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Email Isn’t Better Than Social Media Marketing If You Don’t Use Both

March 10, 2021

Last month, an article at Entrepreneur.com made the overly-broad declaration that “email marketing is better for your business than social media.” Being addressed to an audience of no-one-in-particular, this statement seemed to imply that it doesn’t even matter what “your business” is or how you’ve structured your digital marketing campaign.

These sorts of things always strike us as red flags, because they imply a “one size fits all” approach to marketing strategies. Effective client services generally require a high degree of personal attention and individual strategizing. That’s true whether those services consist of email outreach, social media marketing, or (as is most likely the case) a careful mixture of both.

To the Entrepreneur article’s credit, it does acknowledge that social media tends to play a marketing role alongside email. But this doesn’t diminish the author’s impulse to relegate social media to an afterthought, placing email marketing on a pedestal in front of it. Ironically, though, the article states that email is one of the best ways of generating leads for a business, then immediately goes on to say that social media advertisements can “drive leads” to email lists as part of a “savvy” marketing campaign.

The point here seems to be that while email and social media marketing may work together much of the time, it is really the email messages that tend to push customers that final steps towards a product purchase or another marketer goal. Be that as it may, if you ride a horse more than halfway around a track, then dismount and pedal a bicycle to get over the finish line, does it make any sense to say that the bike was more important than the horse? That’s what Entrepreneur seems to be saying about the relationship between social media marketing and email.

Narrow Focus Can Be a Distraction

We aren’t picking apart the article’s pronouncements in order to say that they are categorically wrong. There are certainly situations in which email really is more important to the promotion of your business than social media marketing. But there are other situations in which the reverse is true. And in both cases, there’s a good chance that you can use both of those strategies effectively, so they support each other.

Quite frankly, it’s dangerous to think of one type of digital marketing as being definitively more important than another. When you do that, you run a risk of fixating too closely on one strategy or another, which can make you less flexible when it comes to adjusting that strategy to suit different situations and new data.

Inflexibility can be especially damaging to your business in the digital era, because the landscape of social media marketing is constantly shifting, and “savvy” marketers need to remain vigilant about new opportunities and threats. We’ve said many times at this blog that there are certain platforms and strategies which work well at the moment but could be overshadowed whenever the Next Big Thing comes along.

There was a time when social media marketing itself was the Next Big Thing, and it started to overshadow email. At the time, it was appropriate for digital marketing companies to shift their focus, although some of them went too far and neglected the opportunities that still existed on the old platform. Now people are rightly trying to rehabilitate email marketing, but they risk going too far as well.

Systems of Mutual Support

If you have a nuanced perspective about email and social media marketing, you should understand that each has its own strengths and weaknesses. The best digital marketing campaign is the one that uses each available tool to compensate for another’s weaknesses, so the fewest possible number of engagements end up falling through the cracks.

Entrepreneur goes by the numbers to suggest that the raw number of engagements is higher with email than with social media. It notes that when they’re sent to partially curated lists, emails often get opened more than 10 percent of the time. By contrast, it says that social media followers only see an account’s content about 5.5 percent of the time. The article jumps from this comparison to the conclusion that email is twice as good at capturing an audience’s attention. But this is too simplistic.

First of all, the 10 percent figure is almost certainly greater than the percentage of people who actually read the content of a marketing email. It’s fairly easy to open a message and still ignore it, especially if that message relies on long-form communication. If the first line of the email doesn’t seem compelling or relevant to the reader’s expectations, it will go right in the trash folder.

With social media marketing, there is no trash folder because the communication is meant to be fleeting. For the most part, if you follower sees the content or your latest post, you’ve already conveyed your message. There’s no need to convince them to scroll down for more.

Of course, this strength is also a weakness. Social media allows you to grab your followers’ attention for some instant gratification, but it doesn’t necessarily make it easy for you to convey a detailed message. Remarkably, this brings us right back to the fact about integrated marketing strategies that Entrepreneur glossed over in the first place. If you can use social media to foster engagement with the best leads and then drive them toward your email newsletter, you can get much better returns on your digital marketing investment.

Final Thoughts

Now more than ever, it can be tempting to prioritize cost-cutting over most everything else. And when it comes to your marketing budget, there may be no more obvious an opportunity for cost-cutting than by shifting all your expenditures into the one type of activity that sees to get the most results.

That’s exactly the sort of decision that Entrepreneur seems to be advocating for, but it is a drastic one. Sometimes cutting costs also means cutting value, and if you aren’t making at least some effort to engage your target audience from every angle, you won’t really succeed in engaging them anywhere.

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