Social Marketing vs. Email Marketing: Is It War?

As of today, there are 59,300 Google results for the exact search phrase “email vs. social media.”  Apparently it’s a hot topic and some people have declared war.  It appears that the social-media mavens are already claiming victory by stating that “email is dead.”

On the other hand, many (email-marketing vendors in particular) have come to email’s defense with a lot of data and pretty charts, claiming that email and social media are two peas in a pod and “we’re all in this together.”  While I tend to agree with this idea, it’s important to tease out what’s really going on out there.

Social Marketing vs. Email Marketing: Is it War?

When looking at this argument (not for argument’s sake, but for the purpose of making business decisions), it’s important to focus on two key areas: target and intent.

Who is your target?

  • If your target is under 34 years old, you’re likely to be successful using social media.  If your target is under 20 years old, you’ll probably need to reach them through social media almost exclusively.
  • If your target is a business, email will likely get you results faster.  If your target is a consumer, you’ll get better results through a social campaign where your target sees others singing your praises.
  • If you’re targeting a person while they’re at work, email is the answer (usually).  If you’re targeting a person at home, social media can drive results.
  • As you can see, the demographics and psychographics are key to deciding whether to use social media or email to reach our target.  Often, you’ll want to use both.

What is your intent?

  • If you’re trying to sell directly, social media probably isn’t the place for you.  Email can work better.
  • If you’re trying to build a long-term relationship, start with social media (but the relationship may move to email).
  • If you’re all about providing value, social media is probably the place for you.
  • If you’re trying to communicate in a personal way, either can work (but email is currently better at personalizing in bulk).
  • If you need a quick response, it depends on your target.  A teen will fire back a Facebook reply in seconds.  A middle-aged cube monkey will reply by email almost as fast.  Both will fail in the other’s environment.

In the end, if you’re communicating with the intent to do business, email is still the inner sanctum.  I manage my inbox religiously.  If I don’t, I get behind, and business suffers.  If I don’t tweet every day, the business isn’t impacted as much.  Businesspeople still guard their email more closely than they do their social profiles.  So, if you want to do business with someone, use social media to get into their inbox.  Either connect personally, or drive value to an opt-in form.

This is the general flow in our current times.  This may change though.  Right now, college grads are forced to adopt the email world in business.  But over time, their generation may change business to the degree that social media becomes their inner sanctum and email is either a forgotten channel or becomes a channel that leads to the inner sanctum.

Meanwhile, DMs on Twitter and messages on Facebook look almost identical to their predecessor: email.  Not much has changed.  It’s just got new wrapping paper.  The war is not a war – it’s an evolution.


Tyler Garns Tyler Garns, Business & Marketing Strategist at Tyler Garns Marketing LLC, has over 10 years of experience in the field and is a recognized expert in Internet marketing. Tyler specializes in building "done-for-you" campaigns. You can follow him on the Tyler Garns Blog.

26 Reactions
  1. Hi Tyler,

    Thanks for the post.

    I like your idea;

    “If you’re trying to build a long-term relationship, start with social media (but the relationship may move to email).”

    That’s how I’ve been doing it, and it works. Of course capturing their email info via a website or blog, with an opt-in form, does that nicely.

    The Franchise King®

  2. Joel – Thanks for the comments. Just as an FYI – I’ll be part of a panel on this very topic that will be held this Wednesday by Focus: On that webinar, I’ll be sharing some data that was recently published by a research firm. Super fascinating – and great to have data to substantiate my gut feeling and personally experienced evidence on this topic.

  3. Hi Tyler,

    No doubt that the social media is creating a lot of hype today and becoming a very strong marketing tool, however, the importance of email cannot be understated. I feel email is much more personalized that social media, and is on a one-to-one basis with the person you’re interacting with. As mentioned the younger generation is very active in social media today but at the same time, even this younger generation has still not let go of emailing. Therefore, the best strategy still remains a blend of using both. Thanks for sharing!

    Riya Sam
    Training for

  4. I’ve found that the more I use FB, the less email I need to send or read. That being said, email’s not dead nor will it go away. It will be interwoven into the fabric of social channels.

    Some of my messages will be a many-to-many RSS feed (basically, this is what FB is) and some messages will be private 1-1, that’s email.

    Hopefully, it will make it all harder for spammers to survive.

  5. Email will always have a place at the table – especially as you have stated, within the business world. If and when the business world decides to wholeheartedly adopt social media as a bona fide business tool, this discussion will again become relevant. But for now, email is still queen and social media is the rising price… 🙂

  6. Spletno Oglaševanje

    Hm, i dont thing your on anything special here, but hey: soc media worked for Zuckerberg, imagine where he was if he stuck to email marketing 🙂

    Good post tho,

    Spletno Oglaševanje

  7. Very interesting post, social networking has exploded on the net and pretty much blown away everything in its path, its not long before the yester-years “big things” ie email will seem outdated too

  8. Hey Carlos,
    That’s pretty cool if you’re leveraging FB in a way that saves you time and effort on email. I’ve not found the same for me, but I agree about the fabric weaving… And I love the idea of stuff that makes it harder for spammers. They have it too easy.

  9. Tyler,

    That’s awesome. It looks like a great roundtable, and I’ll spread the word.

    The Franchise King®

  10. Great piece and the section on who you’re targeting is valuable. I agree with Riya that Social Media and Email marketing should complement each other for a successful campaign. If you have a product/service that caters to a wide range of consumers it’s best to open as many channels of communication and interaction as possible. Although I like the way you’ve segmented your article into target and intent, I also think it’s important to have a section on what you’re trying to promote, such as, what’s the best way to go about promoting an event, the launch of a new product, a contest, etc…Cheers for the article, great read!

  11. Thanks everyone for the comments. The real key is to define your goals with both social media and email marketing. I agree, there is a place for both. There is emerging data showing that social is not as easily tied to business metrics (like revenue) as email marketing is. I’d encourage you to join us for the Focus Roundtable discussion tomorrow where I’ll share some of this data.

  12. Is this going to turn into the next PPC vs. SEO fight? Because I find that the arguments are typically ridiculous since both can be very effective when used in the right situation and oftentimes complement each other quite well.

  13. Robert – this definitely shouldn’t turn into the next PPC vs SEO fight. That’s not the point. Both email and social are great tools and ideally both should be used in an integrated approach. But, small businesses often have limited cash and limited time – so executing on both is not always possible. What small businesses need is the knowledge of when and how to use both tactics, so that if required to choose between the two, they can choose wisely.

  14. Hey Robert, I agree that the PPC v SEO debate is silly.

    I should chime in on the roundtable since I’m moderating and I created the title and event… I meant “versus” to be more like “compared to”, thus email marketing compared to social media. And then the tagline and summary of it talk about how they are converging, how they are different, how they complement one another. Each panelist on the roundtable uses both very well, part of why they were selected. I will say the discussion is already actively underway with the panelists actively engaging one another before we even start, so it promises to have some good info. See link in Tyler’s comments.

  15. We are definitely at a crossroads with the many generations online today and their preferred method of communications. However, I continue to believe that as future generations come up through the ranks we will see less and less of how email currently exists today. It’s overdue for a major overhaul. You hit on one of my favorite topics so thank you! Every time I mention the evolution of email in a presentation I freak the audience out!

  16. I’m not quite sure why it has to be war. Both can work congruently together. You use social media to drive people to your site and they will (hopefully) sign up for your mailing list and you can build a long term relationship with them through email.

    But at the same time you can build a long term relationship with people through social media since it’s more real-time and you can connect with them at any time of the day or night about anything.

    Both work and they can certainly work together.

  17. I definitively think that email is an important ingredient in your marketing plan. But don’t forget the face-to-face meeting in person or online video chat / phone conversation, e.g. via Skype.

    I am reading The Constant Contact Guide to Email Marketing by Eric Groves as a preparation for the launch of my newsletter.

  18. Great Article! Email is just as important in your marketing process as social media. They are both pieces of the marketing plan that can work together and compliment each other, but they are not meant to take the place of one another, or any other retro marketing efforts. I think social media will always be a great platform to educate and inform your audience, but there has to come a time to move them from social media to another place in your marketing strategy, and for me that is with email marketing and eventually face to face. Thank you again for sharing your great tips!

    Jen Hashisaki

  19. Hey Martin, I completely agree with you! Don’t forget to meet with people in person and by phone. Use social networking as a way to build existing relationships and open up new ones. The best social networking efforts are about building word-of-mouth, driving in-store traffic, keeping the conversation going.

  20. Hi Tyler

    I like this comparative post, and I think it gleans over each strengths and weaknesses, like you have brought up, they have differing roles for different demographics and psychographics. Perhaps another matter that we can consider looking at is the sales funnel, and how both approaches needs to be utilized, as two different cogwheels in a larger scale of the sales funnel.


  21. Hi Spletno Oglaševanje,

    I’m pretty sure that BEFORE FaceBook was completed they all worked and updated each other primarily through email. =p


  22. I also think that social media is more of the “social/mascoty/PR” front, where upon post initial contact, the subsequent management of communications will be done via emails, which are easier to store and disseminate.

    Perhaps, when the ‘evolution’ completes, all email providers would also have brand new ‘social-sy’ front, to give it an enticing and exciting balance…