Email or Twitter?

On from Analytics Culture, Social Media Analytics, Web Analytics

Yesterday, end of day, I had the idea of lauching a little quizz on Twitter. I asked my followers (well, I know not all 1,230 of them were there, but that’s for later in the post) the following:

Quizz: 9 AM Monday. U have 10k newsletter subs, 10k Twt Followers. Need maximum reach by noon. Which way to go?

Of course, this being on Twitter, I had to keep the problem very simple. Actually, my question was just as simple as stated. If you needed to reach as many of your subcribers as possible (by that, I also mean your followers), which of email or Twitter would be better (no RT, no forward allowed).

I got a few interesting responses:

Jonathan Levitt (@jonathanlevitt), Justin Kistner (@justinkistner), Derek Fine (@derekfine), and Justin Cutroni (@justincutroni) said Twitter, right of the bat, with Jonathan even saying “Email is dead”. On the other hand, people like Christina Inge (@christinainge), Paul Frickleton (@paulfrickleton), and Diogenes Passos (@diogenespassos) went with email, while I had the in-between, “it depends”, bunch represented by Judah Phillips (@judah), Briac Guibert (@briac), and somehow Ed Borasky (@znmeb).

Obviously, the “it depends”, “what do you want to do”, and Judah’s “I’d test it” were, to me, the better answers from an analyst’s point of view. But that was not the intent behind the question. I really wanted to have people’s opinion on basic reach, heck, message broadcast!

If I may take advantage of this platform to offer my opinion, I think email is still more efficient here. I believe that I would have more chances to reach a maximum of those 10,000 subscribers within 3 hours than my 10,000 Twitter followers. From my experience, it is naive to think that every follower you have is exposed to your every tweets. Most of them are probably not listening at the time you tweet (and not many people read all past tweets over 2 hours I believe). Well, I think, because I can’t know for now; the tools that would tell us how many followers actually saw a tweet are not available yet (please, if I’m wrong, let me know!).

With email, your message has still more “shelf life” (assuming you are not in the spam box), which means that some people will still open it way past 9:00.

Obviously, the right answer should be to test it, which I will certainly try to as soon as I come across an opportunity to do so with some reliability.

And you? What do you think? I’m sure you appreciate the importance of the question.

I know a whole lot of marketers who would love to know the answer…

13 responses to “Email or Twitter?

  1. Thank you. Yes, and,

    In the display world, you pay for impressions delivered, not impressions seen. In the TV world, you pay for impressions delivered, not ads seen. In the email world, you pay for emails delivered, not emails opened. So, I’m just going to put that notion of ‘potential’ versus ‘actual’ aside. We can talk about effectiveness in the MMM another day, over a keg of beer. 🙂

    Next point is that a tweet is short characters. An email is typically much longer. The amount of authorship time, creative, etc, by way of email, generates your own lag time. There are more variables to screw with in an email, and as such, more opportunity for the marketer to become her own worst enemy. You, yourself, (you: Jacques Warren) is a source of lag. Me, myself, (me: Christopher Berry), is a source of lag. Less lag = better in this scenario.

    Next point is that you have 10k and a noon deadline. In email, the way that bulk email is staged and sorted, you probably won’t have a reach of 10k by noon. You could, depending on the provider, only have an actual reach of 1k.

    You’re quite right with Twitter in terms of overall response rate. With Twitter, you’re going to get all your responses within a short window of time. If the content was good, it might get RT’d and that’ll extend the after-peak plateau marginally. But by and large, by 11am, you’ll have 95% of the answers you’re going to get.

    With email, you’d get a prolonged period, even with lag effects removed, that would extend past noon.

    I’m not so naive so as to say that email is dead. It has a place in the MMM just like radio still does. It has purposes.

    In sum, great discussion. Great post.

    What do you think?

  2. This is a great discussion point.

    Email is still my answer but Christopher Berry brought up some interesting points and got me thinking more along the “it depends” line.

    What are you looking to achieve with your email/tweet? Are you looking for a response or is it more an information piece? If you are looking for a response, when do you need it by?

    I find at least with email, there is a better chance for the subscriber to see it. Your tweet on the other hand can get lost in the mix. How many people will be notified once you posted your tweet? Sure there are a few of us who get SMS messages when selected people tweet, but I would say there are plenty more who get notified when they get an email.

    All in all, both have their advantages and disadvantages and it does depend on what your business objective is.

  3. If you are doing a promotion of some kind, go for Twitter. People can see and click through but there is a lot less incentive if it is just a branding campaign. No images to evoke any emotions.

    Also, resources matter. A tweet is quick and dirty whereas an email takes a lot longer to create, code, QA, launch, etc.

    Personally, I find it odd that people claim that twitter kills all sorts of stuff (texting, RSS, email).

  4. Great discussion on this.

    One question: how do you ‘not allow’ retweets or email forwards? Both are facts of the specific mediums and weigh into your original question.

  5. @Christopher
    You bring external factors to the question that have of course a lot of weight in a marketer’s everyday life. I’m also not concerned here with response, just broadcasting my message. My real intent behind that question was to bring people’s attention on Twitter as a boradcast platform to a company’s current customer file. Hence my excluding RTs. I think most marketers focus too much on the follower number, since they actually only reach a tiny part of those followers on any given tweet. Anyway, this is what I would love to prove.

    Nope, just plain reach, response is factored out. Approach the question as if you wanted to shout “Fire!”; how many more people would you save. Your remarks on Twitter being way more cluttered than an Inbox are very interesting. The “ad message clutter” being one of the deepest discussion in marketing/advertising in the last decade (see, The Persuaders, on PBS Frontline site).

    Although the message packaging was not factored in my question, you are absolutely right when you say Twitter does not allow for much “brand/message control”, if any!

    Well, simply because I wanted to have people’s opinion on how best/fast reach the maximum of one’s subscriber base. RTs, and forwards could be sent outisde that base. I was here approaching the question from a pure “broadcast to the base” angle. But you are of course right to bring up the message spreading strenghts of those channels.

  6. Thanks Jacques for starting such a great discussion. It was so engaging that I went back to look at all the thread of tweets and answers that were sent yesterday. Many good and interesting points have been said. However I still would like to add an idea or two to the discussion. Here are my two cents…

    While testing is the best logical answer, what you know and how much do you know about your audience will play a key role in your decision.

    Which is the quality of the contacts and followers in the two lists? Which is the context and what kind of audience are we talking about? We can assume that is an average homogeneous group, however that’s normally not the case in real life.

    Let’s look at some of the results of your quick survey: there was group strongly arguing in favour of email and another one choosing Twitter with the same passion. I guess that people in both groups are email and Twitter users in one way or the other.

    This is just a thought, but please follow me on this: Would a message sent on Twitter be more effective than an email to the group of people that actually suggested that Twitter was the best choice for this campaign? How about the ones that said that email was way far of being dead?

    Which way to go? Difficult to decide with no context.

    I agree with Chris, great post!

  7. @Jose
    Well, what you suggest, if I understand correctly, is go with the right channel with the right audience. No arguing against that! My question was rather a fictional case where, for demonstration’s sake, we would imagine having the same audience in both the email list and Twitter. My point is, and see Anil’s comment above (or below yours!) that there is always only a tiny part of your Twitter audience “listening” at any point of time. Not to mention that few people, I believe, go back hours and hours to read past tweets (but I don’t know, we lack reasearch here). Hence the fallacy of believing that you can reach all those followers.

    I share your point of view, and thanks for the very practical example you give about my tweet. My point excatly.

  8. Judging from my own personal experience (which is highly biased), I would have to say email…reason being that just like Anil, I missed your tweet. However, if you had emailed me, I have my Blackberry connected to a few email accounts and most likely would have seen your question.

    I think this makes sense though outside of my personal experience: comScore says says there are 45 million smartphone users in the US (, but that only 8% of smartphone users actually use Twitter on their phones ( However, Econsultancy says over 40% of Blackberry and iPhone users use email (in fact, smartphones *increase* email activity). Even a not-so-apples-to-oranges comparison shows more email activity on smartphones: Nielsen states that Americans spend 41% of their time on mobile phones using email (

    So, these numbers, combined with the fact that email is still so entrenched on the desktop, even with people that don’t “get” Twitter, I think email is your best shot solely on the basis of reach.

  9. @Jose Hi! Yes.

    @Derek On Twitter, you could at least see the RT’s, and tell if you’re generating content that people figure is worth sharing. However, yes, objective must be considered given any strategy. Agreed.

    @Paul There isn’t any publicly available data demonstrating the differences in attention paid or things getting lost in noise. As a result, we can’t proceed with a fact based consensus or framework. Yet.

    @Jacques Thank you for adding some delicious peanut oil to this stir fry debate. Worthwhile!

  10. I say email.

    Few things:

    You can be verbose.
    You only miss the message when you delete it, not when you blow through your timeline.

    And the biggest reason is, you more deeply opted-in to it. Twitter is easy to read, follow, unfollow, and doesn’t show much for engagement IMO. Email people are likely much more dedicated to your brand.

  11. Great conversation!
    I missed the original tweet but I saw some of the last replies.

    As for the question – I think that you might reach the Twitter followers faster (assuming they’re all in your timezone) but your email subscribers are likely to be more qualified “followers”.
    Subscribing to a mail takes slightly more effort and implies that the subscriber may be weighted more heavily than the Twitter follower, who could be your mum, Jesus, catbinlady or anyone else trying to drum up new followers themselves. The number of followers can be a bit meaningless if looked at too closely (I never look at mine in case I am upset by the number of bots following me)

    Getting the message out *by noon* might be more achievable on Twitter. But if you want your followers to *get* the message, then perhaps email is more effective.

  12. @Adrian
    Thank you for adding some research results to this discussion. Nobody has mentioned yet that Twitter has still only 50 million accounts, not to mention that half of new accounts go dormant after a month! Do you know who’s on Twitter? Well, all of us Web nerds. Not necessarily everybody’s customers…

    Yes, I think email has more reach depth. My question was regardless the quality considerations which are of course very important in real life;has a mean to *reach* one’s customers (generic term to say all kinds of subscribers) which one is faster and espcially “deeper”. I think email still wins. Far from being dead.

    Base quality certainly influences message reception and perception. For the sake of the question, I even ready to consider that those 10k subscribers, and 10k followers would be the same people. Which channel is faster to reach a maximum of people in the base? You answer Twitter, which means that in a period of 3 hours, more people, *in that base* would see my tweet, compared to my email subscribers. I beg to differ, but I don’t *know*

    Again, the right answer is “Let’s test it”, but I am amazed by and thankful for all the clever answers.

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