Apr 27 2010

Not Dead Yet

Not Dead Yet


Ah Spring.  Flowers bloom.  Love is in the air.  And it’s time for the annual round of “email is dead” articles and blog posts.  With apologies to Monty Python, and on the heels of last week’s fracas about social networking having more users than email, once again I say, email is Not Dead Yet!


Three articles of late are pretty interesting and point out that the trends in online channel usage are far murkier than meets the eye.


First, Sherry Chiger’s story in Direct that One in Five Merchants Shuns Marketing Email has a poor headline for an interesting, data-rich article.  The article should be about how “Four in Five” adopt.  The article has links to a bunch of interesting in-depth reports you can download, but some of the eye-catching stats include the fact that more B2C companies use email than their own web site for marketing (96% vs. 90%); that the #1 use of “if I had more money in my marketing budget, it would go to” is “creating more sophisticated email”; and that email is the “most valuable online strategy,” beating out SEO and materially ahead of Social Media, SEM, sending offline traffic online, affiliate, display, and abandoned shopping cart marketing.


Sherry’s follow up article entitled E-mail and Social Media: The New Chocolate and Peanut Butter

 and Liana Evans’ article in ClickZ, Email Can Be Social Media’s Best Friend, both explain the interplay of email and social media nicely.  You can’t, or at least shouldn’t, have one without the other.  This matches our experience at Return Path, where a number of our largest clients are the biggest social networks.  We always say that “social networking runs on email.”  Look at your inbox sometime and see how many messages are from Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc., which prompt you to create page views for them, um, I mean, visit their sites.


And of course the recent Morgan Stanley data is somewhat problematic (chart published here among other places).  First, I’m not sure where their base data came from, but I’ve never seen an estimate of worldwide email users that’s only 850MM.  The Morgan Stanley report says there are 1.8B people online worldwide, and there are been stats consistently published over the years that between 80-95% of people online use email.  This report from Radicati has the number of email users worldwide growing from 1.4B last year to 1.9B over the next few years. That sounds more like it.  

There’s no question that people spend more time in social networks and will continue to. They’re more multi-faceted. But that “error” in reporting on number of email addresses pretty dramatically changes the two charts. Plus, don’t you have to have an email account to sign up for most social networks?  And as my colleague Ezra Fischer noted, how the counting works in these two charts is important. For example, I have 2-3 email accounts, but I have 10-12 social network accounts. Am I counted once in each category, or 2-3 in the first and 10-12 in the second? Or worse, once in the first and 10-12 times in the second?


Anyway, every time I write one of these “in defense of email” posts, I get criticized for having too vested an interest in the subject matter to be objective.  If that’s the case, so be it – but who else is going to highlight the positive counterpoints when the buzz is all pointed to the demise of email?