Email and Twitter: more observations

Latest posts | Feed | By Mark Brownlow

twitter statsSince I use email and Twitter to promote this site, does that make me a Twailer? Or an Emitter? I'm on vacation, it seems a good time for reflection and this post outlines brief observations on some important differences between the two channels and what these differences might mean for your marketing.

I've outlined how the two shape up against various criteria, like response, relationship building etc. and end with a summary of insights.

This is very much one man's perspective so do chime in with your own opinion in the comments. There's also a complementary post with earlier observations on the Twitter Adventure.

Response rates

A recent article at Mashable suggested an average CTR on links in tweets of 2.8%.

Before we all rush to gloat about email CTRs, a direct comparison is unfair.

Links in marketing emails are intended to be clickworthy. They (hopefully) have a clear marketing purpose, clear value to the recipient and a clear call to action.

Links in Tweets may also share that quality.

But the nature of the channel also encourages you to send people links with no direct-response business objective in mind. And those kinds of links can be very hit and miss.

Throw in that it's much harder to target in Twitter and we'd expect average responses to be less than for marketing email. But...

1. Heavyweight links can also get good responses at Twitter
2. The Twitter environment is more forgiving of multiple tweets on the same topic (featuring the same link)
2. Retweeting (the Twitter equivalent of a forward) can have a big impact on response

So for "standard" content, response rates for email are broadly better than Twitter. Twitter has far too many distractions to let people respond to the mundane.

But for "standout" content that is shareworthy, Twitter can be better than email. Retweeting can drive a message around the world in minutes, since Twitter effectively supports one-to-many largely just one-to-one forwarding (notwithstanding all our efforts to add Share With Your Network links to messages).

Of course, there is also the issue of scale and reach (see later).

Relationship building and dialog

Twitter forces you to confront the fact that the people listening With email, there is a tendency to treat email addresses as numbers (it doesn't have to be that way, but it often is).

As a more personal environment, Twitter allows more direct, personal relationships than email. But a key rule applies in both channels: send a lot of meaningless, self-absorbed, self-centered messages and you'll fail in both environments. Only your true friends will keep listening and few of your customers are true friends.

Since Twitter is both personal and public, it encourages dialog and participation by a greater number of people. Assuming you're delivering value to the partners in that conversation, this also helps with relationship building.

Email builds relationships and dialog in a more subtle way. All the targeting tools at our disposal let us deliver value, which encourages loyalty. And the modern obsession with brevity neglects the fact that some information is better expressed or exchanged in more than 140 characters.

Analytics and subscriber data

The nature of Twitter makes it hard to build out data on individual followers. And even if you could, it's impractical to target content to segmented groups of followers at any scale.

That's where email scores well. You may already have detailed information on the subscriber if the sign-up comes out of a transaction. Equally, you can build up information on subscribers based on how they interact with your emails.

However, Twitter has the advantage that you can normally put a name, face and website to each follower. This is particularly important to those interested in building one-to-one relationships with a small group of individuals.

You can also learn a lot about your audience via Twitter, if you take the time to listen. Excel won't help you much so you need softer, more intuitive analytical skills.


Twitter messages don't need coding and design testing. They don't break in Outlook. So message production is cheaper and easier than email.

But Twitter's advantages in dialog and relationship building carry a cost in time. It encourages, thrives on and demands immediate responses and interaction which can place a heavy burden on your time.

Subscriber acquisition

Reach and scale is a big issue. Twitter is marvelous at building dialog and relationships, spreading shareworthy content and gathering intuitive intelligence on your audience. But its reach is still small. Any one of the big four webmail services alone manages more accounts than Twitter.

Low costs per tweet turn into high costs per click if you reach ten people rather than 10 million. Email on the other hand is ubiquitous.

Where Twitter scores well is that people will subscribe to (i.e. follow) hundreds of Twitter accounts, but only subscribe to a handful of email lists. That's a double-edged sword. While it may be easier to get people to follow you (always assuming they use Twitter), it also means your messages are competing with hundreds of tweets.


One comparison of the two channels rarely mentioned is risk.

Email marketing is not hostage to any one delivery service. You need not be reliant on a third-party service at all if you choose to use in-house software. Equally, if your email service provider declares bankruptcy tomorrow, you could switch to another one relatively quickly (not painlessly, but relatively quickly).

Twitter is Twitter. If the company ceases to operate, it's over. You can start again at another microblogging service and hope your Twitter followers migrate with you. But the fact that I can't even name an alternative service bodes badly for that. You would have to hope that former Twitter followers switch to another channel to hear from you.

Closing insights

None of the above should suggest that Twitter and email are somehow competitors. Even these quick observations make it clear that they are different tools suited to different purposes.

Email people who reject Twitter are missing an opportunity. Twitter people who reject email are missing an opportunity. No channel has some inherent superiority: judging either depends on what it can do for your business given your goals, audience and resources.

The time aspect is critical here. Jay Baer's quote on social media thought leadership is apt:

"You have to set social media limits, or you'll drive yourself crazy trying to be everywhere at once."

Both channels need the proper investment in time and/or resources to bring the best rewards. Both channels work for marketing when you recognize that those on the receiving end of the messages are looking for value from you. Attention comes with expectations and fulfilling those expectations takes commitment.


Permalink | July 24, 2009 | 1 comment(s)
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Excellent overview and great analysis of the time needed to keep up on these things - I'm just starting on Twitter and I feel Waaay behind!
By Anonymous Shane, on 25 July, 2009  

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