Survey: Email still outpaces social media

Almost all global Internet users send and receive email, whereas just under two-thirds make use of social media sites, research from Ipsos found.

If the major acquisitions of huge PR software firms don’t convince you that email is sticking around, perhaps some hard data will.

A survey conducted last month by independent research firm Ipsos found that 85 percent of people with Internet access in 24 countries send and receive email. In some countries, the figure was above 90 percent, and only one country, Saudi Arabia, had less than a majority. About 62 percent of total people surveyed use social media, which seems to be most popular in Indonesia, where 82 percent of people use it.

“It wasn’t overly surprising that a majority are using email,” says Keren Gottfried, a research manager at Ipsos. “One-way communications—mail or writing letters to each other—have been around since the carrier pigeon. Why would that be overtaken by technology that’s under 10 years old?”

Even so, Gottfried says it’s rather astonishing to see that such a large number of Internet users employing a method of communicating as new as social media. She says Ipsos will continue to track the figures—this is the first time the firm has measured them—to see how they change over the coming years. She says she suspects the amount of people who use email won’t decline even if social media users increase, though the amount of time people spend emailing may change.

“Our time is scarce,” Gottfried says. “We only have so many minutes in the day. Over time, we might see the divisions of the pie changing.”

Though some tech gurus and analysts have declared email dead, many communicators say it will remain essential even as social media grows.

Hand in hand

Social media and email complement more that compete with each other, many commentators say.

Marc Pitman of The Fundraising Coach says the survey reinforces what he tells clients: “Use social media to lead people to your site and sign up for your email newsletter. I find people are far more responsive to calls to significant action and advocacy in emails than in tweets and other platforms like Facebook and Google+.”

Pitman and others point out that social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter rely on emails to provide notifications of direct messages or whether someone has liked a post. Social media requires email to work.

“If I want to contact you via a social network, the ironic thing is that you’ll typically be notified via email,” says Jonathan Rick, director at Levick Strategic Communications. “Ditto for project management software.”

Email inboxes are “the cornerstone of our online identity,” says Dave Racine, director of social media and PR at Hanson Dodge creative. And they have a purpose in conjunction with social media, even beyond being the place where people receive notifications.

“It’s where we keep more than messages, it’s a chronological calendar of events that date back as far as we deem them important,” he says. “As we grow into using social media more and more—for conversation, for insights, for inspiration, for shopping—we’ll need to a place to keep our records and receipts, and we’ll need to make sure that it’s more than portable, that it’s secure.”

All hype?

Writer Bonnie Russell says tech pundits are necessarily early adopters, and sometimes that causes them to jump the gun on declaring one thing dead and hyping the next.

According to blogger and social media coach Alexis Grant, lots of online marketers say email remains the best way to reach people, however. “The reason is because you can go to them, rather than making them come to you,” she says. “Readers/users are already in their inbox, so why not talk to them there?”

Grant says she started her own email newsletter as a companion to her blog because she’s heard so much about the effects of using email.

Indeed, says Rick, smartphones, those increasingly present communications devices, all have email built in as a major feature. And you can simply do a lot more in an email—format text, embed pictures, attach documents, blind-copy recipients—than you can in a status update or tweet.

Bryony Fuller, communications coordinator for Colorado State University’s Warner College of Natural Resources, says it’s natural for people to want to pit one form of communication against another but that it’s unlikely one will kill another. People still listen to the radio, after all. There is room for lots of different tools, he contends.

No quick change

If email does fade away, it won’t be quick. For one thing, businesses use email, even if other options such as enterprise social media are in the mix.

“When your boss needs you, he doesn’t text or DM you,” says Rick. “He zaps you an email. When you need to contact your team all at once, it’s easier to use a [distribution] list than to visit LinkedIn, especially if you’re on a smartphone.”

Businesses continue to wrestle with how or whether to implement social media into day-to-day work, says Rod Hughes, director of communications at Oxford Communications. But he notes that younger workers do deem social media as being very important to them, to the point where they’ll work for less money if they have free access to social media.

“I think you will see social media to continue to encroach on email as a dominant communication medium,” Hughes says.

Perhaps observers declaring the death of email are simply trying too hard to speed it up, he says. “These commentators hope to drive the change they wish to see.”

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