Tragedy 2.0

One of the topics to be explored at the upcoming Email Insider Summit is the role of e-mail in a Web 2.0 world. According to Wikipedia, "Web 2.0, a phrase coined by O'Reilly Media in 2004, refers to a supposed second-generation of Internet-based services-such as social networking sites, wikis, communication tools, and folksonomies-that emphasize online collaboration and sharing among users."

Bluestreak has done some interesting research on consumer attitudes toward these new technologies, but the value and adoption of certain Web 2.0 communication channels was made clear to me recently through some personal experiences.

A former colleague died. His widow used an online guestbook, which allowed people who wouldn't/couldn't/didn't attend the funeral to express their condolences and memories. If you've been through this, you know that seeing all the lives your loved one has touched is truly a comfort.



A neighbor's mother is in failing health and has had many ups and downs and issues with her care. It became such a chore for the neighbor to keep her siblings apprised of the situation that she started a blog to keep everyone up to date.

An old friend, living in another state, was in a terrible accident. I heard about it through an e-mail, which I forwarded to other friends without comment, and kept in touch with her status over the next several days entirely through text messages with her brother. Until my flight landed on my visit to her, we never spoke--which struck me as unusual, but at the same time, just right.

It led me to wonder: why did this "impersonal" communication feel so appropriate? Why did a layoff notice from Radio Shack via e-mail cause an uproar, while communicating about matters of life and death electronically was not only acceptable but helpful?

Ultimately, I concluded, it's all about the relationship. If a relationship exists, the channel can't make it impersonal. Without a relationship, the medium itself comes under attack.

So how can we improve our e-mail relationships with a mass audience?

As we tell our children, "to have a friend, be one." If we want to have relationships with our customers, we should first look to what we bring to the party. Are we assaulting our readers with marketing messages or focusing on the value we can provide? Are we obsessed with trying to read their minds through data and behavioral indicators or allowing them to tell us what they want, when they want it, through preference centers? Are we eschewing opportunities to develop relationships by ignoring mass e-mail replies and cutting customer service and call center budgets? Are we providing venues for our customers to interact with us and each other through forums and self-expression?

As the examples above demonstrate, the shift to 2.0 technologies is not just the province of early adopters and the young. For e-mail to remain relevant in this new reality, marketers must put a priority on fostering relationships.

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