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When it comes to digital marketing channels, social media seems to capture more of the spotlight than search and email.
Yes, less is spent on social, but social is far more exciting, which explains why marketers love talking and writing about social.
Few dispute the importance of social media today, but a Pew Internet survey conducted in May 2011 and released yesterday is a reminder of why marketers shouldn't let social become too big a distraction.
According to the study, 92% of internet users in the United States use search engines and send email. The number using social networking services? 65%.
That 65% figure isn't unimpressive, particularly when one considers that less than five years ago, less than 20% of adult internet users in the U.S. were tweeting and liking. But when it comes to proven, sustained usage, social media can't yet hold a candle to search and email.
The most impressive thing about search and email: usage is remarkably consistent across demographic and socioeconomic categories. Consider the following:
- 96% of those ages 18 through 29 use search engines. On the opposite end of the spectrum, 87% of those 65 and older use search engines too.
- 90% of those making under $30,000/year use search engines; that's not substantially less than the 98% usage rate seen amongst those making $75,000/year and up.
- 94% of internet users in the 18-29 category use email while 87% of those in the 65+ group use email.
All told, well over half of U.S. internet users (59%) use search engines on a daily basis, and an even higher percentage (61%) use email daily.
For marketers, the implication is clear: if you want to reach consumers through digital channels, you can not and should not forget about search and email. Simply put, they're the two most reliable channels through which to communicate with consumers.
The fact that social media isn't as widely used as search and email doesn't, of course, mean that investments in social aren't wise. But when it comes to relative importance, marketers would do well to remember that the sexiest digital channels aren't always the most prolific or productive channels.