Are They Kidding? Survey Shows Small Businesses Prefer Social Over Email

Small business owners just don’t get it. They prefer social media to email, and that’s where they’re putting their minuscule marketing budgets, according to a study by Ripl, a provider of mobile application software.

When respondents were asked about the most important apps and software tools for engaging new and existing customers, only 17% cited email tools. In contrast, 55% listed Facebook tools, 43% opted for Instagram, 19% for Twitter and 41% for creative and graphic design. 

And when it came to ranking channels by importance, email was a distant third behind social media posts (not ads) and the company Web site/blog. When indexed with 1.0 being the top score, email pulled .29 compared to .69 for social posts and .55 for websites and/or blogs.

On the positive side, email beat out paid ads on social media, texts  and messenger apps, paid ads on Google, and print, radio, TV ads. It also beat coupon mailings.

But it also came in third, behind social media posts and the Web site/blog for connecting with existing customers. And when the SMBs publish content, it’s most likely to be on Facebook Business, or their personal Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts. Email is near the bottom of this list, just above “other.”



Ripl concludes that “U.S. small businesses overwhelmingly view the large social media networks as their more important business awareness and customer engagement channel.” And they’re devoting their modest budgets to digital marketing software tools and online ads.

But they’re making a mistake, for email delivers the highest ROI as many surveys show.  MediaPost's Sean Hargrave recently wrote, " a marketer is six times more likely to get a response through an email than a social post. It must surely help that an email list belongs the brand, whereas Facebook controls how many of a brand's followers get to see each post." In light of that, what are small business owners thinking?

hat are they thinking?“What typically holds a small business back from implementing an email marketing program is the investment it will take to implement it, the time it will take to set it up, and the knowledge and skills to keep it going,” Rhonda Bavaro recently wrote on 

She added: “Because of their limited financial and human resources, small businesses must work smarter, not harder. That’s why marketing automation, which includes email marketing, makes sense for small businesses. Once marketing automation is set up, it’s fairly simple to maintain. Compared to TV, radio, and direct mail, it’s an affordable marketing solution that allows you to reach the right audience at the right time.” 

She’s right. Meanwhile, Ripl reported that 61% of those polled spend from $1 to $100 per month on marketing tools such as apps and software. And 47% spend the same on online advertising (i.e., Facebook and Google), and 65% spend nothing at all on print, radio and TV ads. They spend similarly small amounts on trade shows and memberships.

What are they trying to do? Small businesses cited these goals as key to their marketing strategy:

  • Build new customer awareness – 39% 
  • Drive customer traffic to site, store or blog—32%
  • Stay top-of-mind with existing customers—18%
  • Connect individually with customers via email, chat, mag

We’re glad to see that email plays a role with that.

Ripl received more than 370 responses from small businesses in the United States. Each has 100 or less employees.  

2 comments about "Are They Kidding? Survey Shows Small Businesses Prefer Social Over Email".
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  1. Gary Jesch from CHOPS & Assoc. Live Animation, June 29, 2017 at 1:45 p.m.

    I'm one of those small businesses who has invested in marketing automation and email marketing, and I have to disagree with the author regarding the cost. To get MA software that integrates with Salesforce, our CRM, we have to pay anywhere from $150 to $500 a month to put together solutions. The more we pay, the more solutions are built into one product. The less we pay, the more we have to use more specific individual pieces and make them fit together ourselves, which means more time spent trouble-shooting and in configuration and maintenance. So the level of expertise to run MA solutions that support integrated email marketing (with CRM and website tracking) is much higher and more time consuming. I think that is the main reason the companies in your small sample report that social media marketing is their first choice.

    Over the years, my rule of thumb is that one needs to do it all, cover all the bases to some extent and to get the best people you can afford to help you. Marketing is definitely an art, just like sales.

  2. Clay McDaniel from Ripl, Inc., June 30, 2017 at 12:38 p.m.

    Hi Ray - Thanks for the review of our recent U.S. Small Business Social Media Marketing research. We're glad to see that you found the results we shared interesting, even perhaps a bit controversial! Different research surveys can always yield different results, and we have no doubt you have access to other surveys that suggest email marketing can provide strong ROI. However, there is a clear trend in the marketplace underway. Only 2 short years ago, small business marketing research studies were still finding that SMB's ranked social media 2nd or even 3rd in importance to email marketing, their own websites, and other digital advertising options like search engine marketing.
    My how times have changed in the last 2 years, however... Social media has roared to the forefront in both importance and investments by small businesses in the past couple years. But don't just take our word for it. Other recent Small Business marketing research reports bear out this trend as well.
    Take a look at Pages 5 and 6 of this recent InfusionSoft study:
    Late last year, eMarketer released the results of a VistaPrint study of more than 1000 small business marketers which also found the social media was their top marketing tactic.
    Social Media Examiner conducts a comprehensive research survey every year which you and your readers may find insightful also.
    Rather than insist that small business owners "just don't get it", at Ripl we believe that the 32 million+ sole proprietors and entrepreneurs in the U.S. actually do get it. Small business owners are the quietly excellent engines of the U.S. economy, and they don’t make their marketing and CRM decisions foolishly. No one research survey or report is inherently right. As we acknowledge in our Q2 Report white paper and associated blog post (, there could very well be response bias in our findings given the nature of the small business field we sampled. But when many different research exercises all start to point in the same direction, it reminds me of an old album title... "50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong”.
    Again, thank you for sharing your Commentary post and we're grateful for the chance to respond to it. Warm regards from all of us at Ripl, Inc. - just another U.S. small business with ambition and a serious focus on social media marketing.

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