When you have lim­it­ed time and resources, how do you choose which chan­nel to focus on? Colum­nist Jor­dan Kastel­er lays out the pros and cons of email mar­ket­ing and social media to help you decide.

If you’re a busy pro­fes­sion­al with a dig­i­tal com­pa­ny, you’ve like­ly lament­ed a thou­sand times over where to focus your lim­it­ed resources. Email mar­ket­ing and social media are two mar­ket­ing tac­tics with a bun­dle of buzz, but which will give you the most effi­cient and effec­tive results?

Email and social media are two com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent beasts and could serve two sep­a­rate pur­pos­es in your over­all strat­e­gy. To nar­row your focus, we have to first get clear on what you’re after.

That said, keep in mind that it is not nec­es­sary to choose one or the oth­er; each has its own place, and ben­e­fits and should be used in tan­dem to expand your busi­ness to new audi­ences and lev­els of suc­cess. But it’s always advan­ta­geous to have a core focus and know which modal­i­ties bring the most bang for your busi­ness buck.

Email marketing is a powerful mainstay

Email mar­ket­ing is the lit­tle engine that could. It’s one of the only ever­green strate­gies that has worked since the web first land­ed.

This year, the num­ber of world­wide email users will grow to over 3.7 bil­lion, accord­ing to a 2017 report from The Rad­i­cati Group. By 2021, that num­ber will climb to over 4.1 bil­lion.

Gmail alone touts over 1 bil­lion of those users.

When we com­pare this fig­ure to the reach of social media, rough­ly 2.5 bil­lion users, it is clear that email takes this round. Accord­ing to Sta­tista, social adop­tion will only increase to 2.95 bil­lion by 2020 — still a far cry from email’s reach.

It’s this mas­sive poten­tial that has allowed email mar­ket­ing and cam­paign man­age­ment ser­vices like GetRe­sponse to thrive and incor­po­rate oth­er pow­er­ful fea­tures like webi­nar solu­tions, cus­tom land­ing pages and automa­tion ele­ments.

Addi­tion­al­ly, one of the most sig­nif­i­cant ben­e­fits that email holds over social is that com­mu­ni­ca­tions will reach their intend­ed recip­i­ents about 90 per­cent of the time.

Email mar­ket­ing, how­ev­er, is not as easy as it seems.

First, the 3.7 bil­lion email users are not all acces­si­ble the way they are on social media.

More­over, email lists need to be care­ful­ly refined to only reach the most inter­est­ed and qual­i­fied prospects; that means you can’t just buy a list of dig­i­tal address­es and expect your email blasts to turn a prof­it; emails lists must pri­mar­i­ly include peo­ple who actu­al­ly want to hear from you.

Anoth­er down­fall is that emails have to jump through a vari­ety of hoops before safe­ly land­ing in a person’s inbox. While most peo­ple will end up receiv­ing your com­mu­ni­ca­tions, poor email designs and con­tent can cause mes­sages to be labeled as spam. That takes all your efforts and toss­es them into the dig­i­tal trash bin. This is quite the dou­ble wham­my when you con­sid­er the chal­lenges asso­ci­at­ed with build­ing an email list and gain­ing new sub­scribers.

For B2C emails, how­ev­er, one of the biggest trou­bles is get­ting to know your audi­ence well enough to tai­lor com­mu­ni­ca­tions that will con­vert; com­pa­nies need to under­stand their cus­tomers’ habits and ten­den­cies in order to seg­ment them prop­er­ly and rec­om­mend rel­e­vant deals or prod­ucts.

Addi­tion­al­ly, B2C brands need to study their open rates to gain insights on the most ben­e­fi­cial times to send com­mu­ni­ca­tions, so that a con­sumer is more like­ly to con­vert.

And for con­sumer-fac­ing com­pa­nies, in par­tic­u­lar, email ele­ments such as com­pelling copy, rel­e­vant calls to action, fea­ture place­ment and the ever-imper­a­tive mobile opti­miza­tion are crit­i­cal chal­lenges.

With­out all these ele­ments in place, the chances of recip­i­ents open­ing an email, click­ing a con­tained link, and mak­ing a pur­chase from the web store are nil.

Social media has marketing superpowers

Social media has become a cul­tur­al phe­nom­e­non, evolv­ing into a deep-root­ed mar­ket­ing neces­si­ty around the time that the Web 2.0 rev­o­lu­tion began.

In that peri­od, social media plat­forms have matured and trans­formed to become a marketer’s best friend.

All of the major play­ers in the space now sup­port hyper-tar­get­ed adver­tis­ing, enter­tain­ing and dynam­ic con­tent, mas­sive reach capa­bil­i­ties and a vari­ety of adver­tis­ing chan­nels for mar­keters to lever­age. Most plat­forms also incor­po­rate social sell­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties like Facebook’s “shop” sec­tions and Instagram’s shop­pable posts.

These kinds of fea­tures allow busi­ness­es to seam­less­ly offer con­sumers prod­ucts with unpar­al­leled con­ve­nience.

Social media also helps prop­a­gate brand aware­ness in a way that has nev­er been pos­si­ble. Busi­ness­es can post blogs, updates, videos and oth­er forms of con­tent that users can then share with their friends, who share with their friends and so on.

This not only keeps con­sumers edu­cat­ed in real time but also pulls more prospects into mar­ket­ing fun­nels by gen­er­at­ing more awareness/interest, and even pro­duces the poten­tial for con­tent to go viral.

As a nat­ur­al byprod­uct, social media’s uploaded con­tent and dis­cov­er­abil­i­ty also tend to dri­ve increased lev­els of traf­fic to web­sites, poten­tial­ly lead­ing to more con­ver­sions and high­er rank­ings in the SERPs.

And did I men­tion that social media is 100 per­cent free to use? If you aren’t lever­ag­ing paid ads, that is.

But as you well know, there are some mas­sive social pain points that must be con­sid­ered.

Organ­ic reach on social media has been declin­ing at alarm­ing rates over the past sev­er­al years in accor­dance with var­i­ous algo­rithm updates. Late last year, it was uncov­ered that pub­lish­ers saw a 52 per­cent decrease in organ­ic reach over the course of 2016.

Just three months lat­er, The Wall Street Jour­nal pub­lished a piece reveal­ing that Face­book had come clean on mis­cal­cu­lat­ing organ­ic reach in the Page Insights dash­board:

…Face­book found that it had been over count­ing how many peo­ple were exposed to mar­keters’ organ­ic posts, mean­ing reg­u­lar posts that weren’t paid ads, because it was adding up the dai­ly reach over cer­tain peri­ods with­out account­ing for repeat vis­i­tors. The cor­rect­ed met­ric on aver­age will be about 33 per­cent low­er for the sev­en-day peri­od and 55 per­cent low­er for the 28-day peri­od…

But even if a brand’s posts are seen by the intend­ed audi­ence, it takes far more nur­tur­ing to turn social crowds into cus­tomers. This often equates to inflat­ed expen­di­tures relat­ing to social ads, images, tools, con­tent and oth­er edu­ca­tion­al or sales-relat­ed mate­ri­als.

And since 78 per­cent of con­sumers read reviews before buy­ing, your brand’s page reviews had bet­ter be stel­lar if you have any hope of gain­ing a new cus­tomer.

Set­ting aside social media’s increas­ing­ly “pay to play” envi­ron­ment and oth­er chal­lenges, one of the final down­sides to social is how busi­ness­es man­age their social exis­tence.

All too often, brands spread them­selves far too thin by try­ing to par­tic­i­pate on Face­book, Twit­ter, Insta­gram, Snapchat, Google+, Pin­ter­est, Tum­blr, LinkedIn and oth­er pop­u­lar net­works. With­out a refined strat­e­gy, it’s extreme­ly easy to get lost in the dig­i­tal noise.

Which channel should you use?

As far as B2C orga­ni­za­tions are con­cerned, email is going to be a more ben­e­fi­cial and pros­per­ous method for dri­ving more sales and cul­ti­vat­ing loy­al­ty among con­sumers. Con­sid­er­ing that emails will land in a customer’s inbox more times than not, it’s essen­tial to study your audi­ence and deliv­er more per­son­al­ized mes­sages, send com­mu­ni­ca­tions at the right times and struc­ture emails to allow for the most engage­ment and con­ver­sions pos­si­ble.

While email is more fruit­ful for B2C, social still does a lot of heavy lift­ing in terms of gen­er­at­ing aware­ness, web­site vis­its, increased email sub­scribers and brand loy­al­ty as con­sumers con­tin­ue to engage with a com­pa­ny.

If you can only do one, email is your cham­pi­on. If you can do both, then you have a recipe for con­tin­u­al­ly build­ing, nur­tur­ing and con­vert­ing leads in an expo­nen­tial­ly pow­er­ful way.