Email: Nearly five decades old and still going strong.

It seems almost unbelievable that the first e-mail was sent nearly 50 years ago. That makes e-mail older than the majority of the people who live in the United States.

But in another sense, e-mail seems timeless. That’s underscored in the results from Adobe’s latest Consumer E-Mail Survey Report, released this past month.

One of the key findings from that survey is that ~85% of the respondents see their use of e-mail increasing or staying the same over the next two years.

Even many Gen Z respondents – people in their 20s – see their use of e-mail in similar terms; ~41% of them predict that their use of e-mail at work will increase, and ~30% see the same happening in their personal e-mail use.

In the work environment, e-mail has solidified itself as the preferred method of communication for many of the activities of daily interaction. When compared against other methods of communication like phone, face-to-face interaction, instant messaging, video chat, file sharing and enterprise social networks, e-mail comes out on top in many instances:

  • Communicating status updates on a project: ~60% prefer e-mail, followed by phone (~16%)
  • Delivering feedback: ~52% prefer e-mail, followed by phone (~30%)
  • Getting a brief question answered: ~35% prefer e-mail, followed by face-to-face (~25%)

And yet … there are a number of tasks where a face-to-face conversation is more preferred as a communications method:

  • Suggesting a new approach or idea
  • Asking for help on a big project
  • Alerting your manager or boss of an important issue

But without a doubt, “quitting your job” is where more than three-fourths of respondents consider a face-to-face communication as the most appropriate method, compared to just 11% who consider e-mail to be appropriate for communicating that kind of news.

These characteristics serve to illustrate that e-mail’s big power is in its efficiency and effectiveness for facilitating more “transactional” communications. But for topics and tasks that require more social finesse – like asking for help, pitching a new idea, or discussing problems – face-to-face interaction still rules the day.

This explains e-mail’s ubiquity and its staying power. It’s quite elegant, really; tt does what it needs to do – communicating quickly and efficiency without unnecessary complications.

  • E-mail enables both send and receive to communicate on their respective timelines, without disruption.
  • It provides an archival record of communication (just ask Wikileaks).
  • It’s fully integrated into people’s work flows.

This last point helps explain why so many “alternative” communication methods fail to catch on in a major way. The next time you hear of some start-up enterprise promising to abolish the inbox, take it with a big grain of salt.

History and logic would suggest that something, someday would overtake e-mail and make it obsolete. After all, in the 50 years since e-mail has been with us, we’ve see all sorts of other communications tools lose their luster – think VCRs, FAX machines, tape decks, QR codes, and information on CD-ROM.

But e-mail may be the exception. It’s pretty amazing how something that’s changed so little over the decades is still such an integral part of our communications.

More findings from the 2017 Adobe survey are summarized here.

Facebook attempts to shake the “Fakebook” mantle.

There are a growing number of reasons why more marketers these days are referring to the largest social media platform as “Fakebook.”

Back last year, it came to light that Facebook’s video view volumes were being significantly overstated – and the outcry was big enough that the famously tightly controlled social platform finally agreed to submit its metrics reporting to outside oversight.

To be sure, that decision was “helped along” by certain big brands threatening to significantly cut back their Facebook advertising or cease it altogether.

Now comes another interesting wrinkle. According to Facebook’s statistics, the social network claims it can reach millions of Americans across several important age demographics, as follows:

  • 18-24 year-olds: ~41 million people
  • 25-34 year-olds: ~60 million people
  • 35-49 year-olds: ~61 million people

There’s one slight problem with these stats:  U.S. Census Bureau data indicates that the total number of people living in the United States falling in the 18-49 age grouping is 137 million.

That’s a substantially lower figure than the 162 million people counted by Facebook – 25 million (18%) smaller, to be precise.

What could be the reason(s) for the overcount? As reported by Business Insider journalist Alex Heath, a Facebook spokesperson has attributed the “over-counting” to foreign tourists engaging with Facebook’s platform while they’re in the United States.

That seems like a pretty lame explanation – particularly since U.S. tourism outside the country is a reciprocal activity that likely cancels out foreign tourism.

There’s also the fact that there are multiple Facebook accounts maintained by some people. But it stretches credulity to think that multiple accounts explain more than a small portion of the differential.

Facebook rightly points out that its audience reach stats are designed to estimate how many people in a given geographic area are eligible to see an ad that a business might choose to run, and that this projected reach has no bearing on the actual delivery and billing of ads in a campaign.

In other words, the advertising would be reaching “real” people in any case.

Still, such discrepancies aren’t good to have in an environment where many marketers already believe that social media advertising promises more than it actually delivers.  After all, “reality check” information like this is just a click away in cyberspace …

Free-speech “confusion-in-advertising” continues unabated.

Sparring over the guarantees and limits of free speech seems to be growing rather than abating.

How controversial? The advertising rejected by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority as being too political for public display.

The most recent indication of just how much confusion there is on the topic of free speech comes in the form of a recently filed lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union against the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) – a public agency popularly known as the DC Metro.

The issue sparking the lawsuit related to a number of ads which the WMATA refused to display due to concerns over the advertising content being “too political for public display.”

Countering WMATA’s efforts to avoid “offending” its customers, the ACLU chose to sue on behalf of itself as well as three companies and organizations that includes:

  • Carafem – a healthcare network specializing in birth control and medication abortion
  • Milo Worldwide, LLC – the corporate entity behind the libertarian political advocate and “extreme commentator” Milo Yiannopolous
  • PETA Foundation (aka FSAP – Foundation to Support Animal Protection) – an animal rights/welfare organization

The lawsuit claims that WMATA refused to display advertising from these organizations for fear of offending some of the people who use its transportation services.

In announcing its intention to defend itself against the ACLU suit, a WMATA spokesperson stated:

“In 2015, WMATA’s board of directors changed its advertising forum to a nonpublic forum and adopted commercial advertising guidelines that prohibit issue-oriented ads, including political, religious and advocacy ads. WMATA intends to vigorously defend its commercial advertising guidelines, which are reasonable and viewpoint-neutral.”

On the point of whether the advertising in question is “issues-oriented,” there is sharp disagreement.

Gabe Walters, manager of legislative affairs for the PETA Foundation, emphasizes that “the government cannot pick and choose who gets to speak based on their viewpoint – no matter how controversial.”

A spokesperson for Milo Yiannopoulos echoed the PETA Foundation statement: “On this issue we are united:  It is not for the government to chase so-called ‘controversial’ content out of the public square.”

Considering the ads that were rejected, a case could be made that they’re hardly “controversial” on their face:

  • The Milo Worldwide ads featured a photo of Milo Yiannopoulos.
  • The Carafem ad copy stated simply “for abortion up to 10 weeks.”
  • The PETA ad showed a pig with the caption, “I’m ME, not MEAT. See the Individual. Go Vegan.”
  • The ACLU ad stated the First Amendment language verbatim.

The ACLU suit contends that none of the advertising in question negates any kind of fundamental right to free speech. Moreover, the abortion pill provided by Carafem is FDA-approved as well as accepted by the American Medical Association.

Even more problematic for the WMATA’s defense, at the same time the agency was rejecting the PETA ad, it approved one from Chipotle promoting a menu item made with pork.

The only difference between them according to the ACLU? The Chipotle ad sends the message that it’s good to eat pork, whereas the PETA ad says the opposite.

Looking at the contours of the lawsuit and the facts of the case, I think the WMATA defense is on pretty shaky ground, and for this reason, I’m pretty sure that the ACLU lawsuit is going to succeed.

Indeed, it’s somewhat distressing that such a suit had to be filed at all, because its point is the First Amendment and what it’s all about: protecting everyone’s speech.

That people are having to re-litigate the issue of free speech in 2017 speaks volumes about the level of confusion that has been introduced into the public sphere in decent years.

It’s time to clear the air.

Al-Jazeera axes the “Comments” section on its English-language website.

What took them so long?

This past week, al-Jazeera.com, the English-language website run by the Qatar-based international media company, announced that it is disabling the comments section on its site.

In a written statement, the company complained that what was originally designed to “serve as a forum for thoughtful and intelligent debate that would allow our global audience to engage with one another” had devolved into a free-for-all, with the comments sections “hijacked by users hiding behind pseudonyms spewing vitriol, bigotry, racism and sectarianism.”

“The possibility of having any form of debate was virtually nonexistent,” the al-Jazeera statement added – as if any further explanation for their action was needed.

I have a comment of my own in response to al-Jazeera: “Welcome to reality.”

Al-Jazeera is hardly an innocuous website in cyberspace. It reports on some of the most explosive developments affecting the most volatile regions of the world.  Considering the sparring parties in these never-ending conflicts, complaining about “sectarianism” is almost laughable.

Is there a more “sectarian” group of people on the face of the earth than those who are exorcised about the inhabitants of the Middle East – or of Muslims, Christians and Jews in general? I don’t know of any.

As for the comments section being a repository of derision and hate, how is anyone surprised? What other result could one expect – especially since there was little or no attempt by al-Jazeera personnel to moderate the comments section?

The fact is, unmoderated comments sections that also allow for poster anonymity are a blanket invitation for “the inmates running the asylum.” Comments that are left in these “anything’s allowed” forums chase the well-intentioned participants away – and fast.

On the other hand, I’ve found plenty of well-moderated forums and comments sections that are as valuable as the underlying articles themselves.

That doesn’t happen all by itself, of course. Good moderation takes effective policies – requiring commentators to identify themselves for a start.  It also requires an ever-watchful eye.

Evidently, al-Jazeera and others like them found the not-insignificant effort required to perform this degree of moderation to be unworthy of their time or financial resources. And as a result, their forums became worthless.

And now they’re history.

Consumers continue to grapple with what to do about spam e-mail.

Over the past decade or so, consumers have been faced with basically two options regarding unwanted e-mail that comes into their often-groaning inboxes. And neither one seems particularly effective.

One option is to unsubscribe to unwanted e-mails. But many experts caution against doing this, claiming that it risks getting even more spam e-mail instead of stopping the delivery of unwanted mail.  Or it could be even worse, in that clicking on the unsubscribe box might risk something even more nefarious happening on their computer.

On the other hand, ignoring junk e-mail or sending it to the spam folder doesn’t seem to be a very effective response, either. Both Google and Microsoft are famously ineffective in determining which e-mails actually constitute “spam.”  It isn’t uncommon that e-mail replies to the personal who originated the discussion get sent to the spam folder.

How can that be? Google and Microsoft might not even know the answer (and even if they did, they’re not saying a whole lot about how those determinations are made).

Even more irritating – at least for me personally – are finding that far too many e-mails from colleagues in my own company are being sent to spam – and the e-mails in question don’t even contain attachments.

How are consumers handling the crossed signals being telegraphed about how to handle spam e-mail? A recent survey conducted by digital marketing firm Adestra has found that nearly three-fourths of consumers are using the unsubscribe button – and that figure has increased from two-thirds of respondents in the 2016 survey.

What this result tells us is that the unsubscribe button may be working more times than not. If that means that the unwanted e-mails stop arriving, then that’s a small victory for the consumer.

[To access the a summary report of Adestra’s 2017 field research, click here.]

What’s been your personal experience with employing “ignore” versus “unsubscribe” strategies? Please share your thoughts with other readers.

Today’s Most Expensive Keywords in Search Engine Marketing

I’ve blogged before about the most expensive keywords in search engine marketing. Back in 2009, it was “mesothelioma.”

Of course, that was eight years and a lifetime ago in the world of cyberspace. In the meantime, asbestos poisoning has become a much less lucrative target of ambulance-chasing attorneys looking for multi-million dollar court settlements.

Today, we have a different set of “super-competitive” keyword terms vying for the notoriety of being the “most expensive” ones out there.  And while none of them are flirting with the $100 per-click pricing that mesothelioma once commanded, the pricing is still pretty stratospheric.

According to recent research conducted by online advertising software services provider WordStream, the most expensive keyword categories in Google AdWords today are these:

  • “Business services”: $58.64 average cost-per-click
  • “Bail bonds”: $58.48
  • “Casino”: $55.48
  • “Lawyer”: $54.86
  • “Asset management”: $49.86

Generally, the reasons behind these terms and other terms being so expensive is the dynamic of the “immediacy” of the needs or challenges people are looking to solve.

Indeed, other terms that have high-end pricing include such ones as “plumber,” “termites,” and “emergency room near me.”

Amusingly, one of the most expensive keywords on Google AdWords is … “Google” itself.  That term ranks 25th on the list of the most expensive keywords.

[To see the complete listing of the 25 most expensive keywords found in WordStream’s research, click here.]

WordStream also conducted some interesting ancillary research during the same study. It analyzed the best-performing ads copy/content associated with the most expensive key words to determine which words were the most successful in driving clickthroughs.

Running this textual analysis found that the most lucrative calls-to-action included ad copy that contained the following terms:

    • Build
    • Buy
    • Click
    • Discover
    • Get
    • Learn
    • Show
    • Sign up
    • Try

Are there keyword terms in your own business category or industry that you feel are way overpriced in relation to their value they deliver for the promotional dollar? If so, which ones?

Why are online map locations so sucky so often?

How many times have you noticed location data on Google Maps and other online mapping services that are out-of-date or just plain wrong? I encounter it quite often.

It hits close to home, too. While most of my company’s clients don’t usually have reason to visit our company’s office (because they’re from out of state or otherwise situated pretty far away from our location in Chestertown, MD), for the longest while Google Maps’s pin for our company pointed viewers to … a stretch of weeds in an empty lot.

It turns out, the situation isn’t uncommon. Recently, the Wawa gas-and-food chain hired an outside firm to verify its location data on Google, Facebook and Foursquare.  What Wawa found was that some 2,000 address entries had been created by users, including duplicate entries and ones with incorrect information.

Unlike a company like mine which doesn’t rely on foot traffic for business, for a company like Wawa, that’s the lifeblood of its operations. As such, Wawa is a high-volume advertiser with numerous campaigns and promotions going at once — including ones on crowdsourced driving and traffic apps like Google’s Waze.

With so much misleading location data swirling around, the last thing a company needs to see is a scathing review appearing on social media because someone was left staring at a patch of weeds in an empty lot instead being able to redeem a new digital coupon for a gourmet cookie or whatever.

Problems with incorrect mapping don’t happen just because of user-generated bad data, either. As in my own company’s case, the address information can be completely accurate – and yet somehow the map pin associated with it is misplaced.

Companies such as MomentFeed and Ignite Technologies have been established whose purpose is to identify and clean up bad map data such as this. It can’t be a one-and-done effort, either; most companies find that it’s yet another task that needs continuing attention – much like e-mail database list hygiene activities.

Perhaps the worst online map data clanger I’ve read about was a retail store whose pin location placed it 800 miles east of the New Jersey coastline in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.  What’s the most spectacular mapping fail you’ve come across personally?