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Social Networks to Replace Email? NOT!!!

Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg fired up the death of email debate at the Nielsen’s Consumer 360 Conference Yesterday. She said only 11% of teens email daily and that they are using SMS (or Twitter) and social networks for communications. Interestingly, despite all the protests against Facebook’s privacy policy she also said that people entrust their personal info with social networks. To Sandberg these are signals that email will die.

Sandberg raises some interesting points such as the growth of social networks, however, as Frogloop reported last fall in our article Email is Dead? Long Live Email, we have not found any valid research that substantiates that email is dying out. In fact, between 2000 and 2009, email in the US alone grew 138% according to the World Internet User Statistics. In India it grew by 1250%. In the UK it grew by 203%. In Mexico it grew by 917%. In China it grew by 1500%. Furthermore, in August 2009, 276.9 million people used email in the US and abroad as compared to 229.2 million people in August of 2008 according to the Nielsen Company. This is growth not a decline.

Are a few popular social networks like Twitter and Facebook growing faster than some analysts predicted? Yes, but on social networks like Twitter, the adoption rate is actually low. Only about 10% to 20% of Twitter’s  users are actively tweeting and are the ones driving 80% to 90% of all tweets. Facebook certainly offers more options to nonprofits like Fanpages and Causes but as a whole nonprofits have far more people on their email lists, generate more actions taken via email (and by action I don't mean "liking something" and giving it a thumbs up) and raise a lot more money than on Facebook Causes.

And what happened to MySpace? They have been publically struggling to compete in the social networking space and are currently in the process of a major rebranding campaign. Will they survive?

At the end of the day social networks are a space for us to be social online. The teens Sandberg referenced are doing just that. As they get older and join the working world, they will use email and a variety of other channels and gadgets to communicate. As all savvy nonprofit campaigners and marketers know, it’s not just about using one tool to communicate with people; it’s about having a tool box filled with all the key tools you need to reach your constituents across multiple channels.

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Reader Comments (8)

"At the end of the day social networks are a space for us to be social online. The teens Sandberg referenced are doing just that. As they get older and join the working world, they will use email and a variety of other channels and gadgets to communicate."

I'm not so sure, I might have to respectfully disagree here... I'm hearing more and more from friends that teens are not using email so much today, that they are unresponsive to us adults in the "working world" and our emails. While we wait for them to grow up and join us, in the meantime we might evolve to their preferred communication methods and by then there will be no need for them to join us on email. :)

That said, I do not believe email is going away. From a business perspective, it's so critical in getting information of many types and lengths to co-workers and customers. I agree that there will be a variety of channels and we will all (young and not so young) become savvy enough to use a variety of communication tools.
June 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLaura Mattis
Right, but, she seems to have forgotten that many teenagers don't have jobs (and if they do have jobs, they're at The Gap) and that few high school teachers e-mail assignments to students, so of course they don't use e-mail.

When I was young, I had an email account that I used mostly to sign up for random websites and email my friends. If I were young now, I would probably use facebook to talk to my friends (but I'd still need an email address to sign up for it).

Once you get to college, though, you have to start using email like a Real Person.
June 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSven
It's way too early to say that this is a pattern that will hold and that email is dead. Yes, teenagers seem to prefer social networks over email. And, the new Edison Research shows that they prefer gaining access to these social networks via their mobile devices. But, will that pattern hold? What happens when this group moves in to college and the workforce? Will they stay loyal to social media as their main communication tool or will they move to things like email.

And, while email might not be a viable option for this one demographic, it's still a powerful communication tool for other demographics. It goes back to knowing who your target audience is and being where they are at.
June 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSue Anne Reed
I think you're missing something here, Allyson. Is email dead? You bet.

Email is dead in the sense it is no longer THE dominant way to reach people with timely and relevant messages, especially if you're targeting youth today or anyone 5 years from now.

Teens don't use email (much) because they find it too slow. They get their timely and relevant communication from social networking services like Facebook and through text messaging (SMS).

Does that mean that email is going away all together? No, not by a long shot. But it does mean that if you want to continue to reach your audience with messages that matter, you need to start incorporating social networking and mobile messaging into your marketing plan. Today.
I use email, facebook and twitter (but not twitter very much). Here's the biggest reason for me why email is not going away: whenever someone requests to be my friend on facebook, or tags me in a photo, or writes on my wall, you know how I find out about it?

Facebook sends me an email.
June 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSally
Allyson, while I agree email isn't going anywhere, it is slipping into second place to social networks by some measures. The same study you cite showing 276.9 million using email (up 21% from the previous year/Aug 2008-2009) also showed 301.5 million using social networks for communication in the same countries (up 31% from Aug 2008-Aug 2009).

The implications of these data are that an email-only strategy is no longer wise, even if it continues to produce good results.

In order to go from good to great, we must use all the major communications channels. And that mean email AND social networks.

As Kyle Stoneman of OwlBee often says, "We used to live in a world where the producers of content determine the channels of distribution. We no live is a world where the consumers of content determine the channels of distribution."

If we do not provide content for people who want to connect with our campaigns and organizations via the channels they want to use, at best we won't reach large chunks of our constituents. At worst, we disrespect our constituents.

In a world where the tools for online organizing and content distribution are also in the hands of our audience (and in many cases they are as good, or better using them than we are), we cannot afford to alienate our potential supporters and risk turning them into detractors.
June 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlan Rosenblatt
I definitely agree. Nonprofits need to be using multiple channels to engage their constituents. Email, social networks, direct mail, texting, telemarketing, etc should be part of our toolbox.
June 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAllyson Kapin
She's really off subject! It's not the fact that Social Networks have replaced emails, we're supposed to be focusing on that social networks have replaced emails for teenagers!!!!!
October 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

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