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Bleak times ahead for email according to Gartner, which is predicting that social networks will claim a growing share of communication among business users.

Seems plausible enough, though any reports of the death of email are somewhat premature. But can social networking sites claim the communications crown before this decade is out?

Gartner says: “By 2014, social networking services will replace e-mail as the primary vehicle for interpersonal communications for 20 percent of business users.

Cue much head shaking among the email services providers at TFM&A this week. I asked a few of them to fight their corner, and to provide an alternative view on the future of email.

StrongMail MD Paul Bates

Anyone that engages in a debate over which channel is superior is approaching this from the wrong angle. Not only do both channels complement each other from a marketing perspective, they are significantly more powerful when used together than either channel alone.

What’s most interesting is that while the talking heads continue to debate the value of one channel vs. another, the 800 pound gorillas in the email marketing and social media spaces are answering this question for us by taking convergence to the consumer.

In the past three weeks, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook have all announced plans to integrate email and social media for their end users. Google and Microsoft plan to integrate social functionality into Gmail and Outlook respectively, and Facebook is rumored to be launching its own webmail service.

These announcements are significant in that, if all three are successful, the consumer’s view of email and social media will become highly integrated during the next year or so. As email marketers, it is important to prepare for this shift by developing an integrated marketing strategy for the two channels now.

Get ready for your viral marketing programs to become exponentially more powerful.

Emailvision Strategic Marketing Consultant Paul Anderson

I have a great book – written in 1977 – predicting the future. Apparently by 2010 we would all be flying around in our own private hovercraft! In other words we, especially marketers, continually overestimate the impact new technologies will have.

Business users have always embraced advancements in technology – the quill, the pen, letters, telegraph, telephone, fax, internet and email. And social media will also find its place in the business users communication tool kit. Social media is yet another direct marketing channel, only this time marketers have much less control over the output and dissemination of information.

Email is the glue that binds social media together, so rather than replacing it, the two will work hand-in-hand and complement each other. Companies will encourage customers to share emails via their networks, identifying and rewarding those social media savvy users who are online advocates but who will also continue using email to communicate.

Experian CheetahMail UK Marketing Manager Rachael Taylor

The Gartner prediction certainly has raised the debate again as to whether social media will kill email. Social media definitely has a strong role to play in interpersonal communication across the business community, highlighted by the growth of LinkedIn (50 million users worldwide as of Oct last year).

As to where these boundaries between email and social media finish, that is less clear. Our experience from working with clients is that there is some definition needed as to how the two channels should work together but synergies rather than conflicts are starting to emerge.

Many B2C email marketers are now social media savvy. If the business community looks to the consumer market to analyse how social media and email work together, some immediate observations would emerge. Social networks are extremely useful for reaching out to new and untapped audiences. Using content such as video in email encourages the viral spread of campaigns across social networks and organisations can monitor subsequent spikes in web traffic as the campaign drives people back to the site.

Having email address collection boxes on social media networks is also a great way of building subscriber bases (as was the case with our client, ITV, that grew its I’m a celebrity” email subscriber base by 170% in Nov/Dec through social media). Driving transactions and building long-term customer loyalty, however, is what email does exceptionally well. New subscribers can be nurtured through opt-in email programmes that effectively build interest, loyalty and engagement in a brand.

The way we communicate is changing and marketers in particular are watching the social media space with interest. Email, however, remains king of direct communication. It is still the marketer’s strongest option for driving revenue and building loyalty in a cost effective and measurable way.

RedEye CEO Mark Patron

The death of email is greatly exaggerated. I can not think of many online channels that can claim 80% of their activity will be the same in four years time.

Social networks compliment email rather than cannibalise it. Our email clients already link social networks with their email. It is similar to traditional “member get member” campaigns which have always worked well for direct marketers.

The client view

Mark pointed me at Interflora, one of his clients, which can testify to the power of email working alongside social media:

"When RedEye suggested we incorporate Facebook into our customer engagement strategy it seemed like a no brainer in terms of reaching out to a larger audience. After just over one month of the page being live the results have been tremendous. Resulting in 60 orders and acquiring over 700 fans, the Interflora Page on Facebook is helping us reach out to new customers and build our relationship with existing customers."


Personally I like the idea of email, like mobile, transforming into a sticky glue that binds campaigns together, and one that opens up a new line of communication with people, and which captures data beyond the likes of a Twitter handle. That’s seeding engagement right there.

And it's sensible too. I do feel that it is essential to migrate a good portion of (sometimes fickle) social network audiences to your own databases to be able to communicate via other channels, and to protect your efforts in the social media arena. I guess we need to define some new conversion metrics in this area, such as 'fan / follower to registered user', or 'fan to newsletter subscriber', or - ideally - 'follower to customer'.

So what do you think? Is email on the way out? Or is it just getting smarter? Which companies are doing the best work in this area? I’d be interested to hear from brands that use email to join up marketing campaigns, or for any other multichannel purposes.

Chris Lake

Published 25 February, 2010 by Chris Lake

Chris Lake is CEO at EmpiricalProof, and former Director of Content at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via Linkedin.

582 more posts from this author

Comments (8)

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To me email is an upgrade from the traditional mail/post man who delivers letters every day. It serves a different purpose to twitter - and people are still trying to find out what Twitter's main purpose is. Wait til either start charging for their services, then we'll have a winner and it won't be the paid for one.

over 6 years ago

Michaela Carmichael

Michaela Carmichael, Marketing Freelance Consultant at Freelance Marketing Consultant

Marketing campaigns must be integrated, using all available channels of the 'moment'.  Social networks start off being a broadcast message then can can get personal to specific reponses.  With CRM profiles, email can start off being personal and remain so.

over 6 years ago


seo firm

Well, I think that's very possible as social networking sites today are growing like mushrooms. Needless to say, they're everywhere. In fact, I think this trend will continue as long as they come. These sites are also said to be a threat to SE search, but not totally.

I also think that email will never die since it is through emails that newsletters are delivered, and emails look more professional. For me, it still feels good to read a letter while enjoying my privacy.

over 6 years ago


Komal Helyer, Head of Marketing at Pure360

In my opinion social networking is a great comms tool but I certainly don't think we're talking VHS to VOD technology replacement here. The beauty of email is its flexibility and the fact that if we want to, we can put it to the side where necessary. Social demands more immediacy of response and you'd struggle to find a business professional who would want to be interrupted by a social alert when they're in the zone.

There is also the question of where the boundary between a social and business account is, if the lines blur than people would struggle to stay focussed - we've already seen how distracting Facebook or even IM is to the working day.

I look forward to social developments but it won't ever replace my business email use, it'll just sit alongside it with my mobile phone.

over 6 years ago


John Clark

With all due respect: I have tackled Gartner's famous study on my blog several weeks ago and also responded back then when Emarketer.com talked about it on their blog. There is absolutely no link between what Gartner says and email marketing. Besides, what Gartner says is obvious, regardless of the data. I can't unfortunately link to my post in this comment but I explain it there in detail (but again, it was several weeks ago). I am most of all amazed that Gartner charges so much money for these findings. I posted about it on February 4th in case anyone cares.

over 6 years ago



Email is indeed a great tool and it will remain  as days goes by.  It will be more effective on the coming years!

over 6 years ago


Stephanie Wheeler

Garter may be true in the predictions made - I believe that it is very possible for social networking sites to serve as the primary vehicle of interpersonal communication in 20 percent of business users. I also believe that e-mail will run in a close second place. Although, e-mail is one entity in itself. Social Networking sites, on the other hands, has many different facets. Each networking site varies in features and design. They serve different purposes for different objectives and goals of a company or organization. There are blogs, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and countless over ways to communicate. The part of the post that I found very interesting were the quotes, specifically the one's that said e-mail and social networking would work hand-in-hand to achieve an overall successful experience and communication tool. E-mail will never die, but the idea of it acting as a glue that binds the social media together is enlightening. Only time will tell, but I believe e-mail will be here to stay, even if it means taking a back seat to social networking sites as a means of communication.

MOS Website: http://www.moscreative.com/

MOS Blog: http://blog.moscreative.com/

over 6 years ago


Mike Gera, Executive Marketing at RTS Marketing

Looking at the fate of Google wave, I don't think email is going anywhere. It's here to stay for a very long time to come. The problem with using social media for communication is privacy. Email is safe, private and easy to use which makes it an easy communication tool among the masses.

about 6 years ago

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