Email Remains Resilient in Evolving Social Sphere

Apr 12, 2011

As social media becomes an increasingly pivotal part of everyday communication, overloaded email inboxes are starting to get a reputation as the old, rundown toy on the throwaway pile along with VHS tapes and beepers. Despite appearances to the contrary, email inboxes are not dying, they are growing. According to the International Data Corporation (IDC), 11.4 trillion person-to-person email messages were sent in 2009, and 12.9 trillion are expected to be sent in 2014.

Ed Brill, Director of Social Messaging and Collaboration for IBM, believes that email will continue to be popular because of its resilience to competing innovations. "What we've seen is a tool that has proven to be very adaptable to changing business and technological requirements," says Brill. "People started by using email as a replacement for paper memos and then it started to become a means of office communication. It's really adapted to many things over time."

Users in both business and personal environments have started to adopt other tools, such as Twitter or instant messaging. While email is still widely used, it is no longer the only form of communication reaching everyone. Where email remains a strong competitor in the social sphere, however, is in its security. The password-protected privacy of an inbox is more intimate than the publicity of social networking pages that can be found in a Google search.

"I think that [security] definitely highlights how email is still an important tool. There's certain communication that I need to make sure only goes to the right person and is encrypted for their use," says Brill. Many organizations, according to him, are willing to layer security requirements so that more work and sharing can be done on intranets between various business teams, but in the meantime, email is still a mainstay.

Erin Traudt, Research Director of Enterprise Collaboration and Social Solutions for IDC, believes that email is still the natural and perhaps less controversial way most businesses communicate. "As consumer social media has gained increasing traction in businesses, it has made enterprises take a deeper look at security practices and corporate social media policies," says Traudt.

Generational shifts have caused concern about email use due the widespread social media adoption of young users. According to Brill, people coming out of college have been expected to use email less but this hasn't proven to be true. Young hires have actually encouraged communications practices to evolve in business environments because of established familiarity and interest in new social tools. Traudt expects technologies to continue to blend due to younger workers. She believes, however, that email will still remain an important component of social interaction within a work environment.

"If you aren't logged into Facebook you can still get notified on who commented on your wall post or sent you a direct message through email," says Traudt. "Many companies are implementing social business strategies and adopting social technologies in order to attract the right talent, but email and enterprise social software will coexist for a long time within businesses."

As new communication services evolve, email is expected to regress, but in a positive sense. Inboxes have become flooded with SPAM, solicitation, and chain emails. As users rely on social media for more instant communication, email use will return to its roots of dealing with important tasks that need individual attention.

"From a market perspective, I still see email continuing to grow although the shear volume of emails sent may begin to decline," said Traudt. "If anything, email messages sent will be more valuable and targeted messages instead of trying to be a mass collaboration vehicle."

When it comes to social tools including email it seems that each will evolve in a way that complements and adds value to its specific use. According to Traudt, individual user needs and preferences will dictate what platforms people use to communicate with one another. "For some, it will be Twitter. Some will prefer texts. Some will prefer email," says Traudt. "It depends on the context of the relationship, nature of the message, and information being shared."