Editor’s Note: This post was first published in February 2014 and has been updated for relevancy and accuracy.
Here’s something for #ThrowBackThursday. In 2014, a McKinsey study sent seismic shocks throughout the marketing world when it claimed that email was up to 40 times better than Facebook and Twitter (combined) at acquiring new customers. Back then, email apparently had the edge over social channels when it came to targeting and conversions.
But that was almost four years ago. With all that’s been going on in B2B marketing lately, it might as well have been the 1840s.
In fact, during that time, social media carried a reputation for being the “Wild West of marketing”. Most marketers In those days pretty much found themselves in uncharted territory when it came to social media. Without clear goals or coherent strategies, many of those social media campaigns only managed to eke out dismal results.
Of course, a lot has changed in the past four years or so. Not only has social media’s effectiveness vastly improved in terms of impact on lead generation and revenues, but marketers now also combine both email and social to complement each channel’s strengths.
That’s why, any comparison that pits these two channels against each other is a moot point.
But just for fun, let’s say we live in a world where email and social media still operated in separate silos. This seems unthinkable to most of us today, but this wouldn’t be a huge stretch for nearly 20% of marketers. Anyway, here’s what a matchup involving these two channels would probably look like:
Email vs. Social Media
Let’s start by contrasting each channel’s strong and weak points.
Both email and social media possess their own distinct sets of fortes. Email is a cost-effective way to send direct, personal, and targeted communications at scale. Social media, meanwhile, is the top channel when it comes to increasing exposure, boosting traffic, cultivating brand loyalty, and collecting marketing/sales insights.
As far as weaknesses go, these two channels have their fair share of drawbacks, too. Email marketing challenges include creative/content requirements, deliverability issues, sender reputation, and list management. Social media’s key disadvantages, on the other hand, stem from the fact that its platforms are oftentimes overcrowded, noisy, and uncontrollable.
However, not all social media platforms are created equal. Each social media outlet has its own quirks and peculiarities. So, to find out how email stacks up against social, we’ll have to put email side by side with specific social media sites.
Email vs. Facebook
In case you haven’t heard, Facebook has now displaced LinkedIn as the world’s professional social network. As such, Facebook is increasingly becoming the main platform for B2B marketers. So how does Facebook compare to email?
Facebook now comes shipped with a number of robust marketing capabilities indispensable to B2B folks. For example, Facebook ad targeting now allows selection by industry, company, or even job title. The social network also enables wider and deeper levels of content sharing and interaction—exactly what you need to drive more traffic and leads.
But, as with other social networks, Facebook makes organic engagement a bit of a challenge. Tweaks to its algorithms limit organic reach to a low threshold (more on this below), and constant noise tends to drown out marketers’ posts in their target users’ timelines.
By comparison, email provides one-on-one, personalized outreach to a narrower audience. Depending on your goals, this can be a good thing or a bad thing. Like Facebook timelines, the inbox can also be a crowded place, and standing out is going to require quite a bit of work.
Email vs. Twitter
Now that Twitter has doubled its character limit, a lot of marketers are realigning their Twitter strategy to capture new opportunities brought about by this recent change, such as more active users, more ad space, and greater access. This, however, isn’t the first time that the microblogging platform looked shiny and new in marketers’ eyes.
Twitter is a great channel for monitoring mentions of brands and topics. B2B marketers use Twitter for gathering information and for finding leads. Marketers also leverage the microblogging platform to nurture and engage prospects. More importantly, Twitter also allows one-on-one direct messaging and conversations.
Unlike emails, however, tweets tend to be extremely brief with short shelf lives. So, They work best for quick, on-topic messages. Conversations and conversions typically need to move outside the microblogging environment. Also, in contrast to emails with a transactional flavor, ads and ad-like posts are generally frowned upon as spam in the Twittersphere. In fact, Twitter itself discontinued lead generation ads earlier this year.
The Unofficial Scorecard
Clearly, having different strengths and weaknesses for each channel means the email-vs.-social bakeoff isn’t exactly going to yield an apples-to-apples comparison. After all, having 1,000 email subscribers isn’t the same as having 1,000 Twitter followers or 1,000 Facebook fans.
To work around this, we’ll lump relevant channel-specific metrics into three categories: reach, engagement, and conversion. Hopefully, these are going to give us comparable yardsticks for assessing each channel.
These metrics measure the amount of audience exposure you get from a campaign. For emails, open rates remain the best way to quantify reach, while organic reach works well for gauging how much exposure a Facebook post gains. On Twitter, the impressions metric refers to how many users view a given tweet. But since only a percentage of your followers will actually see your tweet, a better metric for measuring reach on Twitter would be impression rates (impressions as a percentage of follower count).
Here’s how each of these three channels does in terms of reach:
- Email open rates: 15.2% to 28.5%, on average (depending on the industry)
- Facebook organic reach: Between 2% to 6%
- Twitter impression rates: From 2% to 30%.
Engagement metrics quantify the impact of your email, post, or tweet. For social media, engagement typically consists of likes, shares, comments, retweets, replies, etc. To make this number more meaningful, engagements are expressed relative to how many fans or followers a user has.
For emails, click-through rates (CTRs) naturally come to mind when measuring engagement, but a better metric to gauge email’s impact is click-to-open rates (CTORs). CTOR compares the number of clicks to the number of opens. This means that CTOR measures only the message’s effectiveness without being skewed by subject lines, send-out times, and other factors that matter only before opening the email.
Engagement-wise, here’s how email compares to Facebook and Twitter:
While there can be lots of ways for “conversions” to take place, we’ll focus on two main types for this post: top-of-funnel (prospect becomes a lead) and middle-of-funnel (lead becomes sales-qualified). Marketo reports that average top-of-funnel conversion rates for email and social media are 0.57% and 1.95%, respectively.
For middle-of-funnel conversions, here’s how email, Facebook, and Twitter stack up against each other:
Based on the quick comparison above, we see that each channel is suited to achieve a specific purpose. Email’s unparalleled reach and conversion performance mmakeit an ideal channel for direct, one-on-one interactions, e.g., nurturing and closing. Facebook, meanwhile, works well at generating buzz and interest on business’s posts. In addition, Twitter performs a crucial supporting role that enhances how the other two platforms work.
The key takeaway here is that today, there’s no longer a single, all-purpose marketing tool that we can whip out in every situation. Each channel serves a particular role. It’s only when we combine these platforms that we start getting the best results.
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