Email Marketing vs. Social Media: Who’s the winner?

Businesses often feel conflicted over which is better: email marketing or social media marketing. Here, we share a framework that businesses can use to decide what to choose and explain why we’d still pick email marketing as the winner.
Email Marketing vs. Social Media: Who’s the winner?

Since both its marketing budget and its time are finite, it makes sense for a company to focus on the right marketing channel. But which is better — email marketing or social media marketing?

Social media marketing is the process of creating, sharing and promoting content on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. Content is curated depending on which platform is being used and what will work best to boost lead generation and increase brand awareness. 

3.2 billion people around the globe use social media. While that gives businesses a lot of reach, it also makes organic visibility harder. With ever-changing algorithms, it is hard to rely on organic reach anymore. However, social media platforms still allow brands to engage with customers directly, thus building brand loyalty.

Email marketing is the process of leading potential clients down the sales funnel by sending direct or indirect marketing materials directly to the inbox of those who have subscribed to receive emails. 

As of 2019, there were 3.8 billion active email users, 60% of whom prefer to receive marketing materials through email. Of this 60%, two-thirds make purchases as a direct result of email marketing.

While social media gurus urge businesses to up their social media game, email marketing experts suggest that email marketing is better since it generates leads and helps with client acquisition. With both options on the table, which marketing channel should a company use?

Identifying the right marketing channel

Before businesses invest precious time and resources in marketing, they should determine what their goals are and which channel can help them achieve those goals. Here are a few questions businesses should answer to identify which channel they should be using:

1. What is the product and/or service that is being offered?

Depending on the offerings and the customer base, businesses may be able to decide whether their target audience is more likely to connect with them on social media platforms or through email. Some products/services can be marketed with small amounts of content and information and, in this case, social media may be a good choice. However, certain offerings require constant engagement on a deeper level so the audience can understand what is being offered and make an informed decision about buying. If so, email marketing may be a better choice. 

2. What kind of content will attract the audience to what is being offered?

The type of content a business creates and how they deliver it also depends on the audience and may be determined by creating buyer personas. Audiences that are more inclined towards short and visual-heavy content tend to connect better with social media posts. On the other hand, email marketing is a better fit for audiences that are interested in the business to some extent and have signed up to hear from them in a more personalised and detailed way.

3. Which platforms do potential audiences use the most?

Another matter of consideration is identifying which platform(s) the audience tends to spend the most time on. A survey by OptinMonster shows that email has the largest user base in every age group. The 15 - 44 age group spends significant time on social media, but this drastically drops for those over the age of 45. Knowing where the audience is already active helps to articulate a strategy, so the primary marketing channel may be selected based on this information.

4. What is the long-term goal of the business?

Choosing the right marketing platform also hinges on what a business is trying to achieve through their marketing. If the main focus is to build brand awareness and increase reach, social media is probably the right channel. However, if the goal is to build a committed and returning audience, email marketing might just be a better choice for the business.

Once the business has clarity on who their audience is, the type of content the audience prefers, where their audience is present and what is the end goal of marketing, it becomes easier to decide which marketing channel is right for them.

Email marketing vs social media marketing

Social media marketing is better when a business’s goal is to expand their reach and engagement, whereas email marketing is better at driving sales. Social media is definitely a valuable weapon in a company’s marketing arsenal, but for generating revenue, nothing beats email.

Here are some reasons why email marketing wins over social media marketing for us.

1. Email is more personalised

Today, customers look for deeper connections with the businesses they associate with, and businesses should look at developing more long-term and substantial relationships with their audience. One way to do this is to personalise emails.

74% of marketers believe that targeted personalisation increases audience engagement. 

According to Instapage, emails with personalised subject lines have an open rate of 7.4% and a click-through rate of 0.4%. When the message is personalised, emails have a higher open rate of 18.8% and a click-through rate of 2.1%. 

Marketers may use subscriber data to make the content feel tailor-made for the individual. One way to do this is by using the subscriber’s name in the subject of the email and by including it in different places within the body of the email to make it sound like a conversation.

Email personalisation statistics

2. Businesses don’t have to compete with algorithms

Considering how ephemeral and voluminous social media can be, there is a slim chance that the target audience will actually see the posts and an even lower chance that they will relate to the content and engage further. On top of this, social media platforms keep introducing new features, and their algorithms boost either the content created using those features or content that is paid for. As a result, businesses have to constantly find ways to stand out on personal feeds and get their products in front of an audience.

On the other hand, email has no such algorithms at play. 90% of email gets delivered to the recipient’s inbox, and apart from a slight possibility of the email landing in spam, there are no external or third-party factors that will prevent it from reaching the audience in a timely fashion. Further, since the overall volume of email is low compared to the number of posts on a social media feed, businesses have a better chance of catching the audience’s attention.  

3. Businesses own their list of subscribers

Imagine spending countless hours building a substantial social media following only to have the platform suspend operations. Yes, we are talking about Vine, but even MySpace and Google+ have met with that fate. 

The problem with social media is that a business has no direct control over their followers and can only communicate with them through the platform. If a business depends on a single social media platform that shuts shop tomorrow, they will lose all means of contacting their followers.

In the case of email, a business legitimately owns their list of subscribers. Brands have access to the contact information of their subscribers until they unsubscribe or are removed from the list. Even if the email marketing service were to close down, businesses would have the option of exporting their email list and migrating to a different service. 

4. Email list segmentation multiplies marketing results

On social media, it is difficult to segment based on where followers are in the sales funnel. There is no precise way to identify potential buyers in order to nurture them. Instead, the only option for a business is to share a generic post that may be relevant to only some of their followers. Followers may like the content, but that doesn’t guarantee that they will avail of the brand’s products and services. 

On the other hand, businesses can easily segment their subscribers, so they are sending emails that are highly relevant. These emails are tailored to each subscriber based on critical data observed from previously monitored interactions, which can help determine how far down the sales funnel a subscriber is. The segmentation may also depend on age, gender, location, behaviour, interests and such. 

When a business sends segmented emails instead of generic ones, they increase reader engagement and conversion rate, which has a direct impact on sales and revenue. According to a survey conducted by MailChimp, segmented email marketing campaigns can increase open rates by 14.31% compared to non-segmented campaigns. They also found segmentation based on interest and subscriber activity boosts the open rate by 9.92% and 10.44%, respectively.

5. Email marketing offers a higher ROI

Businesses measure the success of a marketing campaign by calculating the returns generated as a result of the campaign. 

When it comes to social media, it is difficult to measure the ROI. Further, social media tends to be expensive since the best way for businesses to get attention is to run paid ads, and the costs can quickly add up. 

On the other hand, for every $1 spent, email marketing generates $36, which is an astounding 3600% ROI. Email marketing is significantly cheaper with a flat rate paid to the email marketing service based on the number of subscribers and the kind of features the business needs. It is also easier to measure the ROI, which tends to be significantly higher than other digital marketing platforms. 

6. Email offers ground for deeper conversations

The average human attention span is 8.25 secs, and it is even shorter for content on social media platforms. On social media, people are looking for content that is visually pleasing and to the point. Therefore, it is not the right place to bombard followers and subscribers with content that is too long or tedious to read.

On the other hand, the average time spent reading an email was 11.1 seconds in 2016 and increased to 13.4 seconds in 2018. With email, businesses have the freedom to write longer, more relevant content since their audience has already decided to engage with the content when they subscribe. This is a great way for businesses to communicate on a deeper level with their audience. For example, they can share the purpose behind what they do, the team that puts in the hard work, the values and aspirations of the business, how the products/ services will add value to the buyers and so on.

How consumers want to receive promotion messages

7. Direct marketing and promotional efforts do better via email 

Social media promotional content is usually not informative and may be considered biased as a result of influencer marketing and fake reviews. Consumers are able to make more conscious purchasing decisions after they read promotional emails since the medium delivers longer, more in-depth messages that help businesses build trust with their customers. 

Research shows that people who buy products via email spend 138% more than people who do not receive email offers.

8. Email automation saves time and resources

Social media is heavy on time and resources as businesses need to publish frequently to garner their audience’s attention. Even though they can use marketing tools to schedule and automate posts, they still need to spend time on social media to interact with potential leads. After all, social media is not just about posting but also about engaging. 

Businesses can put their email marketing on autopilot and nurture leads through drip campaigns. All they have to do is set the sequence once, and it will automatically go out to different segments of customers. This increases the chances of conversion without having to spend time creating new content and interacting with every new subscriber.

How Email Marketing and Social Media can work together

By making email marketing and social media work together, a business can maximise their opportunities to interact with prospective customers and clients and create multiple ‘touch points’ to engage with them. This holistic approach will provide a seamless experience for customers and help usher them down the sales funnel. Here are some ways to do it:

  1. Use social media to encourage the audience to subscribe to email. It is easier to gain a larger following on social media, which can be leveraged to turn them into email subscribers.
  2. On social media, promote links that lead to a landing page that encourages visitors to turn into subscribers. 
  3. Share snippets of articles along with a link to them to give people a taste of what they can expect.
  4. Host giveaways on social media and encourage the audience to refer subscribers to increase their chances of winning. 
  5. Strategically mention lead magnets like e-books, templates, free courses etc., on social media. Create a landing page for each of them where the audience can enter their email to avail the resource. 
  6. Add social follow links to emails so subscribers know how to get in touch with the business on social media.


Email is the clear winner when it comes to sales and customer acquisition, but it doesn’t mean that businesses should completely neglect their social media marketing efforts. The truth is that there is always room for both in a marketing campaign. When it comes to lead conversion and sales, email marketing and social media deliver the best results when they work together.

About the Author
Priyanka began her career as a creative content writer. With over eight years of content marketing experience, she works on our content strategy.
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