If you’re a dinosaur like me, you may remember the days when we would send pages-long emails to friends to stay connected. We’d lean back in our chairs and relax into the electronic letter much like someone would 100 years ago after receiving a letter delivered by Pony. 

Times have certainly changed. Now, if you’re a hip, young-minded professional, you take just a few moments in your day to scroll through social media to see what your friends are up to. The updates are just a few words long and may include a gallery of photos. It’s a totally different way of communicating.

But email isn’t gone. In fact, the advent of social media made email a more novel experience. In fact, both forms of outreach provide interesting opportunities well beyond catching up with friends. Small and medium-sized businesses can use direct mail, email, and social media to connect with current and future customers. From coupons offered on social media to emailed tips and ideas of interest to your customers, you can create marketing campaigns that speak directly to the people who care the most about your products, services, and values. 

If you’re wondering about email vs. social media marketing, it’s best to understand that one isn’t better than the other. Instead, they provide different benefits and opportunities. Email marketing is the act of gathering email addresses and strategically sending contacts a series of targeted emails to their inboxes. Social media marketing works a bit differently, but it’s also very effective. It ranges from no-cost, organic marketing such as posting engaging content on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and other platforms to paid advertisements and sponsored content on these same channels.  

Both email and social media marketing are worth integrating into your comprehensive and strategic outreach plan. By understanding how each platform works separately and in concert, you’ll know how to be most efficient and effective in your marketing strategy.

Comparing email marketing data with social media data

To get an idea of how email marketing compares to social media marketing, let’s start as all good business owners should: with the numbers. 

ROI of each

By far, email marketing has the best return on investment (ROI) compared to nearly every marketing platform. For every $1 business owners spend on their email marketing, they’ll get $36 in return. That’s one of the email marketing statistics you can take to the bank.

ROI for social media varies since there are so many different methods and platforms to use in a marketing strategy. Often, an interwoven strategy is most effective — when email and social media or different social media platforms are used together. Overall, the ROI of social media marketing is around $2.80 for every $1 spent, offering a good return as well. And when various strategies are combined together, your efforts can bear even more fruit.

Conversion numbers

A popular key performance indicator (KPI) for marketing is the rate at which the campaign converts prospects into paying customers. For both email and social media marketing, conversion is highly contingent on the number of people you are reaching. The larger your email contact list, the better your conversion. And, the more people who engage with your social media post or ad, the better your conversion.

It’s worth noting that the number of email contacts and social media followers aren’t directly comparable when looking at email vs. social media marketing. Email contacts receive everything you send. Social media followers, due to the algorithms of the different platforms, barely see most posts. One study stated that just 5.5% of followers see what you post (not counting paid advertisements). 

Size of the audience for each

The number of people today on social media, something that barely existed a few decades ago, is impressive. More than 4.74 billion people around the world use some form of social media, more than two hours each day on average. Plenty of people have email accounts, and most have more than one. By 2025, it’s expected that nearly 4.6 million people will be using this form of communication throughout the globe.  

For marketing professionals, social media outreach falls into one of two categories: organic and paid. Organic marketing involves strategies that seek to reach followers without having to pay for the content to be seen in a news feed. Paid advertising on social media reaches significantly more people, but it will require a greater percentage of a marketing budget. For both, it’s wise to focus on growing followers through giveaways, engaging content, and other methods to have the biggest — and most affordable — reach possible.

When to reach out 

Scheduling social media and email marketing can be tricky if you don’t know the psychology it’s based around. It’s best practice to schedule your email marketing campaigns for the first three days of the workweek between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. when people tend to check most often. 

Social media scheduling recommendations are a bit different. The American Marketing Association recommends posting on social media early in the morning on weekdays and avoiding Saturdays, as your posts may not appear on users’ news feeds at the same rate (if at all).

Types of data on user preference for brand updates

Depending on the demographics of your target audience, one channel may be preferable to another. A study by the Pew Research Center found that 81% of Americans use YouTube, and 69% use Facebook. However, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok are especially popular with users aged 18 to 29 years old. Followers on these social media sites want to know what’s new about your brand and will appreciate platform-specific content geared toward them.

Email marketing is effective for brand updates, too. One of the benefits of email marketing is that 91% of American adults like to receive promotional emails from the companies they do business with. Yes, your customers really want to hear from you!

How to engage prospects via email

If you’re considering integrating email into your overall digital marketing strategy, it’s a good idea to know some email marketing best practices. First, you’ll want to create a method for collecting contacts. Your email marketing is only as good as the list of people who sign up. 

To start growing your list, here are a few helpful ideas. If you have a traditional store with foot traffic, try holding a raffle to collect email addresses. If you have an e-commerce store, employ a click funnel to get people to sign up for discounts and news. There are many creative ways to collect contacts, just make sure that you receive explicit consent from interested parties — this means no purchased email lists!  

Once you have a healthy collection of interested customers, you’ll want to break up your contacts into different lists; this is known as email list segmentation. When you have smaller groups, it’s easier to send the right messages to the right people. This behind-the-scenes organizing is one of the most powerful ways to engage your prospects.

You’ll also want to use a professional email marketing platform, rather than rely on the old-fashioned Microsoft Outlook or even Gmail. These platforms are great for person-to-person communication, but they lack templates that are appealing and easy to use, as well as segmentation functionality to help you generate large email sends. When you begin crafting your marketing emails, be sure to include your logo and a thoughtful color scheme, in addition to your other branded content. Everything you do should have your target audience in mind. 

How to engage prospects via social media

What is your budget, in terms of money and time? That’s how you can determine how big and targeted your social media marketing can be. The first thing you should do to effectively engage prospects on social media is to create a big-picture strategy. In general, it’s best to focus on one platform first before expanding your strategy to more platforms.

Like email marketing, think about your target audience when deciding which platform you want to use for social media marketing. Then, keep that focus while developing a specific message for your campaign. Schedule posts — both unpaid and paid — on a regular basis. The more consistent you are, the more effective your campaign will be.

As you plan your content, consider what your target audience cares about. Vary your posts with interesting news, clear visuals, engaging videos, and fun GIFs. Think about different ways to tell your story and encourage your followers to engage with likes, live streaming, polls, and conversation-starters.

Which is better for your business?

To decide whether to start your marketing strategy with email vs. social media marketing, start with your goals. If your marketing goal is to strengthen and deepen relationships with your current customers, email marketing might be a better medium. If you want to build your brand awareness with potential customers who don’t already know your company, social media marketing may be more effective.

When to use email marketing over social media

If you know your target audience well, email marketing proves to be a powerful way to personalize your content. You can send emails straight to a private inbox, and if that email is filled with images and content the recipient finds valuable, you’ve nailed it. Your customer feels special and knows that you understand their needs and pain points. 

When you connect in this way, they’ll click on your call to action (CTA) and be one step closer to making a purchase. 

As a yoga teacher, I get emails from Yoga Alliance. They want me to sign up for their service, but their CTA is more sophisticated: They’re letting me know about services they offer that I may want. They’re doing a great job at personalizing their message.

Beyond personalization, email marketing works better than social media when you want to build credibility for your brand. So many news feeds are filled with here-one-day, gone-tomorrow businesses, but email can help establish trustworthiness. Since people sign up for emails, they know you’re worth learning more about. To achieve credibility, be sure to write in a tone that is appropriate for your audience. You’d write for legal clients differently than you would for teenagers.

Finally, I’d recommend using email marketing over social media if you’re short on time or budget. Because the ROI of email marketing is so great, you know the resources you spend on email will be worth it. As anyone knows, social media can be a time suck. That’s true for your time in the office as well as the time out of the office. 

When to use social media over email marketing

Still, social media marketing should be considered for any marketing plan. When you plan ahead, a social media campaign can reach a very large audience without taking up much time. Integrate social media tools to create effective Facebook and Instagram ads, plan and schedule your posts, and stay engaged.

In particular, social media can help you build your email list when you’re just starting out. And while you’re gathering your contacts, social media can help you build your brand awareness and connect prospective customers with your website. 

This company used my interest in yoga to target me for a course on sound healing. Colorful photos, a video with the sound, and a link to a landing page (where I can sign up to learn more via email) make this a great social media marketing a

Be sure to consider the “social” aspect, too. Social media can be great if you want to implement loyalty programs like ones that encourage your current customers to refer a friend. Make it easy and enticing for them to share your message on their personal pages; this creates a powerful phenomenon known as social media influence. When your customer engages with you, their friends see it and know that they do business with you. That trust factor leads to conversions.

Can you use email marketing and social media together?

Yes, absolutely! Social media and email marketing are especially effective when integrated together. To do this well, you must have brand consistency. This means keeping the same tone, message, images, colors, fonts, and overall style. While the marketing outreach for email and social media will be slightly different, you still want to remain authentic — especially for anyone who might see both.

One way to combine the two methods is to include your social media links with every email you send to your contact lists. Another way is to use your social media channels to grow your email list. Use paid advertisements on Facebook, Instagram, and other platforms to encourage people to sign up for discounts and news by providing an email address. 

How to use them together

There are plenty of other ways to connect your email marketing work with your social media marketing campaigns. With a business page on many social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, you can upload your email contact list and follow your subscribers. Pay attention to what they say; with this insight, you can refine your marketing message to better fit their needs.

Be creative! Try running contests to engage your social media contacts. Then share the winners on both social media and through email. If it makes sense, try creating a group on social media and encourage your customers to join through an exclusive email offer. Have your social media followers share posts with their friends and sign up for your email list to be eligible for a giveaway. With these strategies, it’s hard to go wrong.

How to measure effectiveness

Any good digital marketing plan needs to be tracked with specific metrics. You won’t know if you need to switch resources to a different platform or change your messaging if you don’t analyze what works and what doesn’t.

Some email marketing metrics include tracking click rate, total sales, and subscriber growth. If you want to learn more about how to measure social media success, consider the depth of engagement first. See how many followers like, comment, and share your posts. Track the reach, which is another way of saying how many people see your post or ad. Plus, when you use Constant Contact as an email platform, you can track your social media metrics right in your account.

Email vs. social media marketing: try one or both

To sum up, email marketing is an effective tool for strengthening relationships with your current customer base. Social media marketing is especially powerful at solidifying your brand and growing overall awareness of your products or services. Both are worth a place in your digital strategic marketing plan, but it’s OK to take it one step at a time as you get started.

As a good first step, check your marketing budget. Research email platforms like Constant Contact and compare that with common budgets for social media advertising campaigns. When creating a marketing campaign, your plans must be realistic both in terms of budget and time to be successful. Starting with an inventory of your current situation and goals will help you identify a strong foundation on which to help your business grow and thrive.