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    « A Workplace Without Email? | Main | Where's the Employee Handbook again? »

    You've got mail, you know Email

    The marketing research firm comScore recently released its 2010 US Digital Year in Review report that measures and analyzes trends in digital communications, social networking, device usage, and so on.  The report is a fascinating examination of the forces that are shaping and changing the way we consume, share, and even produce content and information.  

    There are a ton of interesting charts and data points in the 2010 report, and several that are/should be interesting and important for leaders of organizations and HR professionals that have an eye towards how people demonstrate their preferences and inclinations in the consumption and interactions with digital content.  One of the most notable findings in the comScore report has to do with the changes in the usage of Web-based email (Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Hotmail, and so on) in 2010.  Despite an overall increases in broadband access and total time spent online, web-based email usage actually declined 8% in 2010.

    See the chart below from the comScore report:

    Most notable in the results are the really dramatic declines in web-based email usage in the 12-17, and 25-34 age brackets, while the 18- 24 cohort was essentially flat in 2010. The only age groups that showed an increase in web-based email usage in 2010 were the 55 years and up groups, largely rationalized with explanations like 'C'mon Grandpa, get an email account so we can keep in touch'. For what it's worth, these same age groups also saw double digit percentage increases in their use of Facebook and Twitter.  Essentially, these older folks are getting online in greater numbers, and more or less doing the same things their kids have grown accustomed to.

    What might this trend in decreased preference for web-based email as a method of communication by younger generations mean for the present and future workforce?

    Well, it could mean nothing I suppose.  Or next to nothing. I mean once those 15 year olds grow up a bit and start entering the working world they will simply be forced to use email. I mean, email makes the working world go around, right?  Besides, you are the boss, not them, and if you declare that 99% of your electronic communications will be emails, then by golly that is the end of the discussion. Get with the program, Junior, just go easy on the 'Reply to all' button.

    Or these macro trends in technology consumption, particularly by the upcoming generations of workers could be really important to the organization tomorrow, (maybe even sooner than you think).  Some would argue that the growing popularity and adoption of SMS text messages and social network status updates and connections as the de facto means of digital communication for a generation may and will inevitably change modern business.

    The data continue to reflect shifts from the more formal and traditional means of electronic communication (email, voice mail), to more social, casual, and dynamic ones (SMS, social networks). The next set of new workers to join your organization will most likely see nothing at all unusual about sending hundreds of SMS messages a day, and looking over their Facebook news feed while brushing their teeth. 

    What they are not as likely to understand, accept, and flourish in, is an environment where they might get 200 emails per day.  Emails are kind of long, mostly kind of boring, and usually have things like 'greetings' and 'salutations'.

    Come to think of it, you may need to update the old acceptable use policy, to explain what a 'salutation' is, the next generation probably never heard of the term, and even Grandma is getting sick of crafting them as well.

    It's a brave, strange new world out there. 


    Postscipt - after finishing this post, I saw this piece on ReadWriteWeb - Smartphones outsell PCs for the first time ever. Stay thirsty my friends.

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    Reader Comments (5)

    Don't know what this means from an HR perspective since most if not all email from and within an organization would be through some type of server application vs. web-based. All this really tells me is that people who don't use corporate email are using email less. I would guess that email used outside of the workplace would be used to update family and friends - which now is being handled more and more through FB and other "social" networks.

    Now... if we compared use of corporate email over time that would be interesting. I'd guess that any company that installed a knowledge sharing or wiki application in their system would show a decrease as well since most email inside a company is about updating projects and managing information - now done on the wiki versus a mass email to a team.

    I'm guessing that overall as you expand the possible tools available you'd see a decrease in the use of the old tools for the new. Big question in my mind - is the amount of e-communication growing as well? Is the pie getting bigger? Probably but curious as to how much it has grown.

    February 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Hebert

    Last year I was discussing the use of email with my then 16 year old daughter. She had a strange look on her face and said, "Dad, you don't use email still, do you? No one uses email." At first I felt super-outdated, but then realized exactly what you've said here Steve. When she enters the world of work, she's going to be overwhelmed managing her Inbox. For those of us who've been working a while (a-hem)..or maybe longer...it's a struggle. For the new wave of professionals, it will be a shock.

    But I won't tell her I told you so.

    February 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJay Kuhns

    Paul, hit the nail on the head. The study authors dropped the ball completely by not measuring corporate, non-Web, e-mail usage. My bet is that it continues to explode -- and drives people crazy with CC:s.

    We all know the young 'uns don't have the patience to write a complete, grammatical and properly spelled and punctuated sentence. And therefore have abandoned e-mail for texting. In fact, the ones I know don't even answer their smart phones anymore, mistaking the ring (I guess) for some sort of alert from an app running on the phone.

    Glad you made the point, Steve, that work changes people every bit as much as people change work. A few years back, many corporations started offering writing course for new employees who couldn't...at least clearly. I'm sure HR will be offering e-mail seminars in the future.

    February 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBill Kutik

    Funny you bring up the grammar thing Bill. The other day at lunch a colleague of mine was just asked to do a session for SR. Execs on "grammar" in emails and documents. It's not just the young'uns that can't write real good.

    February 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Hebert

    Great information Steve, thanks for sharing.

    Paul: I'm starting to see noticeable trend of companies moving to hosted email such as Google Apps email or hosted Exchange and these solutions predominately use Web based front ends. I would definitely agree with you that Knowledge Management sites reduce the number of emails. Documents, project status and knowledge content is posted centrally and heavily indexed for searching thus reducing the need for email messages. Internal microblogging apps such as Yammer and SharePoint/Newsgator also reduce the need for email message but definitely increase e-communication.

    Jay: Yes, managing the inbox will be a challenge when today's teenager enter the workforce BUT if the current trend that I see continues, the use of email will decrease in favor of other e-communication (as Paul correctly pointed out).

    Bill: I would also be curious to see a survey of corporate email usage but my crystal ball says we should be seeing a reduction in corporate email usage. On my team, we use SharePoint, Instant Messages and text messaging as alternatives to email. Most of our college hires avoid email like the plague when they can. HR departments have already started re-tooling their "Effective Communication" classes to cover email, IM, telecommuters and geographically dispersed project teams.

    February 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Krupa

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