Email marketing vs social media marketing

There’s no thing such as “one size fits all” when it comes to email marketing. In fact what works for one brand in the same industry doesn’t necessarily work for another, even if their product offering is the same. The reason why is because your brand has a personality of its own. We often get asked whether it’s better to focus on email marketing or social media marketing. The answer however isn’t that straightforward. Let’s look at the facts to help you understand different parts to answering this question.

A closer look at:


3.9 billion people use email. That’s according to data released by Statista in 2020. This figure is set to grow to 4.3 billion by 2023. To compare, DataReportal estimates that there are 4.2 billion social media users around the world at the start of 2021, equating to more than 53% of the total global population. It’s clear therefore that social media has a slight advantage when it comes to the number of people actively using the channel but you’ve got to look at the context. These numbers reflect one channel (email) vs 1000s of channels (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Vkontakte, etc).

Owned, paid and earned media

If you look at the numbers it can also seem obvious to use social media channels to organically blast messages and connect with your audience via social media, but this isn’t necessarily the case. Social media has become a pay-to-play realm, with most social platforms favouring paid placements over organic placements. This means your messages might never reach the intended audience in the way you expect unless you put some money behind it. Email on the other hand gives you the opportunity to engage with a captive audience who has indicated they are interested in what you have to offer. When you build your email list, you do so off your owned media - your website for growing your list and your email marketing campaigns to connect with your audience.


Another big difference when it comes to email vs social media is who owns your audience data. When you use social media channels you cannot simply move the followers you’ve gained over to another platform or download their information to repurpose elsewhere. Your email subscription list is fully your own. All the data you gather from your subscription form belongs to you and can be moved to different email platforms or applications as needed. Your social media accounts can be hacked, closed without notice or even restrict you from advertising certain products or services due to content policies.


Ever heard of a digital detox? A “digital detox refers to a period of time when a person voluntarily refrains from using digital devices such as smartphones, computers, and social media platforms. This form of detoxification has gained popularity, as individuals have increased their time spent on digital devices and the Internet.” (Wikipedia) Interestingly enough, internet users are more likely to detox from social media than email because they fear they might miss out on important information received via email.

Algorithms vs an earned list

You’re getting good traction and engagement on your social media posts and all of a sudden you see a drastic dip. An Algorithm change. We’ve all been there, social media is great but there’s no way to account for what’s changed, when social platforms are going to make changes or even how to account for these changes. Email on the other hand is stable. If you’ve spent time building your list over time and keeping it up to date, you’ll have stability in terms of your email marketing performance. Side note: if you’ve bought your list, we can’t help you, but you’ll also see poor email campaign performance. Learn more about why we don’t buy lists.


Social media is an amazing channel to use for all kinds of businesses, but as these platforms start favouring paid placements it can be expensive to keep up with your competitors. While you might be leaning towards investing heavily in social, studies have shown that email marketing has a 43:1 return on investment. Email marketing is also super easy to get set up and doesn’t require a high level of skill to execute. You can start sending campaigns without the help of a designer once a week or once a month to start and grow from there. Social media on the other hand requires cross-channel content, frequent (often daily) posts with images and content across more than one channel. This can mean that social media can be time consuming and labour intensive.

Let’s talk about the benefits of email

You have full control:

  • Firstly control over who you speak to about what subject as email gives you the opportunity to ensure you send messages to targeted segments on your list.
  • You can control your content and craft messages that might otherwise not be allowed on social media channels based on content policies.

Opportunities to test with a certain group:

  • As you own your list and can see stats about which users opened your campaigns or haven’t opened your campaigns, you have a change to re-engage with these users.
  • You could also clean your list by asking inactive subscribers (subscribers who haven’t completed any actions in a while) whether they still want to be part of your list.

77% prefer to receive promotional content via email (Exact Target)

  • By using email marketing, you are communicating with your potential clients in a way they expect and prefer, especially when it comes to promotional content. Social media on the other hand is a great platform for you to build your brand and connect with your audience in the micro-moments they have available while scrolling through their feed.

In Summary

To answer the question: Should our business be focussing on email marketing or social media marketing? You should focus on both, but streamline your efforts. You can use social media to help build your email list and use email marketing to connect with your audience in a personal way. Both have a place in your marketing mix, but you shouldn’t see email marketing as an “extra.” Be consistent in how you email and add value to your audience through your email content. Over time, you’ll reap the rewards. While social posts are short-lived between the noise of the many brands and posts out there, emails are forever and easy for a reader to refer back to.

If you’re unsure where to begin your email marketing journey, have a look at Email Marketing for beginners.


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