So what does it all mean?
If we were evaluating marketing strategies just based on those studies, it might look like social isn’t worth the hassle. But, of course, it is.
Social media may not have the engagement rates of email, but you start out with a huge group of people – everyone on social media. It isn’t really like email marketing. There, you’re working with just the subscribers on your list. So while we’d all love a proper apples-to-apples comparison of the two channels, we’re not ever going to get a true one. Social and email are different. Not even apples and oranges. (And social’s really good at things email is lesser at, such as brand awareness. Maybe it’s horses for courses.)
Those differences are important, too. So while I don’t want to bash social too hard, here are a few other reasons social is at an inherent disadvantage compared to email:
Disadvantage #1: Control
Email’s primary advantage over social media is control. You can control when you mail to people, how you mail to people, and what you mail to people.
Not so of social media. It’s easy to forget, but we don’t really own our followers on social media. They may like us once, then spend their time elsewhere. Or they may engage on the channels we use, then flit off to a new channel entirely.
Disadvantage #2: Social media increasingly requires advertising to reach your audience
It costs money to send emails, too, of course. But the cost to advertise is usually higher than the cost to send an email. Even if you’re enough of a social advertising whiz to get clicks for pennies, actual conversions typically cost more on social media than they do via email.
And even when we’re advertising on social, we still have to get those ads past the reviewers. Facebook, for example, often rejects ads, especially if you’re in a niche they’re not entirely comfortable with.
Part of the disadvantage here is a mindset issue. Which brings us to the next point.
Disadvantage #3: People just aren’t usually in shopping (or B2B research) mode when they’re on social.
People expect a different experience from social media than they do from their email inbox. Largely, they’re looking for light entertainment – a few cat photos – or some family news. Even on LinkedIn, where most B2B networking goes down, people just aren’t in the same mindset as they’re in when they’re working through their inbox.
There’s research to back this up. In early 2015, Marketing Sherpa asked 2,000 American adults, “In which of the following ways, if any, would you prefer companies to communicate with you? Please select all that apply.”