The Internet has leveled the playing field for small businesses. However, it is a lot more complicated than when you only had to choose between the newspaper, radio, TV, billboard, or direct mail. While those media are still here, now you have to learn how to use social media, online advertising like pay per click, and of course, email. I say of course email, but I am finding many of the small businesses I talk to hardly ever use it anymore.

I am finding many small businesses are not doing much email marketing today because of Social Media. Social Media offers one of the things small businesses have always liked about Email marketing, low cost, and the ability to do it themselves. Plus it can be more fun and sometimes even exciting. So as small business advertisers began spending more and more time with Social Media they forgot about email.

So, what’s the matter with that? Social Media is fine. But there are some issues you may not be aware of. One issue is Social Media is constantly changing. In the early days of Facebook, you could post a free ad on your page and reach a double-digit percentage of your friends and fans for free. But that has dropped to just 6.4% on average on personal pages and only 0.5% on business pages. So if you want to reach a larger percentage of your fans, now you have to pay.

There are reasons for this. The obvious one is Facebook saw they were losing a lot of revenue. Facebook also manages the news feeds to keep people engaged and filter out what Facebook does not want people to see. On the other hand, about 99% of emails are delivered to the inboxes of your subscriber list. A fair comparison between Facebook and email would be Social Media engagement rates versus email open rates. Email open rates are about 4400% higher!

I focus on Facebook when talking about social media because of its dominance in the Social Media space. The chart below shows Social Media usage in the United States for the past year as of July 2020.This brings up another problem with Social Media. There are about 200 social media platforms. Even if you figure out which one is best for your marketing, by the time you figure out how to use it everything changes. In recent years the young audience has been leaving Facebook. Then they were all over Instagram. Now they are spending more time with Tik Tok. You never know what the next Social Media fad will be. Then what about all those friends and fans? You don’t own your list of Social Media followers. But you do own your email list. I know of many instances where people lost their Facebook or Twitter accounts because hackers, technical issues, or the people running the Social Media decide to suspend your account.

There are a lot more issues we can discuss concerning why so many small business owners use less email marketing, but possibly the biggest reasons are the challenge of creating and maintaining a good mailing list and the time to create good content. Many factors affect the success you have with Email like:

  • having a good subject line to get people to open
  • the time of day you send your email so it is not buried way down the list of emails when they check their mail
  • the quality of the content which also affects the click-through rate
  • the relevance of the content which affects the conversion rate
  • getting people to forward the email expanding the audience

While we can talk about the above factors, for now I would like to conclude this article talking about the biggest problem, which is creating and maintaining a good list. Most Email marketers create their first Email marketing list using emails from their business databases, collecting Emails at their business, or through their sales teams. These emails would be from your best potential customers and the people with whom you want to keep top of mind awareness. But over time any Email list will lose subscribers as people opt-out, move away, and change their Email addresses or just lose interest in your business. You must continuously keep finding new and qualified subscribers. This can be very challenging. Some businesses try to buy lists. I have never heard of anyone having success with a list that they bought. That’s because a bought list contains people who probably never heard of your business or have any interest in it.

If you want to keep building and maintaining a good list and the traditional methods like asking new customers to subscribe is not working well enough, here is a great way to do it. Promote a contest on Facebook using Facebook’s incredible targeting. One of the great things about Facebook is its ability to target people by lifestyle. Here is an example of how it would work. Let’s say you have an RV dealership who wants to keep building their list or replace lost subscribers. Choose a prize that would be of interest to an RV buyer. A good one would be to give away a gift certificate to Cabelas because RV people are into the outdoor lifestyle. Then create a post promoting a chance to win the certificate. Then, when you publish the post, boost it. But don’t just boost it to anyone. You should create an audience. Facebook enables you to create an audience based on what people on Facebook are talking about and putting into their profiles. So, you can target an audience that likes TV shows about hunting or fishing. People who like RV’s, people who like to travel, people who just like outdoor sports, and so on. We did this for an RV dealer. We gave away a $100 gift certificate to Cabelas and spent $100 to boost the post into the news feeds of the target audience. The total cost was $200 and we got over 400 subscribers who fit the profile of the perfect RV buyer. We are now building a list for a small Mennonite general store. We have been giving away a $75 gift certificate to the store and running a video in the post showing what the store sells. Since the store targets women, we tell Facebook to just target women in a geographic area near the store. Then we spend $100 to boost the post and have been getting 200 sign-ups at a total cost of $175. We’re doing this with an equipment rental business. We are giving away a gift certificate good toward an equipment rental and targeting do it yourself enthusiasts and people in the construction trade.

The take-away from this article is, if you market a small business, do not forget about Email marketing and keep building your subscriber base. Social Media is fine. But maybe you should be spending at least as much time working on email marketing.