In the mid-1990s, I worked at a company that introduced a collaborative e-mail station for staff to share on a single computer. I remember how afraid management was to allow e-mail access to everyone. Management warned us that e-mail was a dangerous privelige and the information could just as easily end up in a black hole for anyone to find. Nothing good could come of using e-mail, they told us. It was much safer and easier to use a telephone.
In the mid-1990s, I worked at a company that introduced a collaborative e-mail station for staff to share on a single computer. I remember how afraid management was to allow e-mail access to everyone. Management warned us that e-mail was a dangerous privelige and the information could just as easily end up in a black hole for anyone to find. Nothing good could come of using e-mail, they told us. It was much safer and easier to use a telephone.We’ve come a long way in the past decade. (Someday I will tell my children that story and they will think their mommy is older than dirt.)Indeed, the ‘killer app’ of the first part of the Internet boom was e-mail. E-commerce, search engines, music, and video rapidly followed, and now there’s social media. E-mail has held on through the past years as arguably the king of the Internet, used by people of all ages.Not anymore. E-mail has taken a backseat to social media, just as telephones took a backseat to smart phones and Skype.According to an article posted on SearchEngineWatch.com, “Generation Z finds e-mail antiquated and passé, so they simply ignore it.” Hitwise general manager of global research agreed, stating: “Kids today prefer one to many communication; e-mail to them is antiquated.”We’ve moved from ‘fearful adoption’ to ‘killer app’ to ‘antiquated’ in record speed.E-mail isn’t entirely going away, but it just may not be the first means of digital communication in a world that is becoming more and more defined by social media. Younger generations prefer social media messaging because it acts like a real conversation among friends, capable of virtually instantaneous responses and including words, pictures, videos, and audio.Recently, I connected on Facebook with my 13-year-old nephew. I’m convinced he spends more time chatting with friends on Facebook than he does anywhere else in life. That same nephew stayed with us during the holiday break, and rarely took his thumbs off his phone. He couldn’t even watch an action-packed movie without texting someone or updating his Facebook status.Social networks are growing in popularity with Generation X (27-44), too. Thirty-somethings account for the fast-growing Facebook and LinkedIn users. Connecting with colleagues via social networking is considered more personal and easier than making telephone calls or sending e-mails because people are constantly in dialogue with one another and updating their status.It’s much easier to read your contacts’ social networking posts and stay informed on a daily basis than to send a series of e-mails periodically to individuals asking, “How are you doing?” or “What are you up to?”Another sign that e-mail is falling from superior status — people are no longer exchanging e-mails; they’re exchanging social media information. “Are you on Facebook?” is the new “Can I get your phone number?” And just as people use Google as a verb — “Google it” — they’re starting to use phrases like “Facebook me.”E-mail has been one of the best performing channels for businesses for years, and companies have spent money building up and managing databases.Now businesses will need to slightly adjust their way of thinking. First it was about gathering databases of addresses and phone numbers, then it was about gathering e-mail databases. Today, communication with fans and consumers is more likely to occur on someone else’s database (Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc.).Remember: Younger generations don’t want to be sold anything and they don’t want to be a number instead of a name. Younger generations want meaningful relationships.In the past, a meaningful relationship was reserved for friendships that had been cultivated over several years time. Today, meaningful relationships are defined by a common connection or interest, and furthered through on-going dialogue and the opportunity to share the emotions, thoughts, achievements, and people in one’s life.Good businesses will realize that e-mail doesn’t reign supreme anymore. It’s not all about the instant win of getting someone into a database or even the formality of always communicating one-to-one.Rather, it is about cultivating relationships via social media. And if done correctly, your business will have a relationship that lasts a lifetime.