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Sometimes Social Media Does Trump Email

There has been much debate over whether social media is supplanting email marketing as a way for companies to reach out to customers. Any number of studies can be cited to support either argument - an argument in which both the Wall Street Journal and the Email Experience Council have weighed in on.

Michael Perhaes, Assistant VP Marketing, MGM Grand, is coming down on the side of social media. "Social media is eating into the efficacy of email marketing and will soon supplant email as a primary communication device; we are already seeing evidence of this on Facebook and our hotel is preparing accordingly," he says.

"We have dedicated social media staff; we include Facebook and Twitter URLs in all of our marketing communications, and actively enlist followers and fans."

A Controversial Article

MGM Grand now has 15,000 Twitter followers, he says.
The question of whether email marketing was taking a back seat to social media was posed last year in a Wall Street Journal article that proclaimed that social media had become the dominant communication medium on the internet. The Email Experience Council quickly rebutted the story.  "Ironically, that story quickly became the most emailed story on the Wall Street Journal website," said David Daniels, a Forrester Research Analyst who commented on behalf of the Council. "Email, however, is not going away any time soon, he said. "We need one in order to gain access to social networks, have an online banking account or order products online."

By the Numbers

Statistics and studies can be cited to support either position. A survey by Prompt Communications found that Facebook may be replacing email as the most popular way to stay in touch with friends online.  Prompt asked a sample of 300 consumers in Boston to explain how they use social media tools and more traditional communications in their daily lives. It found that phone calls remain the most common method of communication, with 99% of respondents regularly using the phone to connect with friends and family.

Facebook is now the next most popular communication tool, the survey said, with 96% of respondents regularly using it to connect with friends, followed by text messaging at 93% and email at 91%.

A Nielsen study found that, despite an initial hypothesis that increased time on social networks might be taking Americans away from their email, the heaviest social media users actually use email more, perhaps because of the steady stream of messages that social networks dump into participants' inboxes.

The December 2009 "Social Influence Benchmark Report "released by StrongMail found that email generates 86% of all online sharing activity, making it the preferred consumer sharing method by far. Facebook and Twitter are the next most preferred channels for sharing, but only represent a fraction of all activity. The finding perhaps of most interest to marketers: sharing online content via email generates the highest conversion rates with peer-to-peer emails generating a 36.8% conversion rate, compared to just three percent for Facebook.

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