Archive for May, 2009

If e-mail’s dead, then what’s all this stuff in my inbox?

Sally Saville Hodge

I keep hearing rumblings, then reading blog posts by various and sundry social media prognosticators that e-mail is dead.

Taken out by Twitter, Chat and Communities,” opines Gartner Group’s Michael Maoz, saying, “Customers want more immediacy, and e-mail never lived up to that standard.”

Social American, a firm that designs social media campaigns, is a dab less emphatic than Maoz in sounding a conditional death knell. Is it dead? one of its bloggers queries, citing a Nielsen Online study that indicates more people in digitized countries use social media networks and blogs to communicate with each other than e-mail.

Of course, if you look at the difference in reach, as per that Nielsen study, the member communities were ranked at 66.8 percent versus 65.1 percent for e-mail. A 1.7 percent differential represents a stake in the heart of the e-mail channel?

Source: Sacramento State

Source: Sacramento State

Look at the numbers. Do you think 25.2 billion Tweets or instant messages are being exchanged by office workers each day?

I’d like to see e-mail evolve (in other words – that people would get smarter in how they use it), but I don’t think it’s dead. And that’s because, for all their allure, the other contenders have distinct drawbacks.

Take Twitter. Nobody (outside of Twitter itself) quite knows how many people are using it now, with estimates ranging from millions to tens of millions. You can Twitter online. You can use it from your cell phone. You can get all sorts of applications to help you use it better. You can follow Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore and Oprah or someone random, like me.

And, yeah, savvy businesses are using it to improve the customer experience, which makes it a whole lot cooler – and, yes, more immediate – than plain old e-mail. I recently tweeted a complaint about Comcast screwing up our service before a recent move and within minutes was tweeted by ComcastBonnie: “How can I help?” Cool beans.

Of course, responding to her was problematic because the issue would have required maybe 50 Tweets to explain fully. That’s because there’s a limit of only 140 characters (including spaces) per post. That limit is why so many of the tweets that I scan are incomprehensible, and why it’s no substitute for anyone who truly wants to create meaningful dialog. Between hash marks and RTs (re-tweet = sharing someone’s post with your network) and abbreviations and other forms of shorthand, you often need an interpreter to make sense of it all.

But replacing e-mail? Think again and be aware of how slippery stats can be. Consider the other side of the Twitter growth coin: The percentage of Twitter users in a given month who return the following month has languished below 30 percent for most of the past year. Not likely that’s a trend you’re seeing with e-mail usage.

Then there are the social networking communities. To me, these versus e-mail represent an apples and oranges comparison. Social networking is another communications tool, an adjunct, perhaps, to e-mail – less individual, less private, and with an entirely different functionality.

And chat? Again, it’s more immediate, and from a customer service perspective, that’s not a bad thing. Comcast, again, is using it to help solve customer issues. I tried it out the other day for a whole different matter. But how dumb is this? Because of the confidentiality issue, the customer service rep broke off in the middle of the online chat to call me on the phone to get my permission to give me the information I needed via chat. Once granted, she hung up, typed in the relevant information…and then my computer froze and had to be rebooted. Faster than e-mail maybe. But not necessarily more efficient.

And, again, as a broader communication tool, it represents a huge time suck. I know people who have juggled five or six “conversations” at once. I never could figure out when they worked because they were always available on IM. And it just seems so intrusive:  Give me e-mail, where you can control the pace of the back and forth, and delete and ignore at will.

I’ll believe that e-mail is in its death throes when I can stop tracking an increase in the missives – a substantial amount of it junk – delivered daily to my inbox. It ain’t happening yet!

May 27, 2009 at 4:54 pm 3 comments

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