Sunday, January 16, 2011

Will Social Media Replace Email?

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.


  1. Hi Lubor:
    To be fair, Gmail keeps all the email related to a single subject in an easy to follow thread, but of course, there's no way to track all of the communication across a single project without setting up filters and folders and so forth.

    The alternative for the in box is your feed page as in Facebook. There are lots of companies offering a business alternatives to Facebook including Yammer, Jive, Socialtext, Socialcast and many others.

    Heck, even SharePoint gives you a single point of reference if you choose to use it.

    I think you're selling Enterprise 2.0 tools short to be honest. Email has to evolve or it will be replaced eventually. It's just too one-dimensional to survive.


  2. Thanks for your comment, Ron. The issue I am trying to highlight is not the lack of a conversation feed in social media tools but rather the fact that there are too many such tools each with its own feed. If the sales force ends up using Chatter, they will not likely engage with their customers in communities on their web site.

    Perhaps the software will be able to ingest each other conversations but that does not seem a priority today. Even when it's done today (e.g. when my Twitter feed is consumed by LinkedIn), it leads to a more passive consumption rather than participation. My contacts are active either on Twitter or on LinkedIn. Rarely on both.

    Either way, a lot will change in the next couple of years. Thanks again - I enjoy your blogs and articles.

  3. Hi Lubor:
    It seems to me you're mixing up open web social networking with business social networking. I agree that there are few tools so far that do a good job of combining your social network information into a single interface akin to the In Box (although Tweet Deck and Hoot Suite are trying).

    But if you look at the tools that have been developed for business purposes, you no longer have the same issues you have on the open web because by its nature, an organization is a closed community. What's more, these tools increasingly enable users to surface only the news that's most relevant to the job they are doing (projects, teams, work groups and so forth).

    Some tools are even trying to do this intelligently by following what you do and displaying information based on your behavior.

    These tools might not be ready to take over the In Box just yet, but they are certainly close and those organizations that are further along in using these tools might be on the way already.

    Thanks for the conversation. This is a great blog.