Some people question the relevance of emails in 2021. They ask, “Can’t we just rely on social media to communicate with supporters?” To which my instinct is to rush to email’s defense and point to all the good times we’ve had together. Sure, we’ve had our ups and downs. There was that one time we were blocklisted. And don’t get me started on Microsoft Outlook. Oh, Outlook. But—who was still there for me ... when MySpace imploded? When I started that job? Every time I forgot and had to reset my password?
Once I get over myself, I can see that this is a very smart question. It’s important to anticipate where technology is heading. What works now won’t work forever. There are no guarantees. We shouldn’t be afraid to ask ourselves: could email be dying—or dead?
Social media usage is trending upward, but not in isolation. Worldwide, email continues its steady upward climb. 3.9 billion of us are in the habit of checking our inbox. Expect that number to grow by 15% over the next four years. Should we be worried about generational skews? Not greatly. A recent study in the U.S. placed email usage at over 90% for every age group under 65.
For now, email remains the most cost-effective and reliable way to reach a captive audience. But as global email traffic rises, so too will our competition. Savvy communicators will be rewarded. Lazy ones will be punished.
Despite every promise made by a new digital platform to “replace email”—it hasn’t happened. On both the sending and receiving end, no other medium has been able to replicate email’s unique qualities.
The other thing that keeps social media managers awake at night is how tenuous social channels are. We live at the mercy of algorithms. One tweak to the formula and overnight your reach can be halved. It happened to us all on Facebook a few years ago.
Digital communication was turned upside down—along with everything in the physical world—when the global coronavirus pandemic was declared in early 2020. There was no rulebook for this situation. And yet, businesses instinctively chose email to connect with customers—to issue critical updates and offer reassurance in a time of upheaval. The ‘COVID-19 emails’ became a phenomenon unto themselves. Why?
While many of us use different combinations of social platforms, just about everyone has email. It’s ubiquitous. Democratized. Email allowed for a ‘formality’ and pace that honored the moment. Unlike social media, it offered readers a space to reflect without distraction. It was personal. It was dependable. It was ‘safe’.
Like email, social media has undeniable strengths. It brings us greater accessibility, transparency, and immediacy. It offers unique demographic insights. The cadence (or rhythm) of email and social media also differs greatly. No-one bats an eyelid if an organization releases half a dozen social posts in a day. The same volume of emails would trigger a flood of complaints.
So who wins? Neither. Attempts to identify a ‘superior’ medium are missing the point. Email and social media strengthen each other.
Used in concert, email can ‘set a tone’. Social can create buzz and keep it current. Email can make the announcement. Social can make it immediate. Email can build personal connection. Social can showcase to the world how you relate to and respond to others. Email can carry the bulk of your segmentation strategy. Paid off-site segmentation through social media can extend reach and capacity.
Email and social are two players on the same team. Any modern communication strategy needs to lean on both of these heavyweights to keep supporters engaged in 2021.
Do you remember Netscape Navigator? MySpace? Digg? Email does. While countless ‘game-changing’ technologies have risen and fallen, email has stood the test of time. And not by accident. The same things that made email resilient to the digital disruptions of the past all but guarantee it a place in our digital future. You see, email has—and continues—to evolve.
Leaps in security, privacy, and spam prevention have safeguarded the integrity of the inbox. We’ve seen segmentation and personalization elevate email comms to new heights. And while some truly archaic HTML rendering has long irritated digital designers, that too is changing. Now, a new era of email clients brings us things like interactive email and dark mode. Get your nerd on and get excited.
Should we worry about email ‘dying’ any time soon? It depends who you are. To the email marketer whose spammy Viagra pitches no longer work like they did in 2010—yes, be worried. To the rest of us, email is far from ‘dead’. The digital communication tapestry is getting richer. And email is evolving. Mostly for the better.
For now, email has earned its place in the digital media mix. Plan for it to stay. Design your email strategy to perform for the long haul. Here’s how:
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