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brighter thinking.

Social marketing and e-marketing – can they live together in harmony?

By Kirstie Cawley, Client Services Manager at Bluestorm

Like Romeo and Juliet, fish and chips and Batman and Robin, there are some partnerships in life that are just meant to be. Individually, they are great as they are and can achieve a lot of wonderful things, but when they are brought together, they are even better – creating an even stronger force.

The same goes for email marketing and social media. They are two of the most used digital marketing channels, but, when run side-by-side, they become even more powerful and can really drive results by reaching and engaging with key audiences.

However, in the marketing world, many businesses and organisations are looking at them individually and arguing which is the most valuable tool out of the two. Which method sees a better return on investment? Should they be investing more time and money in one than the other?

Has email marketing had its day?

When it comes to analysing marketing campaigns and measuring commercial success across the full spectrum – including digital and offline – marketeers are changing their views. It’s not so much about the reach figures anymore (although these are, obviously, still vital), but the relationships that are built. This is why social media is gaining popularity.

The social media versus email marketing debate is gaining a lot of opinion at the moment, particularly in the education sector. Recently, Professor Steve Smith, vice chancellor of Exeter University, claimed that using email to contact students is a thing of the past and that social media is now the primary way to communicate and engage with them.

Students will tweet if they need help with something, or post on Facebook if they have a question about the requirements for a course – and they will expect an immediate response. This is why the university has employed social media-savvy graduates and an out-of-hours team of press officers, so they can respond to these queries almost instantly. It also means they can respond to common questions (that multiple students may have) in a public forum, providing answers that many may be looking for.

And it’s not just Professor Smith who is taking this approach. Last year, 98% of UK authorities were using digital or social media to engage communities – with 64% of UK councils using social media for customer service last year, up from 45% in 2012.

But how does social media add up?

In 2013, it was reported that more than a third of the UK population visit Facebook every day (source: The UK ranks as the world's sixth most active Facebook user base, with more than 33 million unique users (in December 2013. Source: SocialBakers' index) – making it the single largest concentration of consumers on any social media platform here in the UK. 

As for Twitter, the latest reports carried out showed 10 million users in the UK – that’s 20.8 per cent of UK internet users (source: eMarketer) – with experts predicting this to grow to 12.2 million by 2015 – and 14 million by 2017.  And that’s not to mention the growth of other social media platforms such as Instagram and YouTube.

As these statistics show, social media is certainly powerful in terms of reaching target audiences, as such a high number of people are tweeting, sharing, liking and posting. But interaction needs to link back to your objectives. Businesses use social media for different reasons and these also differ by the size of the business.

According to Office for National Statistics (ONS) research, the most popular reason for using social media in 2012 was to develop the business’ image or to market products (33 per cent). Social media has also opened up new ways for businesses to engage with customers. Around 23 per cent of businesses responded to customer opinions, reviews or questions on social media, while 12 per cent used it to involve customers in the development or innovation of goods or services.

This is why great content is key. Posts and tweets need to be informative, easy to read and spark interaction. It’s a two-way communication channel with your target audience – not only are you telling them about your product or service, but you are listening to their thoughts and opinions. This ‘inside knowledge’ is vital and could help give your business or organisation direction.

You’ve also got to think about what your competitors are doing. If you’re not utilising social media, they will be – and they will be engaging with your potential customers/students etc. The latest figures from ONS show that 43 per cent of businesses used social networks such as Facebook, so it’s worth investing to keep up with competition.

There’s also Facebook advertising to boost reach and push messages. Facebook advertising is a targeted advertising method, allowing you to specifically target your key demographics. It offers various advertising methods including newsfeed ads (which are great for targeting mobile users) and right-hand column ads, which are cheaper, smaller and only available on desktops, but don’t require you to link to a Facebook page.

You can create ads based on the results you want to achieve. These can vary from click to websites, through to Facebook engagement – including likes, page likes comments and shares. It could even boost app installations, the numbers attending an event you are holding, or increase the number of claims you receive for an offer.

Social media can be highly target - based on location, age, gender, relationship status, family status, education and work, as well as key life events, such as engagement, marriage, new job, moving house and upcoming birthdays. You can target users based on interests, behaviours and those who are a similar audience to your current social media following.

Much like an e-marketing campaign, the benefits of Facebook advertising are that it’s highly targeted. It means you are reaching exactly the people you want to, as well as giving you the ability to capture new audiences and expand your reach to your target demographics. It’s also relatively cheap compared to generic adverts and you can advertise within your budget. In terms of creation, they are easy to put together, simple to amend and visually impactful.

While we agree it makes sense to make social media a part of your marketing strategy, we don’t believe it should be at the expense of e-marketing …

The strength of E-marketing

While figures show impressive reach for social media, there are still plenty of stats to show that old-fashioned email is still incredibly effective in attracting customers to your organisation. Although more and more of us are using social media, the use of email is still very strong. The fact that reading emails is the leading activity for people on their phones means you have constant access to your audience, as people are not waiting until they are at a desktop to check their inbox – they are doing it on the go.

According to the Email Marketing Industry Census 2014, email marketing remains the best sales channel in terms of return on investment, with 68% of companies rating e-marketing as good or excellent. In 2011, the Direct Marketing Association estimated that email marketing typically returns £40 for every £1 invested – with this figure growing all the time. It’s estimated that typical ROI is more than 3000% for some businesses.

The research also found that companies were attributing 23% of their total annual sales to e-marketing. A study by predictive analytics firm Custora showed that customers who come to businesses via email tend to shop more and spend more. It also revealed that email customers are 11% more valuable than average. Organic-search customers are 50% more valuable than average. Facebook customers are average, and Twitter customers are 23% less valuable than average.

Why is e-marketing so effective?

Around 77% of customers like to receive commercial communications via email and the people you are reaching have given you permission to contact them, so they are already open to hearing what you have to say. Email has higher conversion rates, as you are targeting those who already have an interest – 66% of consumers have made an online purchase as a result of an email marketing message. This figure is a lot smaller for social networking sites, as, although you may be casting a wider net, so to speak, the audience you are targeting isn’t as refined, unless you are utilising data through Facebook advertising.

This is where data segmentation can help. Using an email campaign management system, you can categorise your email addresses and customise your direct messages to suit each audience. Research has shown that by doing this, engagement rates are improved. Because emails are also easy to share with friends, you can use tailored email distribution to extend your reach to more people within your demographic.

By using email marketing, it is also easy to analyse, track and measure your campaign and see what effect it has had. With email campaign management systems, such as Create and Send, which we use here at Bluestorm, you can see clearly whether your email has been opened, whether users have clicked through to your website, and what actions they may have taken on there. With social media, you can monitor likes and shares, but it’s more about engagement. People still want tools that will generate revenue – and the correlation between an email campaign and an increase in enquiries or sales is a lot simpler to spot.

Email marketing campaigns are easy to create and relatively cheap to put together – meaning businesses and organisations of any size can use e-marketing.

Our verdict

We work with clients who employ both tools across their marketing strategy and for us it’s about developing relationships as well as reaching those who matter.

Yes, seeing how many click-throughs and opens your e-marketing campaign has achieved is great – and it’s a good way to push messages and informative content, as well as provide a call to action. But investing time to engage with your audience via social media, to build a rapport and cement your organisation’s reputation as reliable and trustworthy is just as valuable and can establish long-term results.

“You need to influence your target audience through multiple marketing channels. Ensure they complement each other and drive your key messaging.”

Top tip: Tailor the tone

If you choose to go with both email marketing and social media campaigns, it’s important to use a different tone for each channel. When it comes to email, people like to hear about offers, sales, product news – strong, clear messages that are telling them something useful, or giving them something to act upon. With Facebook, audiences want conversation, tasters of what you have to offer with a link through to a website if they want to read more. And on Twitter, they want short, snappy breaking news and updates.

Design is also as important as content. With so many people viewing emails on their smartphones, you need your campaign to look good on a mobile device. If it’s difficult to view, people will simply unsubscribe.

The breakdown of benefits ...

Social media

- Audience reach potential is massive, with fans, followers, likes and favourites
- It’s relatively cheap to manage and maintain
- Tools are available to measure engagement
- Real-time responses and chance to engage in conversation quickly


- Managing the mailing list is easy – and data segmentation can make your targets refined
- It’s low cost compared to other direct marketing channels
- The success of campaigns is easy to measure and monitor
- It is a tried and tested way of “pushing out” a key message

Need some advice and guidance with your e-marketing or social media strategy?

At Bluestorm, our team can help develop communication plans that use a variety of online techniques to reach and develop loyalty among your target audience.
Email for more information.

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