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Social Media Can’t Kill Email … Can It?

Posted on the 06 June 2011 by Combi31 @combi31

Social Media Can’t Kill Email … Can it?

As a glib response, Email is already slowly killing off email!

“People are spending more time on social networking sites and less time on email sites and there’s no doubt a connection: the purpose of both channels is centered around connecting and communicating with one another.” – Sean Rosikno

At a recent presentation I did to a group of Purchasing Directors in France – entitled, “Rethinking Communication” – I decided to test out people’s reactions to the idea of new forms of communication.

The idea was to look at ways that communication can be made more collaborative and federating rather than what often happens, today. One of the key points was the way email causes; stress, aggression, legal problems, copying, unnecessary mails, long, long mails, sending mails to people in the same room, using email as a lever for action by putting management on copy and basically creating distance in communication terms etc.

Now that is a weird concept – a tool that is supposed to bridge and reduce distance, can actually create more distance as people become habitual mail senders, often using the medium as a back-up for a face-to-face conversation, meeting or phone call – effectively doubling or tripling the communication.

I introduced a platform, that we customise and install in businesses in France, that is not unlike Yammer, built on an Open Source solution and designed to bring people together on projects and organisation-wide communication – yes that means departments speaking and listening to each other – perish the thought.

The audience was transfixed at the idea of empowering communications, facilitating dialogue and exchanges, managing knowledge, informing clients and suppliers at key moments on key issues, managing transversal teams etc. etc. Up to the point where I suggested that email usage should then be reduced to a bare minimum, but not yet fully eradicated.

Yes, the same people who’s very existence was being ruined by the dreaded email – were not going to give it up without a fight.

I was then transported back 15 years – how many SAP consultants have had to fight against people using Excel tables in parallel to SAP? Well it’s virtually the same thing and boils down, basically to change, or more like rejection of change.

Do a survey, I do them often in my work, of the time that people spend managing, filing, replying and writing emails and you may be forgiven to think that the organisation earns money just by generating mails – so who pays for the increase of the bandwidth in the company to cater for the ever-increasing volume of mails? Well, there must be a small group of people, somewhere in the organisation earning the money that pays for all of that.

Have a look around the Internet and you will see that people are talking about email 2.0 and communication 2.0, and most of this pertains directly back to social media.

Now one of the reasons that this is reduced to mere talk and pontification is that Social Media platforms don’t really talk together – well, they aren’t really friends, now are they?

Email can be sent and received by, and from Outlook to Lotus Notes to Thunderbird and to Mac Mail with no problem or compatibility issues – whereas there are huge issues with the meshing and integration of the top social media sites. So we are not about to see email being replaced by social media in the very immediate future, which will mean that people will be using the two – probably not really exploiting the full potential of each, neither.

We could be viewing Facebook and Twitter in a very different light in a very short time, as companies opt for enterprise solutions for their internal and external communication needs – their only hope for survival in the corporate world could be their ability to produce and homogenise APi usage with the solutions that companies will, inevitably, in my opinion be turning to. Corporations will be using social media more and more for various reasons, where email could be used with great difficulty, from recruitment, Corporate Social Responsibility, Customer services, Marketing, advertising and damage control, which will necessitate investment on a fairly large scale.

The critics will obviously cite the differences between emails and microblogging as the brevity of messages – well how often do you receive short emails that could easily fit in with the 140 character limit? How often do you receive emails that are so long winded that a 140 character limit would be their saving grace.

Others talk about security and privacy issues – well if you thought that email was a private channel of communication think again … it just ain’t.

Many companies crusade against the use of corporate email for private use and ban the use of social networks at work – even though there could be huge benefits for the organisation, were there a clear policy in place – most assume that the usage will only waste, rather than gain time or provide an edge for their business. The same companies are not too bothered if their staff manage their corporate emails in their own time though and this is becoming an ever more pervasive facet of worklife due to the proliferation of mobile devices.

One thing that email does, that social media hasn’t really achieved, up to now, is to submerge people with a whole lot of work – what do you do first thing in the morning? Yeah, like most of us you wade through the deluge of email that has made its way into your in-box.

Here are a some statistics to illustrate some of the points  :

  • Organizations lose around $1,250 per user in annual productivity because of time spent dealing with spam, $1,800 per user due to unnecessary emails from co-workers, and $2,100 – $4,100 per user due to poorly written communications. (Tim Pisello,, 12/2008)
  • 62% of at-work email users check work email over the weekend, and 19% check it five or more times in a weekend. More than 50% said they check it on vacation, with the highest amount coming from mobile device users at 78%. (Erin Gifford, “It’s 3:00 am – Are you checking Email Again?”, AOL Corporate Newsroom Statistic, Annual Email Addiction Survey 2009, AOL)

  • Bandwidth consumption within organizations is doubling every 90 to 180 days.
    Gartner Group -
  • In 2010, the typical corporate user sent and received about 110 messages daily. Roughly 18% of emails received was spam, comprising both actual spam and “graymail” (i.e. unwanted newsletters, alerts, etc.).
  • While users mostly see spam as an annoyance, for corporations it is a considerable expense. According to our projections, a typical 1,000-user organization can spend upwards of $3.0 million a year to fight and manage spam.
  • Social Networking has seen explosive growth in the last 18 months and by year- end 2010 we expect to see nearly 2.2 billion social networking accounts worldwide comprising both consumer and business accounts. By 2014 this is expected to grow to nearly 3.7 billion accounts worldwide.
  • Geographically, in 2010, the majority of email users are located in Asia/Pacific (47%). Europe accounts for about 23% of all users, North America has about 14%, and the Rest of the World has around 16% of all users.

This last set of statistics surprised me, not so much the growth in the Asia-Pacific region, due to the Internet explosion in China, but the relatively low figures for North America.

Perhaps social media is up there with these statistics too, although at present I’d expect these figures to feature The US and Europe at the head.

There are great differences between the two mediums, social media and email, put simply – think of email as one-to-one or one-to-many and social media as many-to-many

Ask in a crowded room, how many people have a telex number on their business cards … a fax number, an email address (well of course they do), a social media address (Facebook, Twitter etc.) – ah, yes, not that many yet …

Put briefly and very simply, email is more about communication than engagement, which has to be one of the strengths of social media in terms of marketing, in all meanings of the term.

The real crux of the problem is the ability and desire of companies and their people to change their ways and to embrace what is surely the writing on the wall – ooh, that ‘C’ word again …

We are probably not going to see then end of email for the next five years, and that is a long time in technology, remember this quote full of foresight :

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”
- Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943

“Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.”
~Popular Mechanics, forecasting the relentless march of science, 1949.

It would be totally ridiculous to even hint at the demise of email at the hands of the rapidly incoming tide of social media …. wouldn’t it?

After all, as Al Boliska quipped, Do you realize if it weren’t for Edison we’d be watching TV by candlelight?

Social Media Can’t Kill Email … Can it?

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