Why Social Shouldn’t Scare Email Marketers

by Michelle McGinnis on Tuesday, April 10, 2012 in Email marketing

Last year was all about social media, right?

Everywhere you turned people were talking about social. It dominated headlines. It was the hot topic at conventions. And several pundits claimed its popularity signaled the death knell for email. But is the outlook for email really that bleak?

Let’s consider some facts and figures. The number of registered email accounts reached 3.1 billion in 2011, and is expected to grow by another 1 billion by 2015, according to The Radicati Group. To put that in perspective, the number of email accounts outnumbers the number of Internet users by about 1 billion.

When it comes to ROI, email remains a relatively inexpensive, high-return marketing method. For every dollar spent on email, the average return was expected to reach $44.25 by the end of 2011, according to the Direct Marketing Association. And for many companies, email continues to drive the largest share of traffic.

“The year started out with a lot of predictions talking about the end of email,” said Bill McCloskey, Founder of OnlyInfluencers.com and an expert on email marketing. “If you think is email is dead drop it from your marketing and you’ll only have two more emails to write: one explaining to your boss why revenue has dropped and the other to a recruiter to look for a new job.”

Social Media’s Big Year

There’s no doubt that social media had a big 2011. The average number of tweets pumped out each day on Twitter rose from 50 million to 140 million. LinkedIn filed for an IPO and saw its membership grow by 45% in less than a year. Google jumped into the game with Google+. And Facebook – on its own IPO adventure – now boasts 845 million users with more than half of those clicking on daily.

The meteoric rise of social media has resulted in marketers clamoring to get in on the action – not to mention, a fair share of “email is dead” headlines.

As a result, the enduring success of email was buried despite huge projected growth in the number of email accounts. “A single email from Apple reaches more people than the Super Bowl and World Series combined,” McCloskey noted.

Indeed, the majority of companies expect to increase their email marketing budget this year. Groupon, who had one of the largest IPOs of 2011, has a business model built on email marketing.

“I think email has matured to the point that it’s like the telephone,” Jeffrey Rice, Senior Research Analyst at MarketingSherpa. “You don’t see any interesting articles that are like ‘Hey we learned how to call people!’”

The Game is Changing

Perhaps there should be more of those articles. Because while social media might not end email, it could change how people use it - and marketers need to adapt.

Email’s durability, in spite of the vast and sweeping technological changes that upend the landscape every couple of years, is due to the fact that it’s a “simple, easy to use concept for people to understand,” McCloskey said.

Even as we incessantly check our Facebook newsfeed, email remains popular because it allows users to store tons of info that’s easily searchable and it’s private by default whereas social media is public by default, said Joshua Baer, Founder and CEO of OtherInbox.

Another great thing about email, it works across platforms. “It’s the standardized open way to send one message across systems,” Baer told me. Emails sent from Hotmail go to Gmail to Yahoo Mail, and on and on.

The research largely agrees with Baer. Email seems to be enjoying a similar trajectory as social media. Younger people might bounce off of web-based email, but they are driving its growth on smart phones and tablets. In fact, research shows social media users are more likely to check their email more often.

But as consumer attention is divided across platforms, email marketers need to think about how their messaging will be viewed, consumed and acted on. A recent Forrester Research report suggested social media is influencing changes to email marketing in several ways, from the timing of delivery to the ability to conduct transactions within the email. And the relationship between email and social is increasingly symbiotic. (Consider how Google attempts to tie Gmail users to its Google+ network.)

Email may adapt to innovations in the market, but the method and means of email use is likely to remain the same this year – and the next. “An email three years from today is likely to be the same as it is today,” McCloskey said.

In the end, email still remains a high value piece of the marketing mix, even as social becomes a more prominent method. “I much rather have an email subscriber than a Facebook fan,” Baer added.

Wouldn’t you?

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