Which is more important to your everyday life – social networks or email?

Does your answer change when you’re presented with the fact that 188 billion emails are sent daily, compared to 140 million tweets and 60 million Facebook posts?

Does it change when you think about how fundamentally important email is to the online experience? After all, you can’t even sign up Twitter or Facebook without an email address.

Yet the stock of email seems to be falling, with the more glamorous arena of social networks taking the plaudits and column inches.

Research by 123-reg highlights this, with 34 percent of people saying it’s not important for a business to have a company email address. The 18-24 age group, often viewed as being highly tech-savvy, were even more likely to cast doubt on the importance of an email address.

This position seems ludicrous – just imagine receiving a marketing email from Amazon@hotmail.com – how would you feel?

Social is a great addition to the marketing mix, but in return on invest terms, email is second only to search engine optimization.

Email may feel like a boring old throwback, but it still offers everything you could want from a marketing channel and that’s something which should be remembered as Facebook and Twitter relentlessly push their advertising credentials.

In fact, a new study from the Economist Intelligence Unit and Lyris reveals just how far social is lagging behind email.

Almost two-fifths of respondents (37 percent) said they prefer to hear about a new product via email. Only 21 percent indicated company social media accounts and blogs as their preferred channel.

It’s a significant gap, especially when you consider the breadth of a category that includes blogs, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Pinterest.

No one is saying it’s an either/or choice when it comes to social media and email advertising, but when you’re looking to grow a business it makes sense to focus on the channel which is most likely to help you achieve your goal.

And you don’t have to keep the two separate, either. Research from Econsultancy shows that emails with a social sharing option enjoy click through rates that are 30 percent higher than those which lack this option.

If you’re selling a product online, you can encourage people to sign up for your mailing list during the transaction and then use that as a platform to build a relationship with your customers.

Social media has the potential to be a great tool for every single business out there, but it’s incredibly easy to get lost in the noise – a tweet will only be visible in someone’s timeline for a few minutes, and not everyone gets to see a Facebook post.

But with a well-maintained database, your emails are almost guaranteed to be seen by customers and potential customers. They may not get read, and the links may not be clicked, but that’s the other great thing about email – you can see the results and optimize future campaigns.

With that in mind, let’s finish with some tips to help small firms make the most of email marketing.

  • Building an email list should be a bigger priority than building a social media account
  • Ask customers to opt in to maximize engagement
  • Email campaigns should be measurable – services like MailChimp can help with this
  • Messages should be formatted so they display correct on mobile devices
  • Subject lines should be short and to the point
  • Test and proofread message – poor-quality emails will turn off customers
  • Don’t spam – one or two mail outs a week is more than enough, more will annoy people

People will keep talking about the death of email marketing, but there’s plenty of life in it yet.

Will Stevens writes about marketing and technology issues for 123-reg.co.uk, the UK’s largest domain name registrar. Find the company on Twitter @123reg.