Insight of the Week: Social Networking vs Email

March 20th, 2009
Author: Alex Payne

Last week, Nielsen Online released an authoritative look at the state of affairs of digital communication in a number of important countries worldwide.  This report was picked up by many influential blogs such as Mashable and RotorBlog.  DialogueMedia also chimed in on Open the Dialogue to bring a more nuanced understanding of the issues involved.

The report’s findings include:

  • Social networking grew twice as fast as email.
  • Social networking has greater reach than email.
  • Total time spent on Facebook grew by 566% over the previous year versus only 18% for “all internet” and 63% for member communities.
  • Social media’s highest growth came from the over 35 years old demographics.

Differences Between Email And Social Networks

The report clearly shows that the tools that are available to us for communication are constantly changing.  Arnold Zafra speculated that social networks would replace email on a RotorBlogpost titled “Is the Death of Email Upon Us?” while DialogueMedia’s post titled “Do Social Networks and Email Serve the Same Purpose?” argues that email and social networks serve distinct purposes.  The crux of the argument is that when used correctly, emails offer confidentiality, familiarity and a sense of importance to the reader in relation to other forms of digital communication.  Social networks are more public and therefore more impersonal.  Emails messages have to meet the needs of both the sender and the recipient; otherwise if it is useless to the reader it falls under the category of “spam”.  In social networks, the writer’s needs are met all the time, with some readers needs being met while other reader’s information needs are not.

What does this mean for PR and Marketing?

The report and reactions are especially important for PR and marketers as a taste of things to come.  As more and more newspapers close their doors or go all-digital, and reporters rely more and more on social networking services such as Twitter for pitches and scoops, the growing importance of social media as a tool for communications cannot be over emphasized.  At the same time, email is not dead; it will continue to have relevance. Social networking is not going to replace email, but rather social networking is an important complement to email.   

As PR professionals, adapting to this new environment will be our most important challenge. We need to use email as a tool who are keenly interested in what you have to say and use social networking as a way to “strengthen loose ties.”   Connections are our business and  both tools are already neccesary assets that should not be overlooked.

 

Co-written by: Nazim Uddin and Alex Payne

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