Social Media vs Email Newsletter: Which Is More Effective?

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When small businesses are starting out, one of the first things they want to know is what type of marketing to use. In particular, they want to know which is better: an email newsletter vs social media.

1. Which Has More Users?

Almost everyone has an email address. In fact, to sign up on most social media platforms, you need an email. Significantly fewer people have social media accounts.

As you would expect, there are differences in email usage and social media usage according to demographics like age. For instance, only 37 percent of users in the 65+ age group use social media, compared to 88 percent of 15- to 24-year-olds. However, there’s much less of a difference in email usage — 85.5 percent of the 65+ group and 91 percent of 15- to 24-year-olds use email.

In addition, it’s important to note that we’re looking at social media as a whole. Whereas it doesn’t matter which service you’re using for email, it matters a great deal which social media platforms you use. Someone may be active on social media but not on the exact platforms you’re using.

2. Difficulty Building an Email List vs a Following

It may seem like it would be easier to put yourself in front of users on social media than build up an email list. In addition to people who know your business and seek you out, users may follow you if they see their friends posting about you. Alternatively, they may see one of your ads.

With email marketing, in contrast, you need to gain users’ contact information. Nonetheless, this is not always more difficult than building a social media following. The trick is to make sure users know you have an email newsletter. Including opt-in forms in strategic places on your website and offering great lead magnets to attract users is key.

3. Reaching Your Target Audience

Of course, the number of users you could reach is quite different from the number of users you will actually reach. You could have a social media following of thousands, but not all of them will see your content. In fact, only around 10 percent are likely to see any particular post. This is significantly lower than the average email open rate of 17.8 percent.

4. Frequency and Intrusiveness

Unless you’re constantly posting on social media to the point that users find it annoying and stop following you, social media is non-intrusive. Since users just ignore posts they find uninteresting and keep scrolling, you can post multiple times a day. Plus, following a brand on social media feels lower commitment than an email. Users know they can stop following you at a click of a button, rather than needing to go through the hassle of unsubscribing.

Sending content to users’ inboxes means you require them to take action (no matter if they choose to read or delete the email, it’s still an action), which can feel intrusive. This means you don’t have the option to send emails with nearly the same frequency. If you started sending a newsletter multiple times a day, your unsubscribe rate would go through the roof. The disadvantage of communicating less often is that it’s more difficult for you to stay top of mind.

5. Starting the Day

We all know that our morning routine shouldn’t start with us grabbing our phones, but most of us do it anyway. The most common activity, by far, is checking email — with 58 percent of people naming this as their first check of the day. In contrast, only 14 percent of people look at social media. This means an early morning newsletter has a good chance of grabbing subscribers’ attention.

6. The Chance to Segment

Segmenting is a key part of email marketing. You use the details you have about individuals (such as location or industry) as well as behavior (like the reason for providing you with their contact information) to assign users to a segment. You can then deliver the right information at the right time to nurture the user toward a conversion.

On social media, in contrast, you make a post and any of your followers may see it. If you’re targeting different buyer personas, there’s no way of filtering to show just some of them the post. The exception, of course, is ads. You can make your ad strategy even more targeted than your email marketing. Many platforms allow you to set extremely specific criteria to target the exact users you want. You can even choose if you want to target current followers or users who are still unaware of your brand.

7. Chance to Collect Data

What if you still need to learn about who makes up your target audience? You’ll find that social media provides a wealth of data. Beyond information users include in their profiles, platforms are constantly collecting data about users based on their behavior. You can access some of this information through analytics. This will give you insights into everything from demographics to interests. It may even change the picture you have of your target audience.

It’s much more difficult to gain such information from email. You need to ask users directly — which, again, has the downside of intrusiveness.

8. Return on Investment

The channel with the best return on investment (ROI) is more challenging to calculate.

Studies consistently find that ROI for email is around 4,000 percent — that’s a return of $40 for every $1 you spend. Although some studies have found the number to be slightly lower, others have calculated average ROI to be as high as $44 for every $1.

As for social media — there’s no clear answer. As each brand tracks ROI in a different way, it’s impossible to arrive at a specific number.

9. Data Privacy Regulations

Provided you follow the terms of service on social media platforms, you have nothing to worry about in terms of data privacy. Email marketing is more complicated. You’ll need to make sure you comply with regulations like GDPR, which states you can only use contact information with users’ permission.

This shouldn’t be enough to put you off email marketing, though. If you adhere to best practices, data privacy should be a non-issue.

10. A/B Testing

It’s easier to perfect your message when you use email marketing because you have the chance to use A/B testing. For instance, you can tweak headlines, the wording of the CTA, the color palette, or just about any other element you can think of. In fact, you can even A/B test a whole email sequence to figure out the best time to send recipients special offers to encourage them to make a purchase.

This is not possible for organic posts on social media, but it is certainly possible for ads. In fact, it’s recommendable to use A/B testing for social media ads to make the best use of your ad dollars.

11. What Do People Prefer?

To figure out whether your target audience prefers email or social media, you could test both or ask users — or you could look at the data already gathered.

One study found that three-quarters of people prefer email for communication with a B2C company. However, other research has shown users prefer to initiate interactions through social media. This shows that both are important, but for different parts of the buyer journey.

Which Is the Winner?

Taking the above into account, the answer to the newsletter vs social media debate is: both. If you neglect either one, you could be missing out on valuable opportunities.

Social media allows you to stay in touch with users who are uninterested in receiving a newsletter, such as users who have just discovered your brand. Plus, there’s the fact that customers will expect to find you on social media.

Email newsletters, on the other hand, allow you to nurture leads to a sale. They have an excellent ROI, you’re likely to be able to find all your target customers, and you can increase your chances of users thinking about you at the very start of the day.

This is probably not the answer you were hoping for, since running both a social media strategy and creating newsletters requires a large amount of work. The good news is there’s no need to do everything yourself: a virtual assistant can support you with both social media and email marketing.

For instance, a virtual assistant for social media management from MYVA360 can take over running your social media accounts. Our VAs know how to do everything from creating content and scheduling posts to developing a strategy for the social media platforms where you’re active. You can be involved as much or as little as you like. Try it for yourself with a free trial.

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