Last week, held a debate via Twitter about the merits of both email marketing and social media.

For some reason we can’t understand, the hypothetical death of email marketing continues to be a hot topic this year (just like it was last year, and the year before, and years before that too), but most speculators seem to be stuck in an either/or rut. Even though the tools are not mutually exclusive, people are adamant about picking favorites.

This argument can be solved with a simple formula: Email + Social = Success.

So the next time someone tries to corner you about the topic, just start declaring that in a bold, unshaken voice, until they, too, join the chant.

Social media is not some lurking predator ready to devour email marketing at the watering hole. These are two species that can peacefully coexist and prosper together — think plants and animals, not cowboys and aliens.

We took the “debate” to Martin Lieberman, managing editor at Constant Contact, and Dave Charest, our senior content developer.

1. If a business is into direct selling, can social media be used? Or is email better?

Martin: I think the two work hand in hand. Social media sort of “primes the pump” by developing the relationship with customers and letting them get to know the business. Then, when an email arrives that is more of a direct selling message, customers are more likely to be in a ready-to-buy frame of mind. Or, to look at it a different way, you use email to communicate with your current customers and social media to reach new ones.

Dave: It always depends on the business, but at the very least, social media is a great way to “listen” to what’s going on in the marketplace. So yes, it can be used, even if you’re not using it as an active participant. If you are an active participant, social media is a great way to make connections, generate interest, and allow potential customers to take the next step and join your email list. It’s really not an either/or debate. It’s a question of “How can you use both tools together most efficiently?”

2. What if you’re selling B2B versus B2C. Is the answer different?

Martin: While the specific tactics may be different, I don’t think the answer is. Social media allows you to communicate your expertise and develop relationships. That latter part is crucial, because regardless of whether you’re a B2B or a B2C business, people increasingly buy from people they know and trust, and prefer not to do business with companies they know little about.

Dave: In other words, nope.

3. Does the age of your target audience make a difference?

Martin: Age is becoming less and less of a factor as social media use becomes more common among all age groups.

Dave: I think that, just like anything else, you want to know the preferences of your target audience. But, not to sound like a broken record, the debate really shouldn’t be one or the other.

4. What would you recommend starting off with – email marketing, social media, or both? Why?

Martin: I’d start with email. It’s going to be the centerpiece of your marketing efforts, the hub of your communications, so get that going first. Then expand to social media, making your emails shareable, letting your email list know about your social media presence, and driving the conversation from one channel to the other and back.

Dave: I’d start with both, because they work in tandem. Social media is like meeting someone at a party and email is like going out on a date. There’s a progression from one to the other.

5. What do you think of this debate?

Martin: I don’t think it’s even a debate! These tools don’t cancel each other out — they make each other stronger. But more importantly, it’s not really about the tools, it’s about reaching customers, engaging them, and building relationships. Email and social are just two ways to do that. If you ask me, the entire email vs social debate is moot.

Dave: I agree, although I would like to frame the debate with the wisdom of Joey from Friends:  “This point is moo.”

What do you think of this topic? How are email marketing and social media working together for your business or organization? Weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section below.

(Photo Credit:  Tambako the Jaguar)