A big distinction between email marketing and social media marketing is the difference between actual audience and potential audience.
Email is all about actual audience. If someone signs up for your email updates when you send one out, that person will receive it in almost every case. Will that open it? Approximately 25% of the time (on average) they will. Will they click on it to visit your offer/website/landing page? Perhaps 3-5% of the time (on average) they will.
Social media marketing is all about potential audience. If someone signs up to follow your company on Twitter, when you tweet will that person see it? That depends upon how many other people/brands they are following, and how often they check Twitter. In general, however, the chances any one Twitter follower sees any specific update from you is minimal. The average consumer receives 44 emails per day, which is far fewer than the number of tweets to which the average person is potentially subjected. Further, I suspect most people check email more frequently than they check Twitter throughout the day.
The same dynamic is present on Facebook. What percentage of your status updates are seen by each of your Facebook fans? Very, very few. In fact, BrandGlue estimates that as few as 1% of the status updates brands send on Facebook are seen by the fans of those brands. That's because Facebook's EdgeRank formula ensures that only status updates from companies that consumers routinely interact with show up in their news feed (unless the Facebook member changes their News Feed preferences to "Most Recent" - anecdotally Facebook acknowledges that fewer than 5% do so).
Social Supports Email in the Interactive Marketing Hub
Indeed, email marketing and social media marketing are spiritually and procedurally similar. Companies are trying to stay top-of-mind among their prior customers, and incentivize those customers directly or indirectly to spread the word to their friends and associates. But the connections between companies and their email subscribers are far stronger than the connections between companies and their social media subscribers.
Recent research from ExactTarget (a Convince & Convert client) found that only 30% of consumers clicking "like" on Facebook believe that action gave the liked company permission to market to the consumer. Facebook "like" and Twitter follow are not "subscriptions" at all, but rather assertions of passion. Social media connectivity is digital bumper stickering.
An Interactive Marketing Hub Requires Integrated Email and Social Subscriptions
That's why it's so important to not treat social media connectivity as the end, but rather a means to an end. Facebook "like" and Twitter following should be the top of your customer relationship funnel, not funnels unto themselves. A best practice would be to use your Facebook and Twitter programs to move your best fans to subscribe to your email updates, where you can have a better chance of actually reaching out to them consistently.
This type of program whereby you communicate with customers stereophonically has been historically difficult, because your list of Twitter followers, your list of Facebook connections, and your list of email subscribers have been three separate lists. The new Interactive Marketing Hub that ExactTarget previewed at their conference last week is going to enable companies to sort all of this out for the first time. If you want to send an email only to people that "like" you on Facebook, you'll be able to do it easily. If you want to send a tweet only to people that took advantage of a recent email offer, that will also be a reality.
A subscriber-centric, unified view of email + social connectivity is what we need to move social out of the experimental phase and into true business integration - including (perhaps especially) at the enterprise business level. It looks like the predictions of email and social being two sides of the same coin are coming true.
The next year is going to get very, very interesting. Meanwhile, if your social media team and your email team are not the same people, you need to start thinking about how to merge them, pronto. And, you need to start unifying your content strategy across all channels.