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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.

Patricio Robles

Published 10 August, 2011 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Nick Stamoulis

I strongly believe that you can't take an "all or nothing" approach to online marketing and expect to succeed. Just because social media is the big thing right now, that doesn't mean you can forget everything else. The best Internet marketing campaigns are integrated and spread across a variety of platforms. You want to be in as many places as possible.

almost 5 years ago

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Talha

Search and e-mail are the still the foremost components of digital marketing and I have no doubt they will remain so for the foreseeable future.

However social media presents an opportunity to broaden a companies activities and use it for a number of reasons that will also benefit your search campaign.

How anyone can possibly forget about search and email is beyond me though?

almost 5 years ago

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Rene

A useful, if obvious post, this one. Of course search and email should be central to any serious digital strategy, as should having a fully optimised, relevant and engaging website as well as generating regularly updated content that is placed on the site and seeded on the Internet via social media and bookmarking sites. In B2B, search and email are foremost but recommendations via social media are beginning to play their part.

almost 5 years ago

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Paul

Search has a massive advantage over social networks and that is the way it fits into the user need/experience.

When a user goes to facebook they are unlikely to be going there to be bombarded by ads (no matter how good the personalisation is) they are going there to be social.

However if someone is searching for something and they are presented with ads showing them the very thing they are searching for then that fits nicely into what they were trying to achieve

almost 5 years ago

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Steve @Gravytrain

I completely agree with Nick's point. You have to be active across all platforms, you can't do a little of each (search, email and social) and hope for results, nor can you do too much of one whilst neglecting others. An integrated, and thorough digital marketing strategy across all platforms will achieve the best results, without a doubt. It is important to have experts in all these fields, that way you can offer the best strategy to potential clients.

almost 5 years ago

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Andy

Email campaigns are still very important. Not all businesses use social media, some are still on the fence about it. Many users of social media also don't use it at work. So for some social media has no connection to work, although this isn't the case for every business. Whereas all businesses still use email day in and day out and see it is a vital part of their business. Regardless of how behind the times you may see it, it's still a vital part of B2B & B2C business. It's always worth keeping in your marketing strategy no matter where you think technology and business is moving to.

almost 5 years ago

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Liz Akers, Stream:20

I agree with Nick and Steve that you need an integrated strategy with experts in each field. Social is a channel in it's own right, albeit a bit smaller than search and email, but with massive potential and, in addition it has the ability to enhance everything it touches. It is an ideal platform for finding out what your customers are actually saying, building relationships and brand awareness, all essential if you want to put together effective email and SEO campaigns. Social therefore needs to be seen as an essential tool for assisting sales through other channels.

almost 5 years ago

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Amie Marse

I guess I am just confused by this post. It's as if social and search aren't connected. That's a big reason why social is so appealing in the SEO and marketing space. Tweets are picked up by Google and are even ranked higher on the page if it is a trending topic.

Like everyone else on this thread I agree whole heartedly that companies (especially those that are B2B) should use all three. I just don't see the logic of acting like they are so separate. A competent SEO campaign means using social for SEO benefit. And a competent email campaign should be marketing via social and vice versa.

almost 5 years ago

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Jim Zamichieli

I don't agree with the blanket statement that email is a vital marketing tool because "94% of internet users in the 18-29 category use email while 87%." That is like saying that 94% of people drive past billboards, so therefore you should advertise on a billboard.

Everyone uses email, but the click-thru rates are in the single digits and targeting specific demographics is impossible. (Although I'm sure people will dispute the latter point).

So I would say yes to organic rankings, but have seen too many email marketing campaigns fall short of recognizing a positive ROI.

almost 5 years ago

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Lee

What I'd really like to see is a survey comparing how may people hear about products, search for products and order products using the new social medias compared to traditional computer search and email. That would help our company decide how to allocate our advertising resources to best effect.

almost 5 years ago

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