Email Or Social Media Marketing – Which Delivers The Highest ROI?


What delivers the highest marketing ROI in B2B markets Email or social media marketing? The issue is complex and there is no single answer that applies to all industries but based on experience, research date (where available) and some broad brush numbers we try to answer that question.Is the highest ROI generate by EMail or social media marketing

The first point to consider is how many prospects or customers will actually read the message. Symantec estimates 92% of all Email sent is spam and a MailerMailer report indicates that average Email open rates have fallen consistently since 2007. The problem may be that the advantages of Email are also its worst enemy. Its low cost and ease of use make it the ideal medium for the spammers. Email credibility and open rates have declined as a result.

So social media marketing is the way forward? Well it’s not quite that simple, analytics firm Sysomos found that 71% of Tweets on Twitter are ignored by those who receive them. A Pew study found that 41% of Twitter users check the site less than every few weeks. Some report only 1% to 5% of the people that liked a business page actually have the opportunity to view posts.

Email v Social Media – Comparison Methodology

So whatever medium is used a large percentage of targets will simply ignore the message. All that can be done is to build trust and increase read rates as a result. Building an army of genuine follows (there is no point just targeting numbers) and an Email contact list of real subscribers with an interest in the content will certainly help but that is only part of the answer.

Which social media channel is best to compete with EMailOur Email or social media marketing analysis assumes that activity is based on delivering quality content and not pushy sales messages. The debate rages about the purchase of Email lists v opt in lists but that is the subject for another post. If we assume that the Email is addressed to a named person then experience shows a 15% open rate (min) is a reasonable expectation. Assuming an enquiry rate based on 2% (not unreasonable) of those who open then a monthly Email sent to a list of 1000 names should generate three enquiries per month.

Social media covers a wide range of channels. A report found that B2B marketers are far more active on LinkedIn and Twitter than on Facebook. The report found 74% of businesses have a LinkedIn profile that they regularly update compared with 73% on Twitter. By comparison, just 53% have a regularly updated Facebook profile with YouTube (37%) and Google+ (26%) further back. Pinterest and others are further back still but starting to catch up.

Which channel works best for a business depends on the target audience and if they are active (or not) on the channel. LinkedIn, in our view is a special case and is excluded from the following analysis (expect more on LinkedIn in a future post). For those in B2B markets LinkedIn can be much more than standard social media channel. It is also an industry specific search engine and research tool.

Email v Social Media – The Numbers

Although there are many social media analysis tools available it remains difficult to determine how many targets actually engage in some way with the information you post. If we take Twitter as an example and assume most of those following you are following more than 200 others then the chances of them actually seeing your tweet in their feed are remote – unless they are one of the more switched on Twitter users and are using lists. Our own view is less than 1% of followers will engage in some way with a Tweet.

Of course there are many ways to increase engagement (photography, post time, subject etc.) but we are focussing here on broad numbers. Engagement on Facebook (measured by either a comment or like on a wall post) again is less than 1% according to the analysis in this post and elsewhere. There is evidence that similar rates of engagement can be expected from Pinterest and others.

Many studies conclude that when posting content to social media a mix of own content mixed with quality content of others is the best mix both for engagement and for generating more followers / friends. The ratio of own curated content of others compared to own is recommended as anywhere between 1 in 5 and 1 in 10. To simplify the numbers a ratio of 1 own content to every 3 curated has been used in the following analysis.

For many small and medium sized businesses publishing more than two pieces of content per working day is a challenge. Given the above ratio that equates to a maximum of 12 pieces of own content each month. Assuming 1000 active followers / friends spread over Facebook / Twitter, 1% engage with posts and 2% of them make an enquiry it relates to 2 enquiries / month.


So in the great Email or social media marketing debate Email wins? Well, again it is not quite that simple as there are many other potential advantages of social media. For businesses of an appropriate size with the right organisation and right mix of customers social media can be used as a customer management / support tool. Appropriate outreach via social media can be used to secure high quality backlinks and boost the business website SEO and social media can be an excellent tool for keeping up to date with the latest news and best practice in any industry.

The key is the activity (or not) of the target customer / prospect base on the chosen social media channel. In the ideal case any Email list will be based on opt in or (worst case) a targeted list purchase. It is therefore known that whatever message is delivered will reach the target audience. The only issue then is engagement and open rates. The same is not true of social media as without adequate research you could simply be talking when nobody is listening.