To build an engaged list, you need a way to keep people updated on your latest content. You don’t want to rely on them remembering you and coming back—those are just drive by visitors. 

You want Subscribers.

There are plenty of platforms to stay in touch: Twitter, email, Facebook, YouTube, and RSS all have ways for you to gather Subscribers. Social media is hot, so you should focus there, right?

Not so much.

If you want really high numbers to claim you have a huge following, maybe Twitter and Facebook are the place to go—but I want to build an audience that buys products.

Conversion rates by referrer

What we really want to know is how valuable a social media follower is compared to an email Subscriber. For this example, we've pulled some data from a former campaign of Nathan's. 

Here are three campaigns with some pretty typical numbers:

Email:

  • 28% click rate from 7,024
  • 35% click rate from 5,655
  • 25.4% click rate from 6,928

Averaging those, we get a 29.5% click rate. With a targeted list that actually wants to receive email from you, this is considered good, but not too hard.

Let’s compare that to Twitter:

Tweets:

  • 2.7% out of 4,300
  • 3.2% out of 4,200
  • 2.4% out of 5,400
  • 5.1% out of 4,600
  • 2% out of 4,800
  • 3.2% out of 4,200

Averaged, that comes to a 3.1% click rate—and that data comes from tweets with the best click rates. The popular tweets that get retweeted by accounts of over 100k followers often as little as a .1% click rate.

Let’s say we have 1,000 Twitter followers and 1000 e,mail Subscribers?. How much more are the email Subscribers worth?

Well, if we post a tweet and send an email, 31 people will click the link in the tweet and 290 subscribers will click the link in the email. Just based on that, our email subscriber is worth 11x a Twitter follower.

But our end goal isn’t clicks, it’s purchases. Using this data, we know that referrals from Twitter convert at 5.4%. So of the 31 that make it to the sales page, 1.7 will buy. We can’t even get two full sales out of 1,000 followers.

Email converts on average at 9.4% on Gumroad, so out of the 290 people that make it to the sales page, 27 will buy.

Let’s review those numbers:

  • 1,000 Twitter followers -> 31 clicks -> 1.7 sales
  • 1,000 email subscribers -> 290 clicks -> 27 sales

When we factor in the final conversion rate an email Subscriber is worth roughly 15x as much as a Twitter follower!

That's Not The Whole Story

When you build an audience on another platform, you don’t actually own them. Facebook could change their news feed algorithm so that your content isn’t shown as often, (that happened recently to fan pages), or your chosen platform could die out. Where would you be now if you had built your following on MySpace?

Yikes.

What if RSS was your main source of contact with your audience? When Google Reader was shut down, many sites lost 70% of their RSS Subscribers (Nathan lost 78%).

With email you own your audience. 

If one marketing platform doesn’t work for you, export your email addresses and find a new provider.

Now we shouldn’t entirely discount Twitter. It’s a great platform for helping content go viral—when that happens. Specifically, Nathan has had one blog post continue to gain traffic from Twitter, and has used that to collect as many email Subscribers as possible. (Obviously.) 

It's great to interact with friends and followers on social media, but when you need to make money for your business,  you should focus on email.

Note from Nathan: "When I first ran these numbers, I came to the conclusion that an email Subscriber was worth 27x as much as a Twitter follower. Just to be clear of any bias, I redid the numbers choosing my best performing tweets and my lower performing emails. So that 15x number quoted earlier is very conservative." 

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