Posted October 21, 2008 11:24 am by with 31 comments

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Is email marketing better than marketing through social networks? Yes, according to a new study from ExactTarget and Ball State University’s Center for Media Design. The study reveals that:

“. . . 18- to 34-year-olds claim they are more likely to be influenced to make purchases based on e-mail marketing messages and direct mail than marketing messages on social networks,” said Mike Bloxham, director, insight and research, Ball State University’s Center for Media Design. “It is too easy to assume that the media consumers choose for their own news, information and entertainment are, by default, the best media to use for marketing messages. This is a dangerous assumption to make in a time when consumers are becoming increasingly aware of their level of control over their media experiences.”

The study outlined six personas and how they interact with different media, including where they prefer to receive marketing messages:

  • Wireds: 20% have subscribed for marketing communications via SMS, more so than any other group—but they want to receive texts only for urgent customer service issues such as financial alerts or travel updates.
  • Young Homemakers: More than half use social networks and SMS during the day, but direct mail and e-mail are their two preferred marketing channels.
  • Retireds: 81% have purchased online and 94% have been influenced by some form of direct marketing to make a purchase.
  • College Students: Very spam-savvy, they believe private communication channels such as SMS and social networks are off limits for marketers.
  • Teens: They use social networking more than any other group but are more likely to make a purchase from direct mail, followed by e-mail, SMS and social network sites.
  • Established Professionals: Women in this group are more likely than men in this group to use new digital media channels such as IM, SMS and social networking to communicate with friends and family—but men and women alike shop online with 92% having made an online purchase.

I’d have to say that I think most people agree with college students on this one—”private communication channels,” SMS and social networks are not where we want to receive marketing messages. Of course, we’d apparently still like for brands to be there just in case we need them.

The full white paper is available from ExactTarget.


  • That’s an interesting point. I guess the integration of social to email marketing would follow that social media can get someone to your site to learn more, opt in, etc. And then the follow up with email could work that way. Does that sound about right?

  • Adi

    And yet I’ve seen several surveys this year highlighting how people increasingly love to discuss their purchasing with other people, and nearly always consult user reviews prior to purchase.

    I think many non-marketing folk regard advertising as pretty much all we do so it’s perhaps not surprising to hear this, but there still lies an awful lot of importance in getting information to people at all stages of the buying process, not just when they have their wallet out.

  • Jordan McCollum

    I think that’s the difference between push and pull marketing. It’s one thing to have customer reviews available; it’s another for a company to sent its customer reviews to you on Facebook or your cell phone.

  • I’d echo Adi in saying that marketing is more than “direct marketing”- email to house lists has been proven to be a superior online marketing investment if you’re looking only at cost to email and immediate returns.

    However, branding is also part of marketing, and exists on a gray continuum with PR and customer service, and in this, social media plays an essential role.

    Measuring the results of SM/SN, just like PR, will not be as easy or as satisfying to the ROI-focused as direct marketing channels will be.

    Brian Carter’s last blog post..The 2008 TwitterStache Awards

  • Would it not depend on what your end conversion is? I reckon that if you’re selling tangible products, email marketing is more effective, but social media is more effective if you’re after click-throughs and page impressions for advertising.

    Just a pure guess of course.

    sheppy’s last blog post..Peanut Butter on Toast Recipe

  • The key, to which Adi refers, is sales cycle.

    A customer new to your company, or to a product, might encounter your branding or social media efforts. Email marketing hits the loyal customer who has bought from you before, or a prospect who likes your company enough to sign up for emails. By this time, the initial job of branding and positioning the company has been done. This is assuming you’re not using email to spam people who haven’t opted in to your brand.

    Also, Dell did quite well using coupon codes on twitter to produce direct sales- so it can work the other way as well.

    Brian Carter’s last blog post..The 2008 TwitterStache Awards

  • PS3

    I find those results extremely hard to believe. At least with Social Media, you are driving the situation and the direction your searches go in – with e-mail, you are reacting to generally unsolicited offers. Don’t people just delete them?

  • Again, I assume they’re talking about in-house email lists, which are opt-in email lists.

    Marketing Sherpa reports and others have reported that opt-in email lists have some of the highest conversion rates of any direct marketing.

    And it’s not very expensive to send out an email.

    We see clients frequentyl send out an email for less than $1,000 and get returns of $10-20k. That’s 900-1900% ROI.

    By contrast, in direct marketing terms, if you hire someone for $40k to do your social media, SM would have to net you $600k a year. Sound likely?

    But current analytics still suffer from inability to show all customer touchpoints- so if they heard about you via social media, and then later bought because of a PPC ad, it might be the PPC ad that gets credit for the revenue.

    Problems tracking ROI on social media will hinder its adoption unless companies view it as PR and customer service.

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  • That’s for sure. Don’t really need a study for that one.

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  • Saz

    Thanks for shedding some light on this as it still remains a controversial debate amongst advertiser

    Saz’s last blog post..World’s Lightest Blue-ray Laptop – Sony Launches Sony Vaio TT Series

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  • In todays consumer educated market the key to success is providing problem solving multimedia information. You don’t force closure it comes because the consumer is ready to purchase. Social networking and e-mail marketing should compliment each other. Create a viral buzz about striking, compelling , and EVOCATIVE information that best defines that product. I want communities (social & professional)excited about my product and services not just individuals (e-mail driven).

  • Good Discussion. I think, it is quite clear that e-mail marketing is better than social markeing as it targets actual customers who are interested in your products.

    Robert’s last blog post..RSS- A Powerful Marketing Tool

  • It seems that email marketing is still powerful when it comes to sales. I believe social network marketing is over-hyped and many marketers carried away from the hype miss on opportunities from using other promotional methods that is not the new hot trend.

    Chris’s last blog post..How to Connect With your MLM Prospects

  • Email marketing is powerful when it comes to sales. But if we talk about build more powerfull site I think Social Networking is better (IMO)

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  • Interesting. I really wouldn’t have thought some of those stats were true, but then again, I’m not a market researcher. Just a marketer!

    Susan Payton, The Marketing Eggspert’s last blog post..Do You Take Obama or McCain in Your Coffee?

  • I’m sure email marketing is powerful but I still like to talk to people at a counter every now and then. This is very interesting to know however, thanks.

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  • Jim Sanderson

    Really, it’s going to come down to what you’re best at.

    Some people excel at writing, some at social networking – but very few at both.

    Now, I’m all for playing to your strengths – but generally the writers should be more involved with their market on a social level and the social butterflies should learn to write more on target messages.

    In fact – you can still advertise in apps like Facebook and Twitter – but you have to be *extremely* wary about how you craft your message.

    In the end, when you combine the relationship aspect of social media with the raw sales power of opt-in e-mail marketing – you won’t have just ‘buyers’ – you’ll have raving fans.

  • This is very insightful. New methods of marketing like sms marketing are much faster and cost effective. provides this service.

  • oooo, this is quite interesting. This is just proof that marketing is always adapting. As soon as one form of advertising has run its course and is no longer beneficial, the advertising market gets an overhaul. I like it.

    SoLinkable’s last blog post..Wikipedia and the Meaning of Truth

  • Thanks, some facts became more clear for me … But this question is still disputable! Very interesting theme.

  • Very interesting article, thanks for sharing.

    I would have to say that I am influenced more by the social networks than emails. Only because I get so much email that it is hard to decipher spam from legit offers.

    Matt Helphrey’s last blog post..What Are the Steps in Creating an Online Business?

  • Interesting. Just shows things are changing all the time in the marketing world.

  • That makes sense. I’ve noticed that people on social networking websites just come and leave. All they’re looking for is hot news or something interesting and then they just leave the website.

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  • Ram

    I believe that the cultural and geographical diversity of people in social networks will hinder the growth of socail network Marketing…

  • EOS

    Would it not depend on what your end conversion is? I reckon that if you’re selling tangible products, email marketing is more effective, but social media is more effective if you’re after click-throughs and page impressions for advertising.