the later addition of Pinterest, LinkedIn, Instagram, and other social media sites, companies began searching for new, unique ways to gain followers, build relationships, and motivate sales.

social-cupcakesSocial media, like email, is typically seen as a component of inbound marketing. Although it’s sometimes difficult to “prove” that there is any return on investment (or ROI) on social media activities, social media marketing is considered a good way to build relationships with customers and generate both brand awareness and affinity.

Social media’s biggest advantage over other forms of marketing is its direct engagement with followers. By posting an update on Facebook or sending out a tweet, a brand is essentially starting a conversation. Email marketing can be seen as one-way communication – essentially another form of advertising – while social media is more open, and the tone used for updates or posts more personal.

True to its name, social media invites social activities, and brands may have better luck engaging and motivating customers on these platforms since what they are doing is not advertising, but speaking, or starting conversations. However, the biggest downside of social media is that it takes time and attention to start and hold these conversations, and ignoring a negative comment can lead to big problems. You may not reach as many customers as you like, either, due to changes Facebook has made to the way Page updates appear in feeds.

Email vs Social Media: Surprising Statistics

So which is better? Is email marketing more reliable than social media, or is social media’s engagement far higher than email?

Some surprising statistics on the email vs social media battle have emerged, and they show that many marketers have invested in both methods – but with interesting results:


Although many businesses are actively invested in social media, and growing their social marketing budgets each and every year, it seems that consumers still prefer email marketing. Based on the ROI reported, email marketing messages seem to drive more direct sales than social media, which is generally seen as a method to create awareness or help customers.

These findings may lead to you ask this next question…

Is Email Better Than Social Media?

Not necessarily. While email has plenty of strengths and advantages, it also has its weaknesses. Customers can opt out of receiving your messages at any time, and although deliverability is high, that doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone who gets your email will open it, read it, or act on it.

marketing-puzzleEmail and social media are best used for different purposes in your marketing strategy. Social media marketing can directly drive purchases, true, but it should be seen as a way to directly communicate with your fans and customers. It is likely to be utilized as an earlier step in the marketing funnel, creating awareness and brand devotion.

Email marketing, meanwhile, should be utilized more like a sales channel. Since it is better at driving purchases, it should be used to do so. However, you can also use email to drive traffic to your social media channels (or your website), or convince potential customers to make a purchase from you.

Email marketing is not better than social media – it’s simply a different marketing method with its own unique set of advantages and disadvantages. But like a puzzle, with practice and time, you can fit all the pieces together and use both to your advantage.

Creating a Harmonious Marketing Plan with Email and Social Media

With a little work and knowledge of their individual strengths and weaknesses, you can create a marketing plan that allows email and social media marketing to work together in harmony. Here are a few ideas:

  • Encourage email signups on social media from time to time, or via a dedicated tab on your Facebook Page
  • Link to your social media profiles from your email
  • Occasionally include some of your social media activity in your email campaigns (ex. the most popular pins from your Pinterest account, a glowing review left on your Facebook page)
  • Avoid the “hard sell” on social media, but feel free to mention any email-exclusive deals or offers that are coming up so anyone who is interested can get them

Every company and brand will find that their email and social campaigns need to be a little bit different. There is no “one size fits all” marketing plan that will work for everyone. Although there is plenty of general advice out there, it’s best to experiment with some guidelines in mind to see what your fans and customers like best.

Online marketing is always changing. What works for everyone else may not work for you, and what works for you now may not work in just a few weeks. It’s important to rely on your experiences rather than what you are being told. We recommend approaching emerging channels with an open mind, experimenting with new things, and reviewing your results on a regular basis. In fact, this is something we do monthly at WebpageFX, and it’s allowed us to integrate some amazing strategies into our own plans.

With a little bit of time and dedication, you can create successful and harmonious marketing strategies on every platform available. Although I started this post by asking if email or social media was better for customer engagement, and the data available shows that email has a bigger reach, you should experiment for yourself to find out what is most effective for your business. And if you need any help with creating a marketing strategy that works, we’re just a phone call or email away!

Photo Credit: JamesRoseUK, Cakehead Loves, jared (CC)