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For several years now, marketing experts have expressed the view that social media will likely surpass email as the leading marketing channel at some point in the future. After all, social media is rapidly growing in popularity and provides a relatively easy means for companies to reach out to millions of individuals.

However, as a recent study demonstrated, social media has yet to overtake email as a sales driver. In fact, it’s not even close.

Email marketing and repeat customers
The study, conducted by Sucharita Mulpuru of Forrester Research, found that paid search traffic and email marketing are the most effective means of engaging customers and encouraging sales. The former is most useful for new customers, while email marketing is the most successful when it comes to returning customers.

Social media tactics, including strategies revolving around Facebook and Twitter, have relatively little impact on sales, the study found.

“While the hype around social networks as a driver of influence in eCommerce continues to capture the attention of online executives, the truth is that social continues to struggle and registers as a barely negligible source of sales for either new or repeat buyers. In fact, fewer than 1 percent of transactions for both new and repeat shoppers could be traced back to trackable social links,” wrote Mulpuru, according to Business Insider.

The study found that email advertising played a vital role in influencing returning customers for approximately 30 percent of sales, making it the most powerful driver among that market segment. Email also influenced slightly less than 10 percent of new customer sales, according to the study.

Email marketing done right
As this study demonstrates, email marketing can be an extremely powerful sales tool, particularly among pre-existing customers. However, to be effective, it must be wielded correctly. There is no simple blueprint for achieving this, but there are a number of basic guidelines all marketers should follow.

One of the most important of these, as highlighted by Michael Barnett of MarketingWeek, is treating returning customers differently than new ones. Customers expect to be rewarded for their loyalty to a given company. If the business instead treats them impersonally, sending out email blasts with irrelevant information, long-time customers might feel slighted, leading them to consider other organizations.