As of today, there are 59,300 Google results for the exact search phrase “email vs. social media.” Apparently it’s a hot topic and some people have declared war. It appears that the social media mavens are already claiming victory by stating that “email is dead.”

On the other hand, many (email-marketing vendors in particular) have come to email’s defense with a lot of data and pretty charts, claiming that email and social media are two peas in a pod and “we’re all in this together.” While I tend to agree with this idea, it’s important to tease out what’s really going on out there.
When looking at this argument (not for argument’s sake, but for the purpose of making business decisions), it’s important to focus on two key areas: target and intent.
 Who is your target?

❑ If your target is under 34 years old, you’re likely to be successful using social media. If your target is under 20 years old, you’ll probably need to reach them through social media almost exclusively.

❑ If your target is a business, email will likely get you results faster. If your target is a consumer, you’ll get better results through a social campaign where your target sees others singing your praises.

❑ If you’re targeting a person while they’re at work, email is usually the answer. If you’re targeting a person at home, social media can drive results.

As you can see, the demographics and psychographics are key to deciding whether to use social media or email to reach our target. Often, you’ll want to use both.
 What is your intent?

❑ If you’re trying to sell directly, social media probably isn’t the place for you. Email can work better.

❑ If you’re trying to build a long-term relationship, start with social media (but the relationship may move to email).

❑ If you’re all about providing value, social media is probably the place for you.

❑ If you’re trying to communicate in a personal way, either can work (but email is currently better at personalizing in bulk).

❑ If you need a quick response, it depends on your target. A teen will fire back a Facebook reply in seconds. A middle-aged cube monkey will reply by email almost as fast. Both will fail in the other’s environment.

In the end, if you’re communicating with the intent to do business, email is still the inner sanctum. I manage my inbox religiously. If I don’t, I get behind, and business suffers. If I don’t tweet every day, the business isn’t impacted as much. Businesspeople still guard their email more closely than they do their social profiles. So, if you want to do business with someone, use social media to get into their inbox. Either connect personally or drive value to an opt-in form.

This is the general flow in our current times. This may change though. Right now, college grads are forced to adopt the email world in business. But over time, their generation may change business to the degree that social media becomes their inner sanctum and email is either a forgotten channel or becomes a channel that leads to the inner sanctum.

Meanwhile, DMs on Twitter and messages on Facebook look almost identical to their predecessor: email. Not much has changed. It’s just got new wrapping paper. The war is not a war – it’s an evolution.

Amy Leigh Campbell, aka The HTMelle, is a passionate devotee of the Open Source Movement, and believes that the web should be a free and open platform for every individual to tell her story. Her passion for the use of Web 2.0 tools online is matched offline by her love of research and writing about constitutional law. Amy is the author of Raising The Bar, which was published in 2004 and traces the work of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the ACLU to combat gender discrimination in our nation’s laws.

Amy is currently serving as a Board Member and the Technology Chair for the National Association of Women Business Owners, and previously served as a Board Member of the Corporation for National and Community Service. She is a proud alumna of both Sweet Briar College and the University of Virginia.

This article originally appeared on The HTMelle blog; check it out for more helpful advice on tips for improving your site.

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