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E-mail: Still a killer app

killer app

Photo credit: Amazon.com

by Frank Strong

Unleashing the Killer App. Remember that book? For me it brings back a rush of memories. Equalfooting.com is a good example. Raised $140 million in VC funding, lead by Wharton grads, shuddered in 2000 or 2001. I cannot recall. It’s a blur. Almost surreal.

Harvard Business Press published that book in 1998, but a number of posts or studies of late on the topic of e-mail got me to thinking about it again. I pulled it off the shelf to have a look and thumb through the pages I carefully highlighted and tabbed a decade ago.

No Twitter handle on the back cover. No Facebook fan page. No blog link. Only a Web site — with a hyphen in the middle — which back then, must have been rather odd.

I was new to PR then. Bright eyed, thought I was hot because I landed at an agency — ready to seize the world — despite the fact that agency paid me a salary $15k less than the Army (which isn’t exactly know for extravagant salaries) did a year earlier. Funny though, the firm had the dough to pay someone to come in and water the plants. What a waste.

Anyway, Equalfooting.com targeted the MRO industry. Maintenance, repair and operations — small business that needed supplies – paint, ladders, hammers, whatever — could team up, buy in bulk, save money…and Equalfooting.com took a small slice. Seemed like brilliant in concept, but only in concept.

My supervisor at the time was working on a case study and interviewed a small business owner that provided some insightful market research: he said when I need a ladder — I need a ladder. I can’t wait around until 10 other people want ladders so that I can save twenty bucks.

We knew then the clock was ticking. It was the killer app that couldn’t. Didn’t read the book I suppose. I recall another managing director commenting to the effect…$140 million gone? Someone should go to jail.

For all the love of social media, there’s one killer app that has stood the test of time: e-mail. It still is an effective medium for direct marketing and media relations, provided the content is timely, targeted and relevant.

E-mail providers, especially the old-school Web-based providers like Hotmail missed the boat — they could have been Facebook, long before Facebook’s time. Plaxo almost got there, but now that it’s gone LinkedIn-style, I wish I still had the old plug-in for Outlook.

All this is supportive of my thesis that e-mail is still killer, but even so a chance lunch meeting the other day had me driving and tuning into the Diane Rehm show — and that’s when one of the guests said something that really drove it home:

When college kids first get to school they want two things — first an e-mail address and second, a Facebook account. They want the e-mail address so the can get a Facebook account. You can’t get a Facebook account without an e-mail address.

In fact, it’s virtually impossible to open a new account with any social media outlet without an e-mail address. Not MySpace, not Twitter, not LinkedIn, not Delicious, not Digg….come to think of it, I don’t think you were able to an Equalfooting.com account without an e-mail address.

Killer or not, it’s late and right after I publish this post, I’m going to bed. After of course, I check my e-mail.

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