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.

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.

E-Mail Communications and the “Always On” Culture

It’s a common complaint of people in business:  E-mail is this great big blob that consumes way too much of their day. 

tme

And now we know just how much.  According to a recent report published by Adobe —  “E-Mail Survey 2016,” — white collar adults around the world are spending ~17% more time on e-mail activities today compared to last year.  And on the business side, the growth is even bigger.

According to the findings of this research, which included surveys of ~1,000 American and ~3,000 European white collar workers, the time spent on work e-mails on a typical day is ~4 hours, while personal e-mail communications account for an additional ~3.3 hours.

This combined total of nearly 7.5 hours means that nearly one third of the typical day is spent working with e-mail communication.

Those findings suggest that other than sleeping, people spend more time on e-mail than on any other type of activity.  How frightening is that?

[Findings among Europeans are much different, either, as this infographic illustrates.]

Contributing to the “always on” atmosphere, is the fact that smartphones have definitely become the “go-to” device for e-mail activities. Nearly 85% of the survey respondents reported that they check e-mail regularly on their smartphone, compared to around 70% who check their desktop or laptop regularly for e-mail.

In the workplace, the two devices are used approximately equally for e-mail activities, but on the personal side, smartphones have it all over other desktops and laptops.  Nearly two-thirds report that they use their smartphones regularly for e-mail, compared to fewer than 30% who use other devices.

The other attribute that e-mail affects is the speed at which e-mails engage their recipients. The nature of e-mail is that it is “intrusive” and engenders a sense of time-sensitivity.  For work e-mails that require a response, here’s how quickly those responses happen:

  • Within a few minutes: ~14%
  • Within 1 hour: ~29%
  • 1 to 2 hours: ~24%
  • Within half a day: ~16%
  • Within 1 day: ~10%
  • 1 to 2 days: ~5%
  • Longer than 2 days: ~2%

This means that two-thirds of work-related e-mails elicit a response from the recipient in two hours or sooner. But believe it or not, that’s not good enough; nearly three-fourths of the respondents expect to receive a response to their e-mail within that time period.

What this research proves is that although many people like to complain about e-mail communications taking over their lives, it’s actually become an integral part of daily life, to the degree that those same people are now conditioned to expect e-mail engagement in real-time.

In short, “always on” e-mail is now the norm. And if you don’t like that very much, there’s basically nothing you can do about it.

For more information on the results of the Adobe research, click here.

Yahoo’s Terrible, Horrible, No-Good Month

ybb

Aren’t you glad you don’t work at Yahoo?

Where to begin … For starters, the Associated Press is reporting that Yahoo disabled its e-mail forwarding service effective the beginning of October.

Yahoo has a rather benign statement in its Help Center “explaining” why the service has been disabled:

“Automatic forwarding sends a copy of incoming messages from one account to another. The feature is under development.  While we work to improve it, we’ve temporarily disabled the ability to turn on Mail Forwarding for new forwarding addresses.  If you’ve already enabled Mail Forwarding for new forwarding addresses in the past, your e-mail will continue to forward to the address you previously configured.”

This hardly passes the snicker test, of course.

Disabling the auto-forwarding feature for new forwarding addresses came at the same time it was revealed that a 2014 hack of Yahoo’s platform resulted in the theft of ~500 million e-mail accounts including information on addresses, phone numbers, passwords, security questions and answers, plus birthdays.

It doesn’t take a genius to conclude that the reason Yahoo disabled its automatic forwarding function for new forwarding addresses was to deter concerned or frightened Yahoo Mail users from making a mass exodus to rival services.

But this is only the latest in a string of stumbles by the company in just the past few weeks.

For one, Yahoo is now defending a class-action lawsuit accusing the company of security negligence in the wake of 2014’s half-billion e-mail accounts theft.

There’s also a report from Reuters that for the past 18 months, Yahoo has been scanning all incoming Yahoo Mail messages for a wide range of keyword phrases — all on behalf of our friends in the federal government.

And if those weren’t enough, the much-ballyhooed announcement this past summer that Verizon was planning to acquire Yahoo for $4.8 billion has devolved to this: Verizon is now asking Yahoo for a $1 billion discount on the purchase.

It’s little wonder some people are calling the company “Whowee” instead of “Yahoo” these days …

This email signature block says it all …

signature areaOver the years, I’ve noticed how signature blocks at the bottom of business e-mails have been getting longer and more elaborate.

Remember the days of simply showing an office address, phone, FAX and e-mail? That disappeared a long time ago.

Why it’s happened is all a function of the many ways people can and do choose to communicate today.

For folks in the marketing and sales field, sometimes the contact options go overboard. Not long ago, I received an e-mail pertaining to a business service pitch. Here’s what the sender had included in the signature area at the bottom of his e-mail message:

  • If you’re a phone person, here’s my mobile number:
  • If you’re a text person, send a message to my cell:
  • If you’re an email person, here’s my address:
  • If you’re an instant message person, here’s my Google ID:
  • If you’re a Skype person, here’s my handle:
  • If you’re a Twitter person, here’s my username:
  • If you’re a Facebook person, here’s my page:
  • If you’re a face-to-face person, here’s my office location:

The only thing missing was Pinterest, and a FAX number …

Seeing this signature block was a stark reminder of the myriad ways people are connecting with their business and personal contacts.

Nothing new in that, of course — but seeing it presented in one big bundle really drove the point home.

Scott Ginsberg
Scott Ginsberg

Later, I discovered that this litany of contact options was first popularized four or five years ago by the business author and blogger Scott Ginsberg. Evidently, others have now picked up and run with the same concept.

Taken together, it’s no wonder people feel busier today than ever before, despite all of the ways in which digital technology purports to simplify communication and make it more efficient.

I wouldn’t want to go back to the old days … but at times, there’s a certain attraction to the idea of not having to be “always on” in “so many places,” no?

Big, brawny behemoth: Google’s Gmail email service reaches 900 million active users.

Google GMailIt’s been several years since Google gave us an official report on Gmail’s user base.

But now we have a new announcement from one of Google’s senior vice presidents,  reporting that Google’s Gmail service has now reached a new milestone of 900 million active users.

Three years ago — the last time Google commented officially on the Gmail active user base — the company had reported ~425 million users.

… Which means that in the past three years alone, Gmail’s active user base has more than doubled — and doubled from an already strong baseline figure.

In fact, Gmail had already become the most popular email service in America by 2012.

Despite the fact that most other email services have failed to report newer stats since then, it’s a safe bet that Google remains King of the Hill when it comes to the number of active users of its Gmail email service.

[Related to this, the same Google spokesperson is also reporting that three out of four active Gmail service users are accessing their accounts on mobile devices.  I’m sure this doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone.]

The continued robust growth in Gmail users may explain why Google hasn’t been making significant changes to the service or the user interface.  Any service that’s the largest one out there can’t risk irritating or alienating large swaths of its users.

Indeed, even when an email service isn’t the biggest or most important one in the market, making changes can still be a risky move.  Just recall the howls of protest from users (and even some of Yahoo’s own employees) when Yahoo made sweeping changes to its e-mail service about 18 months ago.

No doubt, Yahoo has lost a certain number of subscribers who simply couldn’t abide the changes.

Google InboxIn Google’s case, what it’s doing is using Inbox, which Gmail users see on top of the Gmail platform, as an area to experiment with new email features and such — without upsetting satisfied Gmail users who may have little appetite for those changes.

Inbox is an email app by Google for Android and iOS, along with web browsers Chrome, Firefox, and Safari.  In a hint at things to come, Google has now made Inbox open to all users.

Google claims that its Gmail and Inbox services serve different functions and needs, and that it will continue to work on enhancements and updates for both.

But it’s pretty clear that Inbox is where the bulk of Google’s developmental effort and energy are being directed these days.

Promo emails: What’s the right length … What’s too long?

email lengthI’m sure all of us receive some promotional e-mails with content that just seems to go on forever.

There’s no way that’s accomplishing the company’s marketing and sales goals.

But just what exactly is the right length of content in a promotional e-mail communiqué?

Assuming that “the wisdom of crowds” can get us pretty close to whatever that sweet spot is, looking at findings helpfully collected and aggregated by research firm and direct mail archive Who’s Mailing What! provide some pretty good clues.

WMW! tracks nearly 225 business categories, looking at the word count of e-mail messages deployed by companies active within each of them.

The average e-mail length for nearly all of the categories that WMW! tracks is substantially below 300 words.

[To compare, that’s shorter than the length of this blog post, which is around 300 words.]

And there are very few exceptions – fewer than ten, according to WMW.  In those seven categories, customers and prospects are used to encountering more verbiage in order to remain interested in the message.

The few business categories with the highest average content length (350 or more words on average) turn out to be the following:

  • Business/financial magazines
  • Newsletters
  • Political fundraising
  • Religious magazines
  • Seminars and conferences
  • Social action fundraising
  • Special interest magazines

Incidentally, the two categories with the absolutely highest number of words are social action fundraising (nearly 650 words) and seminars/conferences (around 620 words).

… Which for those two categories makes complete sense.  Donor prospects are going to need to read a good deal about a cause before opening their pocketbooks.  And people are going to need details about a seminar’s content and quality before agreeing to pay the typically high fees charged to attend.

But for everyone else, short e-mail promos are clearly the name of the game.  If word counts go much above 200, it’s probably getting a tad too long.