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Has Social Media Rendered Email Obsolete?

By Edited Nov 11, 2016 1 0

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In much the same way that some people believe social media is rendering websites obsolete, there are also those who claim that social media is replacing email. By most accounts, email is said to have predated even the internet (not all sources can agree on a date), which is saying something about its longevity. Of course, endurance isn’t necessarily an indicator of its future usefulness. Either way, let’s consider whether or not social media is really going to make this popular communication platform a thing of the past.

It is true that many social media sites offer some form of private messaging functionality. On a site like Facebook, you can publically post to someone else’s profile or fan page as well. You can comment on other people’s posts and photos. You can instant message and participate in games with your friends. You can quickly and easily communicate with your friends and co-workers.

While these features may be easy and fun to use, they can’t really compete with the feature-set email has offered (at least in terms of communication) for a long time. Email is also evolving, and we’re beginning to see new ideas implemented; even if they aren’t quantum leaps ahead of where things once were.

Let’s consider, for a moment, where its strengths lie. What does email do well? What does it do that social media doesn’t?

  • Message archives: if your favorite social media site were to suddenly shut down, would you be able to keep and store all of your messages? Chances aren’t terribly good that you could. On the other hand, an email client like Mozilla Thunderbird or even a web-based email platform like Gmail will automatically store your sent messages, drafts and even your junk messages for you. It’s ironic that a searchable email platform could be leveraged to keep better track of conversations than social networks.
  • Searchability: doubtless we’ll begin to see social networks implement better search functionality for interpersonal messaging. However, email remains far superior in this regard. Many email platforms now offer you the ability to search all of your messages based on name, subject, email address or other criteria. You can find what you’re looking for quickly without all the other clutter. This shouldn’t be news to anyone, however.
  • Export and import: should you ever need to, you can generally back up and export your entire inbox (all stored information) and import it into the same email client on a different computer, or other email clients if need be. Good luck transferring your Facebook profile over to Google+.

It may seem like a landslide victory for email thus far, but let’s also consider the merits of social media.

  • Gaming: I, for one, could care less about gaming on a social network, but I also can’t deny its popularity. Email is a communication tool and I hope it stays that way. I don’t think gaming is a missing component from email.
  • Real-time: social media does offer a “real-time” experience of sorts. For example, notifications pop up when you receive a message or someone comments on your profile and you generally don’t need to reload your browser window. You can also instant message from a platform like Facebook. However, this is somewhat of a moot point, because, unless your friends happen to be surfing at the same time you are, there will still be a time delay between when you send a message and when you get a reply. Furthermore, Gmail does enable you to instant message your contacts, should you be inclined to do so.
  • News and trends: you can opt to have news items sent to your inbox, of course, but a site like Twitter allows you to search hashtags and trending news topics on the fly. You can connect to real world events and up-to-date happenings just by doing a quick search. With that in mind, some email clients do allow you to subscribe to RSS feeds within the platform, which can be just as effective.

Other merits of social media might include items like live video streaming (i.e. Google Hangouts), embeddable posts, social sharing, among others.

Notwithstanding, at this point I think it’s worth noting that social media and email aren’t necessarily direct competitors. They are, for all intents and purposes, different tools for different functions. They have a lot in common - and they might become more integrated in the future as I’ve talked about before - but they also have their fair share of differences.

Marketing

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The changing face of email marketing may mean reduced effectiveness for email marketing campaigns in days to come. Up until now, most email marketing messages had a 15 - 30% open rate (sometimes less, sometimes more). There was a very good reason for marketers to build their mailing lists and pursue this avenue of promotion, but that may change with upcoming Gmail revisions.

Apparently, Gmail will be organizing emails into different ‘tabs’, and all marketing messages in the future will be slotted into the ‘Promotions’ tab. It’s a bit of a gamble as to whether or not people will indeed frequent this tab or not. For now, this is a feature unique to Gmail, but Gmail has over 400 million users, so there could definitely be an impact on campaigns.

Social media isn’t all that different when you think about it. On Facebook, your posts are virtually never seen by all of your friends or followers. EdgeRank was said to have made this situation worse. You have to pay to have the message seen by more people (of course, email marketing tools do cost a bit of money depending on how big your list is). You have to set forth significant effort to engage your audience.

Conclusion

It’s time to bring it all home. What this discourse amounts to is that email is here to stay, and social media isn’t likely to be its replacement and successor. Consider the following reasons:

  • Business: email is still widely used as a standard communication method within business and companies. For those seeking jobs, many companies require that you send your resume by email these days.
  • Personal: email may not be as commonly used to send personal messages as it once was, but there are still many users who do. All in all, it’s still a more professional and direct way of getting in touch with people.
  • Promotional: indeed, for reasons already stated, it’s difficult to ascertain whether email marketing will continue to be as effective as it has been. However, I’m sure marketers will find ways of coping with these changes, and I believe they will continue to seek out the means to ensure their campaigns are effectual.

The idea that social media will replace email likely comes from the three factors I discussed in my article about social media making websites obsolete:

  1. Profit: someone serves to profit from propagating rumors. Namely social networks seeking to grow their user base, and companies offering social media related services, analytics tools or management platforms.
  2. Opinion: some people really do spend all of their time on social media and would consider Facebook or Google+ or Pinterest their “home on the web”. Therefore, they don’t know any better.
  3. Laziness: “Who can be bothered with email and websites and social media, right? I only want one tool and one tool should do it all!”

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