Q: Email vs. Social? A: I'll Take Both

What's more valuable, an email address in your database or a Facebook "Like?" Is it better to excel at email marketing or social-media marketing? Pick one: email or social media? Which would you rather have: a click on an email link or a Facebook Like?

Questions like these, which target the role, value and future of email marketing in an evolving digital universe, are popping up regularly these days on Q&A sites such as Focus, Quora and LinkedIn. They generate the kinds of vigorous discussions that you often get over cocktails at marketing conferences.

Not surprisingly, email people typically give email marketing their votes, while social-media types give thumbs up to "their" channel. While these discussions and debates certainly are entertaining, they get us nowhere.  

Maybe people offer these two extreme positions just to get conversations started, but for me, there is no "either-or" about email and social. You can and should include both of the channels as part of your digital marketing and communications strategy.



But it goes much further than that. We live in a multichannel world. Your customers might choose to interact with your brand and communications via radio, TV, newspaper, direct mail, catalogs, email, SMS, Twitter, Facebook pages, YouTube, mobile apps, telephone and more. 

How you allocate resources and money to each of these and other channels varies not only by your business lines and markets served but also by the goal of the communication and stage of the individual customer or prospect relationship.


Click versus Like 

These questions, which compare things such as the value of an email address with a Facebook Like, are missing the point, because they ask marketers to compare two wildly disparate things.


A Facebook action, such as a Like, is a public confirmation of the customer's affinity toward or past experience with your company, brand or product. It doesn't necessarily indicate a propensity to buy in the future.

Just because I "Like" the Ferrari Facebook Page doesn't mean you will be seeing a shiny red sports car in my driveway anytime soon.


In contrast, a click on an email message signals intent or interest. It might be just to finish reading an article on a website, to download a white paper, to check out the daily special being promoted -- or to make a purchase.


Once you clarify for yourself, your program and your company what roles email, social and mobile marketing will play and how they interplay, you can allocate the appropriate amount of resources for each.


Asking the Right Questions


All companies have finite resources, especially when it comes to marketing. So, while pitting one channel against another in the abstract is somewhat fruitless, marketing executives do have a responsibility to continually monitor and analyze which channels and combinations provide the best returns. 

Let's raise some of the current dialog up from schoolyard-level childishness and focus on the more meaningful and important questions.

I'd love to hear your thoughts, but here are a few to get you started:

·       What is the role of email vs. social, mobile, print and other channels in our company?

·       How do we make our emails more relevant by incorporating content, personality and lessons learned from social media?

·       How do we integrate email, social and mobile marketing activities with each other to drive greater ROI across all three channels?

·       How do we better leverage email to drive increased engagement in social and mobile channels?

·       How do we grow our email database using social and mobile channels?

·       How do we measure the effectiveness of each channel relative to its level of reach, adoption and investment? 

How you frame your questions will determine whether you launch an interesting but ultimately fruitless discussion -- or spark a conversation that leads to the kind of insight we need to keep the email industry moving forward and realize its full potential. 

Until next time, take it up a notch!

4 comments about "Q: Email vs. Social? A: I'll Take Both".
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  1. Matt Silk from Waterfall, April 7, 2011 at 12:38 p.m.

    Everyone seems to debate email vs. social... Each one of them have their place in a robust CRM strategy. Each channel has it strengths and weaknesses and has to be leveraged in light of the particular goal of the campaign.

    However, I would like to make the debate even more interesting by throwing MOBILE into the mix. Email vs. social vs. mobile should be the title of the article... With the large percentage of email/social being consumed over mobile devices today, not considering mobile would be a mistake. And, a brand's mobile subscribers are very likely their most engaged customers...


    Matt Silk
    SVP, Waterfall Mobile, Inc. |

  2. Kurt Johansen from Johansen International, April 7, 2011 at 5:41 p.m.

    Loren for two years I've been making comments on your posts and it seems to me as the media opportunities increase to reach our customers one stabling effect remains. Marketing and especially email marketing is all about 1. The List 2. The Relationship With The List and 3. The Offer. Get all these three points in congruence and it doesn't matter what the media is. Cheers Kurt Australia's Leading Email Marketing Strategist to Small/Medium Businesses

  3. Ismael Seguban, April 12, 2011 at 4:21 p.m.

    Great post. Whatever channel a message is sent through, it needs to add value. Consumers want deals - plain and simple. Both are great ways to have a more personal relationship with the consumer.

    The challenge for both social and email marketers has always been about the content. Is it relevant? Does it add value? Will it make their lives easier?

    Matt makes a great point - mobile needs to be mentioned in this debate but what does involve? Apps, mobile web, SMS/MMS, QR?

    Bottom line, whether social, email or mobile, it goes back to content. It needs to be engaging.

    @IsmaelAlterian | Community Manager | Alterian

  4. Kate Keeley from CenturyLink, April 13, 2011 at 6:31 p.m.

    My "extreme" position is that it's important to know your audience. First we need to determine who we're trying to reach and then find out what's important to them. Then we ought to be thinking about where they like to "hang out." Online marketing--including email and social media sites like Facebook--are “hangouts.” Ideally, we're going to get our messages to the right people, in the way they like to hear from us.

    This means developing a plan that is as considerate as we can possibly be of the people we are trying to reach.

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