It Should Never Have Been Social Vs. Email

Email marketers have endured years of misguided “email is dead” rants from folks who believed social was superior, but it appears that the script has been flipped. Increasingly, headlines like ”Email Is Crushing Twitter, Facebook for Selling Stuff Online,””Why Email Punches 100x Above Social Media” and ”Stores Seeking Shoppers Find Email Outdraws Facebook” are the norm.

It’s looking more and more as if social — after reaching the Peak of Inflated Expectations with Facebook’s IPO — has plunged into the Trough of Disillusionment a la Gartner’s Hype Cycle. While I’m not immune to the schadenfreude of the role reversal, and appreciate that folks are acknowledging email for the sales powerhouse that it is, I find it abundantly clear that email vs. social was never a fair matchup.



Email and social each excel at communicating with consumers at different points in the sales funnel, and for different purposes. Email vs. social makes no more sense than pitting radio vs. direct mail. To treat them as comparable is to misunderstand their strengths.


a mid-funnel channel. While receiving discounts and promotions is a popular reason for following a brand, it is only one of many reasons, with customer service, entertainment and news announcements ranking high on the list as well.

Complicating matters further, permission is a fuzzy concept on social, which sometimes doesn’t even mean that the person wants to hear from the brand. For some consumers, it’s just a show of support, which is why, for instance, Facebook began filtering Timelines and charging brands for the privilege of reaching their own followers. That move was driven more by the need for Timeline relevance than the desire for another revenue stream.

And because connections can be tenuous on social networks and messaging is ephemeral, sharing produces a relatively weak call-to-action — although greater reach can compensate for this, sometimes spectacularly so.

So buying intent is not the driving reason behind social following and social sharing. Social is at its best when it’s a mix of targeted awareness-building, customer service interactions, and customer-to-customer interactions — which are all powerful functions, even if they’re not a click away from producing sales.


a low-funnel channel. Receiving discounts and promotions is the overwhelming reason for signing up for emails, although consumers also want other purchase-related information like new product announcements.

Email permission is an unambiguous signal that the person is interested in buying and wants to receive messaging regularly.

Because email sharing is typically one-to-one, this targeted sharing is enormously valuable, with the recipient quite likely to act on the email. This is made even more powerful by the fact that unread emails demand action.

So email marketing is all about buying intent. Signing up for a brand’s emails is a strong buying signal akin to joining a loyalty program or applying for a brand’s private-label credit card.

THAT MEANS… Since social and email are really more sequential elements of the sales funnel than simultaneous, competing elements, there are opportunities to listen and start conversations on social and then leverage insights from that into your email program.

Using this intelligence doesn’t have to be overt, but I wanted to share some examples where it is. For instance, in this Lands’ End email, the company used a comment from one of its mega-fans to create a Valentine’s Day message. A number of brands have been using social media for product curation, as in this ModCloth email, this Uncommon Goods email, and this Country Outfitters email, which even borrows its design from Pinterest. And this JCPenney email does some content sourcing from Facebook as part of the company’s PR campaign to demonstrate that it’s listening to customers.

The voice of the consumer is becoming an increasingly important element of email marketing. While email is the power channel of retention marketing, social is the power channel of customer voice.

1 comment about "It Should Never Have Been Social Vs. Email ".
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  1. Terrence D. Black from Gonetty Software, September 23, 2013 at 10:36 a.m.

    Nice article. What about integrating email & social media together? Maybe the answer is innovating email social media networking as one?

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