The Right Tool for the Job: Social Media vs. Email Marketing

5 minute read

Upland Admin

Imagine a toolbox full of tools. If you had to drive a nail into a block of wood, would you choose to do it with the tape measure? After a few mojitos, sure. But in the throes of sobriety, you’d probably pull out your good friend the hammer because it’s the best tool in the toolbox to help you achieve your goal.

Marketers are lucky in that they have a wealth of tools at their disposal. But sometimes, either after too many mojitos or just because it’s new and we’re still learning about it, marketers use social media to achieve goals that would be better left to other tools like email. Once and for all, we’d like to clear up when to use social media and when to use email so that you’re not bashing awkwardly at your goals with the wrong implement.

Let’s start with social media. If your goal is acquisition – getting your audience’s attention – social media is a great tool. If someone sees your content on social media and it was shared by a friend, they’re far more likely to engage than if they encountered it alone in the wild with no context. Social media is also good for:

  • Going viral. Let’s face it; it’s a lot easier for a Twitter status to go viral than an email just because the platform is specifically built for it. The last time emails went viral, your great-aunt was continually forwarding you cute cat pictures. Now, everyone can share cute cat pictures with you on all kinds of platforms! Welcome to the future!
  • Community-building. Your audience can access you a lot more quickly on social media, and they can also interact with other fans of your brand there. While email is good for a lot of things, this isn’t one of them.
  • Support. Now this is tricky; an initial request for support can be done through social media, again because it’s easier access to your company than sitting in a phone queue. But please don’t try to walk someone through an account reset via Twitter unless you want to appear insane; once the request comes in, move it to another channel.
  • Open Graph. Social networks, especially Facebook, are collecting a treasure trove of information about your audience. (You can actually use Open Graph tags to pull that data out and into a platform that you can use. That way, you can have that data for as long as you like without having to rely on Facebook.)

Now let’s talk about email. The great thing about email is that you control it; you decide what goes in and who gets to see it by building and sending it yourself. On Facebook and other platforms, you’re at the mercy of someone else’s algorithm to determine whether or not your content is going to get presented. In addition to control, with email you can achieve your goal of retention (building a long-lasting relationship with a customer) in a way that, ironically enough, can’t be done socially. Email is really good for:

  • Increasing engagement. If your audience sees your content on social media, they engage with it and then go back to their feed. If your audience receives a digest of your latest content that they subscribed to, there are multiple opportunities in that email for them to click and engage, and they’ll view up to four times as many pages on your website as they would have coming from a single social post. If you have a good audience and want to make the best use of them, email is going to be the better tool.
  • Support. You can do a much better job of supporting your customers and prospects through email than you can through social media simply because there’s more room to elaborate. Plus, it’s more private; if the person in question responds with anger or frustration, wouldn’t you rather have that in your inbox than on your wall? And finally, with email you can trigger follow-ups and additional actions to continue the relationship which you can’t really do via social media.
  • Proving ROI. Email’s not as sexy and new as social media, but everyone agrees that it’s marketing’s breadwinner. Since email has been around for a while, calculating its ROI is pretty easy to do. Have you ever heard someone say “I have successfully proven the ROI of our social media program”? Anyone? Anyone? Hello? Bueller?
  • Personalizing the experience. Social media posts are a one-size-fits-all affair. With email, your communication can include the recipient’s name and include content that is specifically designed to be more relevant to them and their interests. Which one do you think your great-aunt would find more relevant – a random picture of a cat on Facebook, or a carefully curated collection of cats in costumes from her favorite movie? We’ll take Storm Trooper kittens for $200, Alex!

We can’t say it enough: start with a goal in mind. If it’s getting discovered, then by all means, post as many cats as your social media account can hold. But if you want to build a real relationship with your audience – one that will result in ongoing traffic to your website from a large group of very engaged evangelists – email is the hammer you need to smash that nail into the wood.

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