If today’s social networks won’t kill email, what will?
How many times have you heard someone say social networks will eventually replace email as a communications tool and marketing channel? When I hear this I think to myself, “How in the world will email be replaced by Facebook, Twitter or Google+? It’s not realistic!” Until recently, I couldn’t put my finger on it but something in my gut was saying that will never happen if social networks stay in their current form.
There have been a number of articles written about how Facebook will replace the need for an email address and become they way you access online applications and niche networks like Klout, Instagram, Spotify, etc. There are even some companies that are no longer using email to communicate internally. Instead they use business social networks like Yammer and Chatter to communicate. But when you consider what’s common with these examples, email is the gateway to access platforms.
In business, email marketing is the most digitally direct way to reach someone and one of the most important revenue generating tools for many business types, even for social networks. Let’s consider Twitter. In 2012, Twitter acquired Summify, a social news aggregator. I was a user of Summify right through the acquisition. I loved getting emails that showed what were the most popular articles shared by the people I follow and who shared them. Twitter has integrated Summify into their product and today sends you daily summaries about what tweets were popular and who is similar to those you follow, by email. Because of email, Twitter has seen increased utilization of their platform.
As you read on, ask yourself this: Can you talk to your Google+ friends via Facebook? Can you tweet a friend on Google+ via Twitter? Can you add a Facebook connection to a circle on Google+? If you have a Gmail email address can you email someone with a Yahoo address?
Social networks, in their current form, are platforms. Email is defined by specific protocols.
Social networks are platforms that exist with in a centralized network of servers. This means that social networks are stuck within the boundaries of their own environment. Unless they have special permission, they cannot communicate with other social networks. There are rules that exist within the platform that all users to communicate but once you step outside the platform special tools like “API’s” (translators) must be used in order to communicate. This differs from email. When you send an email to another email account, the server delivers the message because of set protocols. Simply put, email servers can talk to other email servers.
Social networks, in their current form, are define by a corporation. Email protocols developed by a consortium.
This is easy to understand. Facebook, for example, is a social network platform that is owned and managed by Facebook, Inc. If Facebook, Inc. was to cease operations, so would Facebook.com, unless it’s assets were purchased by another corporation. Think, MySpace. With regards to email, a consortium of engineers from universities and corporations come together to discuss changes to protocols and even new ones. The most recent protocol for email was IMAP, which allows email clients to access email on a remote email server.
Social networks, in their current form, are centralized. Email is decentralized.
Social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Google+, have applications that support all of the core activity you do within their platform. Messaging, picture processing, status updates, managing connections are all done within the confines of the platform. It’s centralized. Email, on the other hand, can talk to different servers all over the world. Email server ownership is not centralized, meaning, one company does not own all the email servers in the world. Email providers can develop their own applications and create a unique experience for users. For example, Gmail and Yahoo mail users can communicate but have different ways of managing their email.
Another very important point about email being decentralized is that you can take your address book with you to another provider. When it comes to social networks, you can’t take you connections with you.
So, what will kill email?
Social as a protocol
The only way email will ever die is if social networks were a protocol. Imagine a social networking experience where you can change service providers without losing your connections. Imagine if you decided to change providers because another one has better apps, while keeping your username (think porting your phone number) as well as your connections. Imagine a decentralized social networking ecosystem. This protocol must be open and agreed upon by people just like those that developed the protocols for email. It’s in the works. Check out Tent.io.
What does this mean for marketers?
In the grand internet of things, marketing will never stop changing. As a marketer in the 21st century, it’s up to you to stay on the bleeding edge of the latest marketing technologies. Those that choose to market behind the curve will stay behind the curve struggling to stay in the race.
If social were to evolve into a protocol, this will open up the ability for marketers to develop an infinite number of ways to attract new prospects. This would give marketers the ability to create highly relevant and attractive experiences that tell the business’s story. In social’s current form we are limited by the platform we market on. Eventually, marketers will ask for the ability to create highly unique experiences on social platforms. Social platforms will struggle to respond and fail.