Lead Generation: Email vs Social Media

By Tony Restell

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Having built a social media agency largely on the back of leads generated by social media, you might think that I would be a huge advocate of social media generated leads... and you'd be right!  However as we've grown the agency we've also experimented with other means of generating leads. Given all the talk about email marketing being dead, I wanted to share our experiences of sparking client interest via email lead generation.

Lead Generation: Email vs Social Media

Background: Social Media Lead Generation

In the early years of Social-Hire.com, we were very much focused on generating leads via social media. If you're anything like me, I have always felt uncomfortable taking the advice of an SEO agency if I didn't find that that agency’s website was appearing highly in Google search results. My thinking is - if they can't get SEO results for themselves, what chance is there of them getting SEO results for my business!  I felt the same way about the credibility of a social media agency. If we couldn't generate leads and drive traffic with social media ourselves, why should anyone believe we could do this for their business?!

So our early years were almost entirely focused on generating leads via our social media presence. We've written elsewhere about generating new client leads on social media, so suffice it to say here that we've had huge success in sparking client conversations and prompting inbound sales enquiries as a result of our social media efforts. The question in my mind was whether email outreach could be anything like as effective?

An Experiment in Email Marketing For Lead Generation

As our business has grown and grown, we have proven the point that leads can be generated via social media and so have turned our attentions to how else we might generate quality leads. More recently that has seen us venture into the realms of email marketing / outreach campaigns.  I approved this with some trepidation. Like you, my inbox contains a daily barrage of spammy direct mails. So it was important to me that what we did here was of the highest quality, only approaching people we’d researched ourselves with an approach that was therefore highly relevant to them. Here’s how email stacked up against social media for us, based on five key areas of assessment:

  • Lead Generation: Quality of Leads
  • Lead Generation: Quantity of Leads
  • Lead Generation: Time Investment
  • Lead Generation: Speed of Response
  • Lead Generation: Reputational Risk


Lead Generation: Quality of Leads

Email score: 5/5
Social Media score: 4/5

The starting point for your email outreach efforts is to research your prospects online and then to source email contact details for those who look to be an ideal fit for your business. By definition the quality of leads you're approaching is undeniably very high. You could take the same approach with social media, identifying people you want to be engaging with and then looking for opportunities to do so. However in practice that is highly time consuming. For any list of prospects you would find more email contact details for them than you would find opportunities to engage with them on social media.

So the apples-to-apples comparison is rather to look at all the opportunities that there are for you to engage with people in your industry on social media and then to pick out those opportunities where the prospect looks to be of the greatest relevance to your business as a genuine decision-making prospect. The end result here is a very high quality of leads generated, but you will also find yourself interacting with some people who don't have the same decision-making authority that your email-sourced leads would all have. Hence a narrow victory for email here.

Lead Generation: Quantity of Leads

Email score: 5/5
Social Media score: 5/5

Once you have mastered how to generate leads via email and via social media, the likelihood is that you'll be able to generate significant volumes of quality leads via both channels. There are tools that can help you to do this and there are external service providers you can turn to if you want to outsource this task. So in terms of quantity of leads, in our experience there's nothing to choose between the two.

Lead Generation: Time Investment

Email score: 5/5
Social Media score: 4/5

Once you have got to the point that you are successfully generating leads via each of these routes, the ongoing time investment to do so is pretty comparable. Between a half hour and an hour of time invested each day is going to reap significant volumes of leads for your business. The only difference is in the upfront time investment.

If you have a quality website and a good service to offer, you can be up and running with email outreach efforts without any significant upfront time investment. Whereas with social media, it's our experience that accounts with a credible following and some active engagement are more likely to yield results when it comes to lead generation than brand new accounts. Therefore you should count on spending some months upfront in building this credibility for your social media profiles before you can turn to social media for lead generation. Hence a narrow win for email again.

Lead Generation: Speed of Response

Email score: 3/5
Social Media score: 5/5

By contrast, on this count it's a clear win for social media. Once you have mastered your social media lead generation funnel, you will frequently see the business transition from never having interacted with someone to having a call booked in with them in the space of literally a matter of hours! Things can progress very quickly if the lead has been generated via social media, especially if you focus on those social sites where prospects are most active.

The same is not true of email outreach. The statistics show that it usually takes a number of emails and follow up emails to prompt a favourable response from a prospect. It is only when they receive your 2nd or 3rd email that the recipient will start to appreciate that you are contacting them personally rather than this being yet another unwanted mass mail in their inbox. Consequently the timescales needed to actually generate real leads in the business are far greater for email than for social media. A clear win for social media.

Lead Generation - Email Outreach Stats

Lead Generation: Reputational Risk

Email score: 3/5
Social Media score: 5/5

If there's one thing I really love about social media lead generation, it's that when done properly it simply never generates a negative reaction. If you have had a friendly conversation with someone on social media about topics related to their business, you've built a connection with them that can then be very naturally progressed onto the suggestion that you should have a call or meet up or send them some information.

The same is simply not true of email outreach. Occasionally your research will be a little off, maybe the information you found about someone online is no longer current. So there will be times that you approach someone and your approach is no longer relevant. Similarly we have no way of knowing the frame of mind the person is in when your email lands in their inbox. Maybe you just caught them at a bad time. Sometimes negative reactions to your approaches can be turned around, other times not.

What I can certainly say from our experiments in this area is that your approaches to people will be like Marmite. People will either love you having approached them (in a manner that’s helpful rather than salesy) or they will hate it. I don’t think you can get away from the fact that you are going to alienate some people and therefore dent the reputation of your business with a small pocket of the market. You may decide that that’s a downside you can afford in your business, but certainly we have to acknowledge that this downside exists in a way it simply doesn’t on social media. Plus you need to be careful not to fall foul of anti-spam legislation in the way you conduct your approaches or you could face stiff penalties. So once again a clear win for social media.

Final Lead Generation Scores

Email score: 21/25
Social Media score: 23/25

I hope this has been a helpful look at the relative merits of lead generation via both email outreach and social media marketing channels. The results in our business mean that we will certainly be using both on an ongoing basis. However in the final assessment social media is the narrow winner, simply for the speed with which results can be generated and the lower risk of any reputational damage being done to the business. Where will you be focusing your efforts in the coming months given the above input? Do let me know on Twitter @tonyrestell or via the comments below.

Note: in branching out to email lead generation and nurturing, we reached out to a specialist email marketing agency to ensure that our results were comparable with best practice results.


The kind of stuff that Social Hire do...

At Social Hire, we don't just do social.

We're a company that helps our customers further their social media presence by providing social media marketing on a monthly basis.

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