One of the frequently touted benefits of social media is the avoidance of email. Email is a powerful tool for individual communication but it crumbles quickly when a group of people start communicating in a common thread. The replies from different individuals start coming back at different times, often responding when the issue has already evolved. Email is a great communication tool but a lousy collaboration tool.
Social media (and its predecessor, collaboration software) makes it possible to see all the replies and conversations in a single place, in a logical order and visible to everyone who should see them. Social media is clearly a better choice for team collaboration than email. But the big question is:
Will social media replace email?
I don’t think so. At least not that soon. One of the major achievements of email was the concept of inbox. The inbox became the one, single place to look for what’s going on. This is the one place where you find everything. In a way, the inbox serves as a task list. The things to do are right there.
In fact, workers are automatically drawn to their inbox when they have a free minute - and the inbox tells them what to do next. This type of work habit is probably not the most proactive and productive, but it happens all too often.
Right now, every vendor is adding social capabilities to their system - ERP, CRM, sales force automation, enterprise content management, office infrastructure - everybody has a story. And as organizations run most of these systems, they are ending up with a multitude of social media deployments. Today, there is no such thing as a common social inbox.
The big success of email was the establishment of a single inbox and social media will need to come up with an alternative to seriously challenge email. Facebook understands that - at least it appears that way. Facebook Connect allows users to log into Facebook through other applications and that could be the basis for Facebook becoming the communication center of the social universe.
Facebook, however, is not an enterprise solution and enterprises need a secure alternative. In the mean time, email remains the common denominator and all social media solutions rely on email notifications to get the users’ attention. That makes social media hardly a replacement for email.
Perhaps, email does not need to be replaced.