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The future of social media is email

by Frank Strong

Did you check your mailbox today?  I don’t mean email, I mean your 100% USPS grade mailbox.

Today, my mailbox had two mail order catalogs, a shopping flyer and a piece of political direct mail.  I placed them all directly into the recycling bin nearby without a glance. That’s pretty much the routine these days — there’s very little of value in snail mail these days.  It’s all junk.

Unfortunately the email inbox has followed a similar path.  I receive literally more than 300 emails a day, and I used to consider myself an email master.  Now, it’s all I can do to keep up.  I find deleting emails on my iPhone is the first thing I do when I wake up in the morning.

Gosh, that’s a depressing thought.  Heaven forbid I leave my desk for 10 minutes because I’ll come back to 20 messages.

The newsletters are the worst — often produced by the publishers that employ the very  journalists who also complain about PR pitches by email.  Every newsletter in the world now offers an “extra” that comes in the form of an additional email (or two) and a “most read of the week” email which contains headlines I’ve already either skimmed or read.

Worse, few publications offer a way to opt out of the extra newsletters without opting out of the content I actually want — it’s all or nothing.  I’m coming darn close to folding my cards and opting for nothing. Don’t get me wrong, I like newsletters, I subscribe to them for a reason, but I didn’t consent to the same content in triplicate.    

Someone smarter than me today had an interesting observation:  social media may well be going that route too.  Email has become a direct marketing tool, pounding the wall with a canoe paddle and as much spaghetti as possible — hoping something sticks.  Increasingly more and more of it is falling on the floor which makes a big mess someone has to clean up.  There’s an Italian chef somewhere upset about this too.

The irony is that email was intended to be a conversation tool, and one that marketers could use to nurture their prospects — the regular newsletter was one of those ways — but it’s been so abused, people are inclined to abandon it.  It’s gotten so out of control we’ve had to pass legislation.

For now social media is pretty good about policing itself; you can only jam up the gigabytes on social networks for so long before someone lets you have it publicly.  And when they do, you really get it good.  By that time, there’s a groundswell of people already so pissed off, and so angry, when they see that post hit, it gets retweeted, re-blogged, tubml-ed, liked and plus-ed up like a social signal Google doesn’t know what to do with.

I hope that’s not the way it goes.  I do think social media is viable medium for marketing, but I think it requires a softer sell, a consultative sell. We MUST ADD VALUE NOT NOISE. Persuasion over begging, or manipulation, for those without a moral compass.  In many ways, that’s why I think marketing looks a lot more like PR.

Photo credit:  yes, that’s my inbox at 9 a.m. — and I checked email at 10 p.m. the night before.  For real, for real. 

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