Email Marketing vs Social Media for Your Small Business

Email marketing and social media are two of the top digital marketing tactics you can use to promote your business. Both offer unique opportunities and challenges that are important to keep in mind when developing marketing campaigns. Ultimately, your marketing strategy will rely on both channels to be successful.

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Email marketing vs social media: ROI

Email has the highest ROI of all marketing channels. According to research from Litmus, you’ll get $36 USD in return for every $1 USD you spend on email marketing, which can have huge implications for your bottom line. 

This ROI can be partially attributed to the fact that your audience has actively signed up for your emails, so they are already interested in the content you want to send. Additionally, an email marketing tool that’s connected to your customer relationship management (CRM) platform—or better yet, an all-in-one solution like HubSpot—allows you to populate dynamic content based on the products or services each recipient is most likely to buy.

Screenshot of HubSpot email design tool.

On the other hand, social media is less effective than email marketing for driving sales conversions, so the ROI is generally lower. The number of people who see a social media post promoting a specific product or service may be higher than those who would see an email for the same item, but the proportion of people who actually click the link and make a purchase is significantly lower. 

This is because social media audiences are inherently more diverse than email marketing audiences. Many social media users will likely be interested in your business offering, but an even larger number of people will be uninterested. Email marketing audiences are more optimized for ROI than the general population of social media users.

Also read: Facebook Outage: Small Businesses Must Refocus on Owned Audiences

Email marketing vs social media: Engagement

Social media is the clear winner when it comes to customer engagement. With social media, there’s more of an opportunity to create content that your audience wants to interact with. This could be a funny video that prompts a reaction, or a relevant tip someone may find helpful enough to share with their friends. 

Comments, shares, and likes are engagement metrics that social media management platforms like Hootsuite obsess over. These tools help you understand the type of content that works best to get a response from your audience so you can use that information to shape your social media strategy.

Screenshot of Hootsuite analytics platform.

Similar engagement metrics are mostly absent from emails. Sure, someone can forward an email to one of their contacts, but the private nature of email makes this difficult to measure and optimize. Instead, your best opportunity for engagement with email marketing is in the subject line. Making the subject attention-grabbing and enticing increases the chances that your audience will actually open and read your email. 

Additionally, it’s easier to establish your brand identity on social media than in marketing emails. Customers frequently discover new brands on social media—they can’t sign up for your email list until they know you exist. As such, it’s likely that your social media account is the first chance your customers have to learn about your company as a whole. 

Is your brand playful and entertaining, or is it more formal and serious? Do you respond to customer inquiries on social media or is there a different channel for support? The answers to these questions will inform your customers’ first impressions as well as the likelihood that they will engage further.

Read more: 10 Social Media Best Practices for Small Businesses

Email marketing vs social media: Reach

Similarly, it’s much easier to reach a wider audience with social media than with email. The top social media platforms—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok—have millions of users that might fit the profile of your ideal customer. New users sign up every day, so there is virtually limitless potential for the number of people you can reach with your social media strategy.

Hashtags are the key to leveraging your social media reach effectively. Social listening tools like Rite Tag can help you find niche hashtags that are related to your business’s products or services. Including these hashtags in your social media posts will elevate your visibility with the users who are already interested in the kind of content you create.

Screenshot of RiteTag hashtag comparison tool.

Conversely, email marketing reach is exclusively limited to the subscribers on your list. You can grow your list by promoting it through other channels, but there has to be a specific value proposition that entices your audience to sign up. Without the crucial opt-in, sending an email campaign to someone outside your email list puts you in violation of privacy laws like GDPR and CAN-SPAM.

Also read: Email Marketing Best Practices That Drive Results

Email marketing vs social media: Targeting

Email is better for targeting specific customers because you have access to more first-party data than social media can provide. Especially if you connect your email software with your e-commerce platform, you can use historical data about a customer’s demographics, purchase history, and other characteristics to segment your audience. 

For example, you may want to tweak the messaging slightly for a campaign about a new product launch that’s going to customers who have purchased similar products in the past. Or, it might be impactful to send an exclusive offer to customers who haven’t purchased add-ons. Some platforms like Mailchimp offer intelligent segmentation features that make this process as simple as a few clicks.

Screenshot of Mailchimp targeting features.

You can target social media advertisements based on users’ demographic information like age, gender, and geographic region, but these parameters pale in comparison to the quality and detail you get with email marketing. Social media targeting also requires a dedicated ad budget—email marketing offers better targeting without the added cost.

Is email marketing or social media marketing better?

Email marketing and social media marketing have distinct advantages and disadvantages that make them more helpful for certain goals than others.

In general, email is a better channel for strategic growth. Your contacts have intentionally signed up to receive communications directly from you, so they are more likely to drive sales and conversions. And as the future of third-party cookies dims, you won’t have to worry about losing access to your email contacts. Your email audience will remain the same regardless of which platform you use. However, it takes time and strategic effort to build up an email list, and it can be a challenge to keep people from eventually opting out of your campaigns.

On the other hand, social media is best for engagement and building rapport with customers, which can in turn help you grow your email lists. Unlike email, social media presents opportunities for your posts to “go viral” because the content isn’t restricted to a single list of followers. There are limitless possibilities for engagement and exposure, and your social media following can grow rapidly as you reach new audiences.

Email and social media aren’t mutually exclusive, and they often intersect to drive your big-picture marketing goals. Social media is a great place to grow your audience and create brand recognition, whereas email is best for building long-term customer relationships and digging into ROI opportunities. Both parts are necessary to successfully market your business.

Read next: Best Digital Marketing Tools for Small Businesses

Anne Meick
Anne Meick
Anne Meick is an author, copywriter, and digital project management consultant, leading digital teams and projects in highly regulated industries. She is the founder of and blogs on writing, editing, and book publishing.

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