Should Your Startup Invest In Email or Social Media Marketing?

startup should invest in email marketing or social media marketing


Should Your Startup Invest In Email or Social Media Marketing?

As your startup begins to get its legs and you’ve settled on important functions like sales, operations, and the look and feel of your online presence, it’s time to set your sights on that most difficult of tasks: marketing your business.

Few aspects of business growth are more difficult to budget and account for than marketing. In theory, you could have amazing word-of-mouth marketing—which is free—that rockets your business to superstardom. Much more likely, however, is that you’ll need to build a buzz from scratch using the digital tools of our time.

For many startups, the question of what tools to use often comes down a single fork in the road: Should you invest in email marketing or social media marketing?

Of course, like many things in life, the best answer would be “both.” And why not? These channels speak to different audiences who are at different points in your marketing funnel, and ideally, you’d use them in tandem to cover all your bases.

But if you have a limited marketing budget at this stage, and you can only choose one channel, which do you go with?

The short answer is that it depends. It depends on what you’re looking to accomplish right now. Do you want to build your brand, experiment with messaging, and target hyper-specific demographics? Or do you want to nurture leads and get the most bang for your buck?

Read on to understand whether you should invest in emailing your audience, or engaging with them on social media.

What Are The Benefits of Email Marketing?

One of the first steps you should take when building a marketing campaign is to find an email marketing platform that you’re comfortable with and start building a subscriber list.

Your potential pool of subscribers is enormous since practically everyone who uses the internet has an email address. Of course, you’re not looking to email billions of people at a time with your newsletter—and that’s the point.

If someone has subscribed to your email marketing list, they’ve expressed an interest in being marketed to. They want to hear from you—to read your newsletter, get your discounts, enter your contests, etc.

And since almost everybody checks their email every day (some of us many times a day), you’re going to be able to get all of that messaging in front of your subscribers on a daily basis. People check their social media often as well, but the nature of social media means your messaging could get lost in a deluge of other content.

how often americans check their emails
Chart via Business Insider

So let’s say you take the time to build up your subscriber base, plant calls-to-action (CTAs) around your site and associated properties encouraging to sign up, and invest in a few key tactics such as A/B testing your subject lines to maximize open rates and sending mobile-friendly messages. What benefits will you reap?

Email Drives Sales

One of the main reasons that a customer, or prospective customer, would sign up for your email newsletter is to receive deals that would further encourage them to buy from you.

You might also receive their email when they put items in their shopping cart, but leave the site before making a purchase.

Either way, you now have the means to speak to a customer in their internet home base, and to turn them from a lead into a sale.

According to OptInMonster, 60% of consumers say they made a purchase after receiving a marketing message by email—compared to the 12.5% of consumers who made a similar decision through social media. You can also use cart abandonment emails to reclaim a sizeable amount of what would otherwise be lost sales.

Email Allows You to Retarget With Ease

If you’re unfamiliar with email marketing, you might think that the process is rather static and staid. The truth is, with email retargeting tactics, you can send dynamic, well-timed, and personalized messages to customers without breaking a sweat.

We’ve already discussed one form of retargeting—shopping cart abandonment emails—but there are other ways you can follow-up with both yet-to-convert leads and long-time customers alike. Many quality email platforms will help you automate your email messaging, so you can automatically send out these emails (rather than contact your subscribers one at a time on your own). Tactics include:

  • Inactive Visitor Emails: Has it been a while since a customer visited your site, or taken any action since they signed up for your newsletter, bought an item, or otherwise engaged? A friendly reminder that you have new products and deals may help grab their attention again.
  • Product Retargeting: Did a visitor check out a particular item without buying? Send them a follow-up encouraging them to make the purchase, sweetening the deal with an offer for no-cost shipping or another discount.
  • Related Product or Bestseller Roundups: Now that a lead has become a customer, what else can you offer them? Existing customers are easier and more effective to market to—send them a list of related items that might pique their interest, or a smattering of your best-sellers to encourage them to take a look at what’s hot right now.

An Email Has A High, And Identifiable, ROI

Taking into account the above two benefits, it’s easy to see why email marketing has perhaps the highest return on investment (ROI) of any digital marketing tactic out there.

According to Litmus, the average email program ROI is about 37:1, meaning you make $37 for every dollar you invest in your email marketing.

Not only is email marketing ROI impressive, but it’s easy to track. For example, you can measure revenue generated by your newsletter subscribers that click through to your store and convert. Trace every sale that comes from an email and you’ll get a sense of how much you get from each dollar spent.

This is a little bit trickier with other forms of marketing, such as social media. You can also trace sales that come through social media channels, but a big part of your social media campaign should be building awareness and buzz, which doesn’t translate neatly into a dollar amount. If you want a tactic that delivers clear returns that you can continue tweaking, testing and measuring, email is your best bet.

What Are The Benefits of Social Media Marketing?

An even easier and cheaper step you can take when building your marketing strategy is to sign up for all the major social media platforms. (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are good places to start—Snapchat and Pinterest are also good alternatives depending on your industry.)

What does investing your time, and sometimes your money (in the form of social media advertisements, monitoring tools, analytics platforms, etc.) get you in the world of social media marketing?

Social Grows Your Audience and Brand Awareness

There are billions of social media accounts out there, and it’s possible to reach many of them with quality content.

Unlike with email, your social media content may end up in front of countless people without needing to ask them to sign up for your communications or even follow you. If an influential user shares your post, you could end up exposing thousands or even millions of people to your brand with little extra work on your part. (This can also happen if you invest a little and promote your posts.)

One of the pillars of marketing is the “Rule of 7,” or the idea that someone needs to see your brand at least seven times before they consider making a purchase from you. Getting active on social media increases your chances of putting yourself in front of people, exposing you to new audiences and possible leads.

Social is An Endless Pool of Content

If brands emailed people as much as they posted on their social media timelines, email marketing would be a lot less effective.

With social media, you’re encouraged to post multiple times a day across various platforms, in order to get in front of as many people as possible. Users will gladly scroll through a few new updates on Twitter rather than read through multiple daily emails.

This will give you a chance to put out a ton of content, see what works, hone your future posts to reflect your findings, and repeat.

Social Gives You More Detail on Audience Behavior

As discussed above, you can target certain users through email, but your capabilities are limited. Social media platforms are able to collect a ton more data on your followers (while respecting their privacy, to some extent) than you ever could—and they’ll share that data with you through their analytics platforms.

Using this data, you can tailor your content to better reflect the interests and behaviors of your audience.

Social Allows For Precise Ad Targeting

Again, while email retargeting is a helpful tool for sending relevant and personalized content to your subscribers, social media ad targeting can help you find ridiculously specific demographics.

For example, Facebook targeting options include being able to hone in on someone’s location, age, relationship status, gender, languages are spoken, education (including a field of study and school), income, home type, parental status, political leanings, major life events experienced, and much more.

facebook ads re-targeting
Chart via Facebook

If you have a very specific buyer persona (or several) in mind that you want to cater to, social media ad targeting is your best bet for reaching that person across platforms.

Pick Your Tactic: Email or Social?

As you can see, the answer to this question isn’t obvious. It depends on what you’re hoping to accomplish with your next marketing campaign.

Do you want to generate buzz around a new business idea or product? Do you want to get noticed by new audiences in new demographics? Social media is the way to go.

Are you failing to convert visitors once they land on your homepage? Are you spending too much acquiring new customers, rather than getting the most out of your current ones? Email is the better bet.

As mentioned up top, in a perfect world, you’d have the budget for both types of marketing (not to mention content marketing and SEO, among other tactics). But you should always have a sense of what you’re trying to accomplish with every marketing dollar spent, especially as a startup—therefore, thinking critically about what method works best for you right now is always your goal. That’s how you go from startup to established small business. 

About The Author: Eric Goldschein is an editor and writer at Fundera, where small business owners can find expert insights and tailored financial options such as business loans or business credit cards. Eric writes extensively on entrepreneurship, marketing, and small business trends.

Feature Image Credit: Background vector created by