[ Articles ]

Email vs. social media: what’s your strategy?

Email and social are useful in different ways. Recognize the strengths of each channel and work with them to get the most out of your outreach strategy.

Colorful illustration of people looking at mobile phones

Getting started with audiences and goals

To start, identify your audiences and demographic trends such as age, gender, background, etc. that could influence which channels and properties will reach them best. Even though 69% of Americans were Facebook users in 2019 (Pew Research Center), most Facebook users are between 18 – 34, with steeper declines in users over the age of 45 (Statista). If your audience tends to be older, you may need to put more weight into email and other channels in addition to social media to make sure you reach them. If your audience is younger, look at which social media properties they gravitate toward and focus there while still incorporating email and other channels to complement the mix.

Then, through the lens of your audience demographics, consider what success means for your organization in terms of specific, measurable goals for:

  • Reach (new vs existing audiences)
  • Conversation (2-way and multi-directional discussion)
  • Driving traffic to your website
  • Sharing / spread (forwards, retweets, reposts)
  • Conversion (donations, volunteer signups, event registrations)

Each channel and platform will have different strengths and weaknesses in these areas. How you value and target these goals will help you cultivate and deepen relationships with the supporters you want.

Now, where to focus?

In general, social media is better for creating initial connections with strangers. Email is better for deepening and maintaining connections with people who already know you. Beyond that, what are the reasons to use email and social media? What are their strengths?

Social media is good at: 

Expanding reach and visibility

Helping you meet new people is one of social media’s biggest strengths. In a 2019 study by Campaign Monitor, 39.5% of donors say they find new organizations to donate to via Facebook (ranked 2nd), compared with 22.3% via email (ranked 7th).

Building brand recognition, awareness and loyalty through frequent small posts

On social media, you can build community and connection with frequent, short posts from a variety of angles (impact, news, stories, thank you’s, etc.) without overwhelming people like too many emails can.

Driving traffic to your website

Small, frequent touchpoints and easy sharing mean more opportunities to catch someone’s eye and inspire them to learn more by visiting your website.

Creating interactive conversations around your brand

Following and commenting are great ways to get to know your audience, learn about what’s important to them and share about your org in an easily digestible, spontaneous way.

Cross-pollinating with email

Encourage people to deepen their relationship with your org by signing up for emails. 

Email is good at: 

Inspiring action (conversion) with established contacts

Email is widely known to fuel significantly higher donations compared with other channels such as social. According to one study by M+R, email accounted for 16% of all online revenue in 2019, compared with 3.5% of online revenue coming through FB (with the vast majority coming through the peer-to-peer Facebook Fundraisers tool).

Why is this? Your email list is made up of individuals who’ve already indicated they’re interested in you. They’ve shown they care about your mission in some way and email is a great way to stay connected with them. This existing relationship plus indicated interest are big factors in how likely they are to respond when you ask them for support, whether it’s through routine communications or a special urgent campaign.

Sending targeted, personalized messages to specific individuals

Segment your email lists based on factors such as their relationship to your organization (e.g. volunteer, advocate), priorities (specific issues they care about, advocacy vs. direct service), and any other factors you can use to customize outreach effectively. With list segmentation and personalization, you can reach out to these folks directly and deepen your relationship based on what matters most to them. Then, vary your emails (e.g. regular newsletters vs. events vs. special asks) and tailor them as much as possible to your segmented email groups.

It’s worth noting in particular how effective urgent campaign emails can be, especially when personalized according to your list segments. According to a 2019 Campaign Monitor study, over half of donors (52.2%) say they’d be somewhat likely or very likely to make an unscheduled donation inspired by an urgent campaign email. Only 42.1% of donors say they’d be somewhat likely or very likely to donate after seeing an urgent campaign social post.

Relationship-building and retention

Your email subscribers are primed to want to continue and deepen your relationship with them — if you keep the energy and engagement going. Almost 42% of donors prefer to be contacted by a nonprofit via email, and 20.5% say an email from the organization would inspire them to give again. Facebook is in second place here, with 32.4% of donors saying they’d prefer to hear from nonprofits via Facebook and 17% saying they’d give again if contacted via Facebook. (Campaign Monitor, 2019)

Cross-pollinating with your social platforms

Your email audience is already interested in your activities. If you have an engaging presence on social media, they’re more likely to want to follow and interact with your updates there, too.

On both email and social channels:

  • Feature your website URL and include links to your website wherever possible
  • Deliver compelling content people will want to share — and encourage sharing! Ask people to share a blog post on their Facebook or Twitter feed, retweet a petition or forward emails to a friend.
  • Generate analytics and other data to help you understand your audiences better. What do people care about most? What motivates them to engage? Adjust and refine your approach as you move forward.

Email and social: you can (and should) have it both ways!

For a solid, effective outreach and fundraising strategy, you want to build on multiple channels to get the most benefit from each approach. This includes email and social, but also other techniques such as SEO, Google ads, events, etc. Let’s explore how we can help with your goals!