Email Use Increasing, Despite What WSJ Says

The Wall Street Journal is the latest to jump on the "email is dead" bandwagon. The article, "Why Email No Longer Rules... and what that means for the way we communicate," opens with the proclamation, "Email has had a good run as king of communications. But its reign is over."

Sound familiar? It should. In 2006 USA Today published an article that opened with the statement, "Email is so last millennium" and talked about text messaging trends among teens. A year earlier, Pew Internet published research warning, "Email is still a fixture in teens' lives, but IM is preferred."



Sometimes timing is everything. This morning we released a study titled, "Is Email Marketing Endangered?" The study is based on responses from over 2,300 Internet users in the U.S. and the U.K., who were asked, "Over the past six months, are you doing the following things LESS often, MORE often, or about the SAME amount?" about email, social networks, text messaging, and instant messaging.

Based on what we learned in the study, it makes perfect sense that the Wall Street Journal reporter, Jessica Vascellaro, would take the position she did.

Through her biographical details on LinkedIn (yes, this is ironic, but the entire debate is full of ironies), I inferred that Vascellaro is a mid-20s female. As such, she fits squarely into the demographic we identified for individuals who use social media most often. The article may represent her personal experience, but this experience is not representative of the broader market.  Moreover, it is a simple-minded argument. Did her editor request the article via DM on Twitter? Did she post the article to her Facebook wall? Call me crazy, but I'm betting this transaction took place through email.

Email's future is looking even brighter today than it was just three years ago. Here's why:

Increased use of social media drives increased use of email. Two weeks ago, Nielsen published "Is Social Media Impacting How Much We Email?" -- which found heavy social media users are also using email more, not less, often.  Likewise, our research found that increased use of social media is correlated with increased use of email. Among those using social media more over the past six months, 44% also report using email more, .... compared to only 4% using email less.

Even non-social-media users are using email more. While heavy social media users are definitely driving more email consumption, this is only part of the story. Social media does not explain why 22% of those who have yet to jump into Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or any other social network also report using email more often over the past six months, compared to only 7% who say they are using email less often.

People use email more as they get older. It is well documented that teens do not use email often. Our research supports this. However, we found that the largest uptick in email use occurs when students enter college and then continues as these students graduate and enter the workforce.

Email serves as the foundation for a world that is increasingly reliant on digital communication. "Email is dead" declarations are built on the faulty premise that people swap one form of digital communication for another. It simply is not a zero sum game. Our research shows that people who communicate more via one digital communication vehicle tend to communicate more via other digital communication channels.

Smartphones are driving more email use. Vascellaro's thesis is that email is better suited to a Web 1.0 world, where people were "logging off and on, checking our messages in bursts," but that a new host of always-on tools "are much faster than email, and more fun." Smartphones bridge this gap and make email available to a mobile audience. In essence, email is always on for smartphone users. 43% of Blackberry users and 42% of iPhone users report using email more often over the past six months, compared to fewer than 3% who are using email less often. Monday, a press release from the Radicati Group estimated 139 million mobile email users. They also said, "Over the next four years, we expect this figure to increase at an average annual rate of 68%, totaling over 1 billion mailboxes by year-end 2013."

Smartphones are also changing how email is used among college students. Professor Mike Hanley, director of the Institute for Mobile Media Research, has been tracking the interactive and mobile habits of college students for more than five years. While email use has been declining among college students for several years, this trend has reversed in 2009. The reason? Smartphones. As students get access to email-capable phones, they are using email more. As Hanley explains, "The ability for students to have email on their smartphones fits their mobile lifestyles perfectly. Mobile email untethers them from a computer and a smartphone gives them email access everywhere."

As the author of this report, I know that anyone who agrees with the premise of the WSJ article can take an easy shot at my research. I work for an email service provider and thereby have a vested interest in the status quo, right? True. However, I would be a fool to think that by denying reality I can somehow alter the course of history. I have no such delusions. If self-preservation were my motive and I saw the impending doom of email, I would be jumping up and down on the desk of my CEO telling him we need to change the course of our business. If that didn't work, I would seek employment elsewhere. I am, after all, a pretty practical guy.

The complete 2009 Email Utilization Whitepaper is  available here.

3 comments about "Email Use Increasing, Despite What WSJ Says".
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  1. Sue Coore from High Impact Presentations, October 14, 2009 at 12:37 p.m.

    The headline created readers. The truth of the WSJ article was buried in the last paragraph, "Now, people can use the right tool for the right task."

    Great, great post! Thanks.

  2. Jared stivers, October 14, 2009 at 1:43 p.m.

    That first rebuttal cracks me up "Increased use of social media drives increased use of email". Sure but for what? It's like a store that sees its foot traffic double in two months, that would be great unless everyone was coming back to return their items.

    The big value email had was the connection between marketing messages and personal communications. Social media has firmly inserted itself into the personal communication niche at the expense of email and it's only getting worse.

    Email marketers should be marketers first and email advocates second.

  3. Mark Daniels, October 14, 2009 at 5:22 p.m.

    I read the artcle and wondered what the numbers looked like in the years following the invention and deployment of the telephone versus the telegraph?

    Or railroad travel compared to horse 'n coach.

    Paragraph 6 said it... "While email continues to grow, toher types of communication services are growing far faster" with August '09 - '08 showing email growth at +21% and social networking at +31%.

    Whether a method of communication, a public company's stock, or an idea- growth tends to be higher for anything 'new' and levels off anything more widely used, established, and accepted; as well as when there are more options.

    Your research feels sound, as does the WSJ article- It is not so much that one type of communication is replacing another as it is that a person communicates differently at different times in the course of the day and his / her life for different reasons and based on the technology available.

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