5 Reasons Email Marketing Crushes Social Media Marketing for B2B

I know—how dare I have the audacity to hate on social media? It’s the way of the future! It will solve world hunger. It will have your babies.

And very soon, it will even make your decaf soy latte in the morning.

Don’t get me wrong. Social media is great, and you should use it in your marketing if that makes sense for your business.

But you should not put it ahead of email marketing.

Because all other things being equal, email marketing still crushes social media marketing. Here are 5 reasons why:

1. SIMPLE NUMBERS

Did you know that email has nearly three times as many user accounts as Facebook and Twitter combined? That’s a whopping 2.9 billion.

In fact, if you imagine a full cup of rice is the number of emails sent every day, then by comparison, all the daily posts on Facebook would make a miserable 10 grains—barely enough to pick up with a chopstick. And all the tweets sent every day would be a measly 4 grains. In fact, Facebook and Twitter combined make up just 0.2% of the number of emails sent each day.

Not including spam.

facebook twitter compared to email

By the same token, every web search made on every search engine every day equals just 1/100th of daily email traffic; and all the pages viewed on the entire web each day—including images and videos—use only a quarter of the bandwidth consumed by email.

Many marketers are so busy chasing the latest baubles and magic bullets that they haven’t got a clue about all this.

After all, what’s old is dead—so email, being older than dirt in internet terms, must be deader than anything.

“No one uses it any more”—or, more often, “I tried but it didn’t work.”

But smart marketers consider email not just essential to their business efforts, but foundational to their marketing and sales systems.

Quality vs. Quantity

Okay, you may be thinking, sure, email has heaps of users. It’s got major “traffic” compared to social media channels. But so what? It’s not like traffic alone means anything. A small amount of precisely-targeted marketing aimed at high-quality traffic will nail much larger amounts then that of shotgun pellets sprayed willy-nilly.

Absolutely right. If that’s what you were thinking, you’re well on your way to being a better marketer than most “experts”. So let me tell you the good news: email crushes social media for quality of traffic as well as quantity.

Here’s why:

2. EMAIL IS THE MOST PERSONAL MEDIUM

Oh, I hear you muttering. Facebook. Facebook is the most personal, Bnonn.

No it ain’t. First of all, refer back to item 1: simple numbers. A lot of people still don’t use Facebook. (If you’re going for an older audience, the closer you get to a good ol’ fashioned written letter, the better off you’ll be — which means email.)

But secondly, in the vast majority of cases, business-minded people do not go to Facebook for private, 1-on-1 conversations. (Maybe teenyboppers do, and if you’re in B2C and want to try marketing to them using Facebook’s private message feature, good luck with that.) But business people open Gmail or Outlook or whatever, and bang out an email.

Heck, you’ve probably experienced this yourself. You might start a private message on Facebook, and then you’re like, “Okay, email me.” Email is the first, best social media channel. And that is the power you want to tap.

3. EMAIL IS THE MOST “BUSINESSY” MEDIUM

Yes, some businesses do use Facebook or Twitter or Google Plus for communicating with various people. But when it comes to building business relationships and communicating with partners and clients, the most “serious”, “grown-up” medium is email.

So the question I’d like to pose is simple: would you rather use a single marketing channel to talk to all your customers in the most professional way possible…or divide your energy between multiple different channels to talk to only some of them in ways that don’t have that professional gloss?

Now remember, I’m not saying you shouldn’t use those other channels. Just that you shouldn’t use them before email. Here’s another reason why not:

4. EMAIL GETS WAY MORE ATTENTION PER CUSTOMER THAN ANYTHING ELSE

Very simply, you’re more likely to get face time with your prospects if you use email.
This isn’t necessarily because your customers spend more time with email than on Facebook or searching Google or whatever—although they might.

Rather, it’s because email allows you to make repeated contact, and that contact is “invasive”. It’s in their mailbox—their inner electronic sanctum. That’s very different from sending out a tweet or posting something on Facebook, where they may or may not see it, because it’s just part of a much larger timeline featuring hundreds of other people.

In that situation, you’re easily missed if you don’t hit just the right window (which often differs per person).

But in even the most badly-managed inbox, your message is still there, waiting for their attention. It doesn’t just go away.

So provided you say things worth reading, your customers will give you minutes of a time each day. Minutes are like dog years on the internet.

And the more worth reading you are, the more your customers actually start to look forward to your messages. Indeed, research shows that most people open email from a maximum of 16 “trusted advisers”—and they almost always open these emails. If you can get into this inner circle, you get undivided attention.

5. EMAIL IS A TRANSACTIONAL MEDIUM

What I mean by this is simply that customers already expect to get offers by email, and to buy things through email. So they not only have a high tolerance for offers, but they’re actually more likely to be in a buying frame of mind. They’re primed.

Compare this to Facebook, where your customers are really just there to chat with their friends, see the latest cute cat videos, and play Farmville. Even if they like you, that’s a lousy environment for marketing isn’t it? Or Twitter, where people are in the habit of finding interesting things to share, or catch up with the people they follow—but very seldom are looking to buy anything.

With email, you can “train” your customers to expect offers while simultaneously teaching them about your value, day in and day out. This means they begin to not only expect offers from you, but to desire them (at least some of them). And because of the ability to make effectively unlimited contacts, you are infinitely more likely to catch them at time when they’re ready to buy (which is one of the most important rules of sales).

To summarize, email simply has the nut hand at the marketing poker table.

Facebook and Twitter are channels used by far fewer customers, for frivolous, non-business and non-transactional things. Marketing messages get less attention per customer than email, and they fail to establish as personal a connection either.

I’m sure many folks will disagree, and I invite your dissent in the comments below. Tell me: how do you do your online marketing? Do you take care of email first, and then social media if you have time left over? Or do you think email is dead?

About the Author: Bnonn is the author of a free course on 5 website changes you can make today to bring in more sales. Known in the boroughs as the Information Highwayman, he helps entrepreneurs sell more online by improving both their web copy and design. When he’s not knee-deep in the guts of someone’s homepage, he is teaching his kids about steampunk, Nathan Fillion, and how to grapple a zombie without getting bit.

  1. The thing I like the most about e-mail marketing is that the list is yours. A Twitter and Facebook following is good, but what happens when/if they die out like Myspace. E-mail will always be there and you won’t lose the list. That’s what I like about it the most. And most importantly, the e-mail list should be targeted and quality, just like you mentioned.

    -Amir

    • Amir, that’s a really good point. I do remember people spending a TON of energy building Myspace accounts for marketing purposes. Now they are basically useless. One thing that I think a lot of smaller businesses forget is: imagine how big your email list could be if you were actively nurturing it for 5 or 10 years?!?

    • Excellent point!

    • the best point – email list is your own property and only you decide how to use it

  2. A nice post. I agree with you on all 5 reasons but the one I consider key is number 3: e-mail is a business tool, so you expect professional inputs from it.

  3. You could not be more correct! I second that! Email definitely rules over Facebook and Social Media! The only problem is that you most likely end up in peoples SPAM folders. Any general good advise around that problem?

    • Most of the times you end up in people’s SPAM folder because you are indeed spamming. Email marketing works best if you have a quality list. This means that every single person on your list gave his/hers permission to be contacted by you and if so, most likely your email will end up where it should. Their inbox!

      Creating quality content is key.

      • I can’t agree with you… With the growing concern over spam, email providers just don’t deliver messages that are sent automatically (meaning email marketing) in the user’s inbox that frequently anymore, regardless of the subscriber having confirmed the subscrtiption or not.

        Sometimes not even the first message, the one that asks the lead to confirm, reaches the inbox and the user never gets to confirm his subscription.

        The spam folder problem has to do with deliverability and email providers, not a double optin list. Not that you shouldn’t require double optin, but the fact is, email providers will deliver your message in the spam folder if they want to anyway, even if the user “trippled optedin”.

        Of course, if you get too many spam complains, your next messages end up in the junk folder indeed, but the problem starts before people even have the chance to complain, when the first email never reaches the inbox.

  4. Ha ha. I think the first image says it all with respect to email vs. social media. There’s just much more focus and intimacy in email (I know, “intimacy” is an odd word, but I stand by it…).

    Social is great for getting new traffic. But it’s a terrible sales channel in most cases.

  5. Another great article Bnonn!

  6. Great article and good points in general, but #5 is stretch.

    I don’t believe that people are expecting to buy things through email. Maybe they can be distracted into doing so, but that’s not why they are there.

    Email is transactional, but I’d suggest that email’s benefit here is that the barrier to respond to an offer is very, very low.

    We send letters to our list with a personal tone, and get a very high response rate that I attribute not to people’s willingness to click a link, but to the easy, strong habit of hitting Reply. Clicking an ad feels like you’re being sold, hitting Reply is like writing a friend.

    We did a post documenting our traffic on email blast days:
    http://remarks.vgkids.com/?p=149

    • The great thing is, what you believe is of no importance. Test it like the rest of it. Then you’ll have facts, not belief.

      And if you’re sending people “ads,” that’s the problem. Great copy doesn’t seem like an ad, it seems like a favor.

  7. I agree with the email but I was wondering where is LinkedIn in this picture?

  8. You are absolutely right Bnonn. With the right targeted and segmented database email marketing could be at its best! We have this eGuide on The Death of Email Marketing (well, it isn’t really dead yet). See it here – http://www.tomorrow-people.com/the-death-of-email and let me know what you think of it! (:

    Regards
    Sookie

  9. Great Article. The subject is paramount in Email marketing, Its like a headline of an article. If its not interesting it wont be opened so no matter what you put in there if its not opened and just deleted without read, its the same as posting an offer on facebook when no ones there.

    • Ajay, to some extent this is true. However, in my experience (and research backs this up), if you’re in that inner circle of 16 trusted sources, subject lines are much less relevant because the default action of your customer is to open the email anyway. So the headline actually has to dissuade them from opening it.

      For colder prospects, yeah, definitely the subject line is critical.

  10. Bnonn,

    Completely agree, and I’m not just saying that because I’m in prospecting and email marketing. As the recession settled in and companies stopped answering phones, we had to reconstruct our cold calling business. Email has proved an efficient and effective way to reach and develop prospects. Twitter and FB are helpful additions, but email gets the job done!
    Erika

  11. Hans van Kasteren Jul 13, 2012 at 1:32 am

    Good article! Make colleagues at Linkedin, become friends with them at FB, and sell your product by using Email! The art of knowing how to manage your contacts…

  12. Bnonn,

    You make an interesting argument, mostly based upon the sheer volume of activity available in the email space. I’m curious if you’ve done any research on the effectiveness of email. More specifically, businesses like to know how effective their effort is by comparing the treated group (those that got an email) against a random control group (those that did not). In my mind, this is the true measure of email success, and I could be swayed if you had additional data to support your stance.

    My observations at my company indicate that email is very chearp, but not very effective, so I’m looking forward to hearing about this. Thanks.

    • Roger, this is really impossible to give a blanket answer to.

      What I’ve found is that the people who claim that email is cheap but not very effective are the people who are making fundamental mistakes in email marketing, including:

      1. Not emailing often enough (at least twice a weak)
      2. Using a “Cattle Marketing” approach instead of seeking to build rapport
      3. Having no single point of contact from which all emails come with a consistent voice
      4. Using an email template that mimics the look of a website instead of an email

      Etc.

      I know for a fact that people who know how to use email marketing effectively do very well with it (myself included). But sadly, I have yet to see a large organization that knows how to use email marketing effectively. I think it’s very hard for them because of their bureaucracy, and the fact that their marketing specialists are educated in universities instead of in the real world.

      • “educated in universities instead of in the real world.”

        Well said. I don’t think i have personally seen any large corporation which uses email marketing effectively.

  13. Friederike S. Jul 13, 2012 at 7:54 am

    The comparison at the beginning (the rice) is limping. If you compare it like that then your email marketing is a kind of “Spray & Pray” and that’s not effective. Successful email-marketing needs a structured process for qualifying your contacts and for nurturing them. Then you’ll be able to show/send (email, website, blog, Facebook, Linkedin, …) your audience (for them!) relevant content. That’s the only thing that counts.

    • Friederike, the comparison simply shows that all other things being equal, the numbers are vastly on your side if you use email. I don’t suggest using a spray & pray approach with email. In fact, if anything qualifies as lending itself to spray & pray, it would be social media marketing.

  14. Ok, here’s a question for all you testers. Is design important in email: do you find text works as well as html?

    • I use an HTML template that formats text to look basically like any other email customers might receive from friends or family.

      Research and personal experience shows this works vastly better. It has always puzzled me that so many companies try to make their emails look like webpages instead of like emails. It defeats the purpose by removing the personal element that makes email marketing so powerful in the first place.

      • Cool – I’ve been on txt only for years, would love to see how that template looks, even a screen shot, so I could try to duplicate it, or something similar?

  15. could not agree more…

  16. Email? Maybe if your target audience is over 55 and still using AOL. Might as well be sending smoke signals, at least you can’t move those to your Spam folder.

  17. thanks for this….this means list building should be the biggest priority of any marketer or business online..

    that picture really helped show your point on quantity.

  18. I’m not so sure this is completely true, Facebook is the place where people “LOOOOOOVE” someone else’s shoes and I think a large amount of impulse buying goes on there, especially from businesses that have a Facebook store. You can engage with your customers over Facebook in a very personal way that’s not possible by email and for some businesses that’s very valuable and promotes sales. Plus a huge proportion of people are logged in to Facebook 24/7 watching your new product announcements far more often than a monthly newsletter and if you’re in their thoughts on a daily basis you’re more likely to make a sale when they suddenly need to purchase a gift. Not that I rule out email marketing as a very useful tool of course, I just wanted to state a few things on the other side of the fence to be balanced about it. Interested to hear some hard statistics that back up either argument from anyone who’s collected them.

    • Hey Spinny. As I said in the article, Facebook may work very well for B2C companies that rely on impulse buys.

      That said, I don’t think it would work better than email. Your comment about a “monthly newsletter” really says it all. If you’re using email in that way, then Facebook is probably a better bet for you, because you obviously understand it better. But if you learn how to use email marketing effectively, I’d be very surprised if you didn’t find it had better ROI.

  19. April Dunford Jul 15, 2012 at 7:01 am

    Nice post and some interesting statistics.
    The problem I think though is that marketers too often jump straight to thinking about tactics and channels without really looking at their target buyers. In B2b in particular, different buyers have very different habits. I’ve had great success with email for some targets (IT managers, marketing managers, database administrators) and lousy performance with others (CIO’s, investment bankers). In my opinion marketers should care less about what’s trendy and more about how their customers act and buy.
    April

  20. Can’t argue with that April.

  21. Excellent perspective! Thanks for refocusing the lens – it takes courage to be a social media contrarian these days!

  22. Good article!
    Social media – in B2B that’s mainly LinkedIn & perhaps some Twitter – is useful to get to know your prospects; once you want them to engage, e-mail is indeed the best way

  23. Great post!

    I think social media is just as it says – social. It’s not really about business at all.

    If you want to use your followers for business then you will have to properly educate them. The best way I know to do this is to get more personal via email and then get them in the right frame of mind for your offers even then you’ll need high numbers to start with.

    I tried using twitter in the past and my experience was a quick uptake of freebies but low response to buying stuff. I don’t think facebook will be any different.

    Just to be clear here I am not talking ‘big list’ as this does not buy you food or clothing from the shops I mean conversions from subscribers to buyers.

    Social media has just not worked in that regard – at least for me anyway.

    Back to emails

    Cheerio!

  24. Myrna Greenhut Jul 18, 2012 at 7:44 am

    I think that if you have a viable list, email has its advantages; but blogs and the social platforms are viable for building and expanding that list and showing off your creativity.
    People will decide to open your email based on familiarity with your thinking and name.

  25. Ron Hume

    Couldn’t agree with you more. Email is probably the most under-appreciated media available to marketers ─ both B2B and B2C. And here’s another major advantage email offers. You may want to add this to your list.

    The key to all effective communications is fully engaging with your audience. In this connection, email offers a major edge over media such as Facebook where surrounding text, ads and pics are always competing with the message you are trying to deliver and distracting the reader’s attention.

    When someone opens an email, you have their undivided attention.

  26. Hey Ron, definitely. That’s something to add to point #4 in the article I think.

  27. Couldn’t agree more… Focus on Email marketing and growing your email list. Your email list is an asset and look at it as building “goodwill” value in your business!
    Yes, by marketing your social media pages, eventually you’ll get a ton of fans and followers, but how do you convert those fans and followers into loyal customers? Simple email marketing is the way.

  28. Fantastic use of relative terms an examples to highlight the perspective between Internet marketing and social media (customer service 2.0). Thank you.

  29. It is interesting that nobody here really seems to be pushing the power of LinkedIn – probably the most successful email marketing method for direct, targeted email marketing.

    What a crazy claim – LinkedIn better than email? Yep. Easy – because LinkedIn sends an email directly to your recipient and you piggy-back their branding, making use not only of inherent social proof (because everyone on LinkedIn is a professional, right?) but also showing you have done your research!

    The problem is that people don’t use it properly. Having been an early adopter of LinkedIn and constantly trying new ways of delivering messages it is clear – LinkedIn may not always get a result, but it gives you a great medium for little money to put your B2B message out there.

  30. The other thing that sucks about Facebook Pages is that your fans aren’t guaranteed to see you posts – either because:

    - Facebook’s algorithms are hiding your posts from them, or
    - they just aren’t logged on when you post them.

    At least w/ email everybody is going to check their inboxes and AT LEAST see you sent them something.

  31. Being in the receiving end of spam, I beg to differ. I call all the e-mail markting I receive spam in this comment, because I have never knowingly accepted any e-mail marketing. The trouble is that many companies don’t respect the NO ticked when filling in a form for something else, or they make you accept spam indirectly by writing on page 597 of their T&C that unless you post them a letter in five copies, you permet that they spam you. They trick you into accepting spam against your will, as is quantity were more important than quality and targeting. Another problem is that the spam delivery companies allow you to unsubscribe to one particular advertisor but only very rarely to be completely removed from the distributor’s spam list. This means that companies waste money sending spam to people who never buy anything as a result of spam and who are immune to spam. I’m one of those. I delete it all, either unopened, or if I open it, it’s to find the unsubscribe button. I don’t read any of it, and I don’t remember the company name, except in rare cases where it’s already a mainstream brand. I absolutely do not offer any attention to the contents at all. I may recognise repeat offenders.

    It’s a nuisance wasting countless hours every year, and every company that spams me gets my perception of them reduced in the few cases where I already know them. If a company spams me, I prefer buying from someone else if I have the choice. Even if an offer should in rare cases interest me, I delete it, because I will not reward spam.

    My conception of spam (remember, I mean ALL e-mail marketing) AND companies that spam is at the same level as someone slinging mud at my house every hour of the day. The more the same companies repeat the spam, the more I despise them.

    I occasionally use Outlook to filter out all e-mail from certain spam servers based on domain. It goes directly to the delete folder, and I never see it. I don’t use spam filters because there are too many false positives.

    When you measure the positive effect of spam, you should not forget that there can also be negative effects if the company’s image is degraded by spam and someone chooses NOT to buy because of spam. Not many mainstream companies use spam, probably because they know that spam is associated with third-grade back yard companies with a dodgy image.

    Therefore, if you MUST spam, choosing a delivery company that allows users to remove their e-mail addresses completely from their database will reduce the number of users that get angry because of spam.

    Spam is an invasive form of advertising causing a loss for the receiving part, whereas I can just skip over web advertising without wasting any time – with some exceptions, but at least when I go to a web site, it is because it gives me something in return for wasting a few seconds on ads, like a free news article or other information. Spam gives nothing to the user. It’s 100% waste. Hence, I do not have a negative perception of web advertising, only spam. But my perception of spam – e-mail advertising – is 100% negative, and very negative.

  32. People keep on thinking that e-mail is going away while social media takes over. They also tend to forget the purpose of social media, which is to brand your company a little further and to socialize with your customers. I think that the rice image does e-mail and social media “market shares” are truly. These two tools together can do great things for a company.

  33. You are absolutely right Bnonn. Email marketing in social media is very important to run your business in social media market.

  34. Great stuff – email for me is the original social network and I think peeps are finally coming round to that.

    You mentioned “research shows that most people open email from a maximum of 16 “trusted advisers”—and they almost always open these emails.”
    Do you have a citation for that research or was it something you discovered in- house? Would love to learn more about that data.

    Big Love.

  35. I totally disagree with this post. Sure, email marketing is important but more and more metrics are showing that email is read far less than facebook, twitter, google places, etc. The younger generation spends far more time on social media than they do on email. Definitely continue to build your email list, but all the major marketers I follow get a far greater “reach” utilizing their social media.

  36. You should take part in a contest for one of the finest sites
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  37. i find it cute how he can write an entire article on social media marketing vs email marketing for B2B and not mention a word about LinkedIn.

  38. If an email is written well than purpose can be served. because email marketing provide targeted audience.

  39. Post completely disagree using this type of post. Positive, email marketing is significant nonetheless an increasing number of metrics tend to be exhibiting which e mail is actually learn considerably less than facebook, tweets, search engines locations, That young era pays a great deal more occasion about social media marketing compared to they actually about e mail.
    Thanks…………………..////

  40. Bnonn,
    This is an awesome article and I see your stats on email vs. social media use quoted all over the place.
    The question is: where did you get these stats from? I can’t find anything like them anywhere.
    Who did this research?
    How do you know it’s accurate?

  41. Hey Naomi, good question.

    Here are a couple of sources:

    http://blog.visiblegains.com/is-email-dead/vgemaildead/
    http://blogs.smartertools.com/2011/08/29/the-value-of-email/

    The latter includes a number of links to the research that was consulted before compiling the infographic.

  42. In my opinion that email marketing is an efficient way of marketing strategy and several internet marketers do this method. Though, Email marketing doesn’t have any direct impact on search engine rankings, however there are some methods could help your rankings due to email marketing.

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