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Email marketing is three times more effective than social media. Really?

Law marketing email

Burkey Belser (@burkeybelser), a pioneer in legal services marketing and branding, wrote this week that email outperforms social media by three to one.

I hate to break it to all the Facebook and LinkedIn marketers because this revelation is so uncool, but email marketing outperforms social media three to one according to almost everyone including Buffer. Sure, you hate spam but buyers have honed their email skills to recognize destructible spam (hit <delete>), while they might still take a peek at spam that might have value (you know who you are!). Just because “your” habits are not “theirs” and “they” are not “you” does not mean everyone shares your point of view.

Outperforms as to what? How are we measuring performance?

It appears the sole basis of Belser’s post was Kevan Lee’s (@kevanleeassertion that “email reaches three times more people than Twitter and Facebook combined.”

And the basis of Lee’s statement? That email has nearly three times as many user accounts (2.9 Billion)  as Facebook and Twitter combined. Wow.

Following this logic we should look at the number of cars. How many cars do potential clients have? Perhaps four times as many as social media accounts. Put fliers on their windshields. Most will be tossed (deleted), but some folks may take a peak.

Okay email marketing is not as crazy as windshield fliers. I am also not saying that email marketing ought not be used. But let’s not dismiss social by making cavalier statements that email marketing is three times as effective as social.

Most importantly look at what you are after. Is it face time? Is it reach as many people as possible? That’s different than strategically building and nurturing relationships, a goal in social. That’s different than growing one’s influence as a “go to” lawyer in a niche or locale, an outcome from social.

If it’s the later two you’re after, as many of the best lawyers are, it’s tough to beat social. Whether it’s blogging, LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook, these media, when used effectively, rule for relationships and word of mouth reputations.

Citing a McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) report ( The Social Economy: Unlocking Value and Productivity through Social Technologies – Professional Services (pdf), LexBlog’s President, Kevin McKeown (@kevinmckeown), shared social media is the future for marketing and business development for professional service firms (legal, accounting, advertising and marketing, architecture, engineering etc).

Per MGI:

  • The professional services industry has the greatest potential of any industry to see huge return-on-investment benefits from social media.
  • Externally, social media is a powerful tool to build overall brand strength and awareness and to signal subject matter expertise.
  • At relatively low cost, professional services firms can establish credibility as thought leaders with a wide audience.

It’s easy in the legal industry to prey on ignorance, insecurity, cynicism, and resistance to change. But we’re not going back from social as a medium for professional development. There is much more future than past in social.

Mediums such as email still have a place. But I question the value of telling law firms that email is three times as effective as social.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Boston Public Library

  • Mark Eisner

    Our firm provides professional environmental consulting services. As such, we sell intellectual property and we bill for time much as lawyers do. We have used email-marketing and social media in an effort to develop clients and client relationships via inbound marketing. Email works loads better for the reasons below.

    Our emails go out to clients, prospective clients and entities who have and/or may refer business to ourselves or to firms like us. Without fail, we have relationships with all on our email list. These have been developed over the years at trade shows, networking events, in service to past clients and otherwise in the course of business. We never cold-email a prospect, and thus your comparison to windshield flyers is irrelevant.

    We get a huge amount of market intelligence from our e-mail marketing campaign. We know who opens, who clicks through and to what, when they open, and when addresses no longer are valid (prompting research into a possible job change on the part of the recipient). We strictly adhere to opt-in requirements of our third party providers. We are happy with Constant Contact, but others exist as well.

    Our late-middle-aged decision-making client managers reluctantly use email for business communication but have NOT adopted other social media platforms. They use Twitter for reading the news, if at all. They use Facebook for exchanging family pics and travelogues, and perhaps for social coordination and interaction but not for business. Some use LinkedIn, which has the most potential of all of them, but its enrollment is far from ubiquitous.

    I assume that like we, law firms seek to convert contacts to clients on a time frame of weeks or months, rather than years or decades. I’d recommend any professional services provider to adopt email marketing, but not to waste time with any social media platform other than LinkedIn. Another half-generation, at least, needs to retire and be replaced, before the social-first social media sites prove viable means of professional services marketing.

    • http://kevin.lexblog.com/ Kevin OKeefe

      Thanks for the comment, Mark. I am not saying email cannot work, you are living proof that it does.

      What I’m saying is that it’s foolhardy to say because there’s three times as many email accounts as social media accounts, that email marketing is three times as effective.

      Rightfully so you focus on the relationships you have built through trade shows and networking events over years and the like and how those folks are on your email marketing list.

      Social, including blogging, accelerates relationships and one’s reputation. Lawyers are establishing reputations as “go-to” lawyers far far faster via blogging and other social media than the years it has taken in the past. 

      How do you get the largest airline in the country as a client if in-house counsel are not subscribed to your email list? A lawyer who blogs and uses other social media gets that client because of their reputation.

      Painting with a broad brush to describe Facebook in the way you do is a mistake. Some lawyers use Facebook to nurture professional relationships and share legal insight and commentary based on news and legal developments they are reading.

      Twitter is not only a powerful listening tool – to get info and news on niche subjects, but also to listen to what the executives and decision makers are sharing on Twitter. You can be “dancing” with an executive via Twitter which then leads to a dinner inside of month. How do you force that executive to subscribe to your newsletter?

      When I started LexBlog I was very, very concerned about the push back I’d get from law firms who could track via blogs all the data they could via email marketing. As you mention it’s valuble data. 

      But I got comfortable that getting one’s insight and commentary in front of more people than you knew, especially influencers of clients and prospective clients (bloggers, mainstream media, trade media, association leaders) was more important. 

      I found out that there were far more people that wanted my insight and the insight of our clients than we could ever know. To hold on to stats and knowledge of who the subscribers were over growing influence, relationships, and reach was not the way to go in my view.

      Bloggers today have an email subscription option anyway that allows them to track data — so they can have the best of both worlds.

      I wanted content to get indexed on Google on search and perform well on search. I also wanted the blogger to grow in influence so as to get their blog into Google News (something that explodes ones reach via people monitoring words and phrases). Effective blogging and social are needed to get this done.

      Everyone should find the right fit for them. You have found email marketing works for you Mark over blogging in an effective fashion complemented with other social media. That’s great.

      For a professional who wants to grow relationships and a reputation in quick fashion (year or two), they would be very hard pressed to match the results they’d get from blogging and other social media.