Posts Tagged ‘social networks’

Insight of the Week: Social Networking vs Email

Friday, March 20th, 2009

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

Do Social Networks and Email Serve the Same Purpose?

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

Or more importantly, are people communicating the same things in social networking websites as they are in email?

Mashable announced last week that social networking is more popular than email.  This was based on a recent study conducted by Nielsen Online which ranked “Member Communities” as “the fourth most popular online sector after search, portals and PC software applications” with personal email being ranked fifth on the list.

Arnold Zafra at RotorBlog delves into the reasons for this decline on his post: “Is the Death of Email Upon Us?” According to him, Spam is email’s main problem which, so far, social networking sites lack.  Spam is impersonal and violates the purpose of email.  I do agree that with him that comparing the two may be a bit unfair.  Email has matured over the last couple of decades with all its flaws showing, while social networking has just recently burst onto the scene and still discovering its true potential.

It is worth understanding what each of these channels provide.  Emails offer one-to-one communication with a degree of confidentiality not available if posted in a blog or social networking website.  Yes, you can set up a distribution list to let everyone know what you are doing right now, but that would probably be the fastest way of alienating your friends and contacts by “spamming” them and filling up their inbox with your life’s minutia.  It is impersonal and is best left to Twitter.  Likewise, would you want to post something meant for your significant other on your blog for the world to read including friends, family (mom and dad) and strangers?  Whatever it is, I don’t want to know it, though I’m sure some might.  Communication on social networking is impersonal, just as email is more impersonal compared to postal mail.  The channels we use communicate to the receiver the level of importance we give them.

Many of the social networking websites actually recognize this fact.  No wonder Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn offer email as one of the services available on their websites.  Some are closed systems, but essentially, they recognize the need for that level of privacy and the message it sends to the receiver about the value and importance we place on them over everyone else.

So, is social networking going to make email obsolete?  I am not ready to jump on this band wagon.  It is far more prudent to view these channels on a spectrum that measures the level of importance/intimacy accorded to the receiver merely from the channel we use to communicate with them.  Social networking complements traditional email, just as email complements fax service and traditional postal mail.  Unless a new medium is created that exactly replicates the purpose of email, I am afraid, email is here to stay.

Some facts/issues to keep in mind about the Nielsen study:

  • Nielsen Online defines “member communities” as both social networking websites and blogging websites.  So, these would include popular social networking websites such as Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn as well as blogging websites such as and among many others.
  • “The terms ‘Global’ or ‘World’ encompass the following countries . . . USA, Brazil, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and Australia. ( . . . Japanese data isn’t included in any global figures.)”  Interestingly, China and India are missing from the research, countries that are likely to make up a significant portion of Internet users.
  • The study focuses only on “personal email”.  Organizational use of email is not included.
  • Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn, and virtually all the other social networking websites incorporate email as one of the features.