Could Twitter replace email?

By Linda Cheung

Without wishing to highlight my age, I remember email being something new and exciting when I was at university. We had time limits on our usage and emails could only be sent internally.

When I started work there were seniors who thought email would never take off. Mark remembers email conferences continuing to run until 2005. But I still struggle to think of life before email. As with speaking in person, or on the phone, I think of email as a way to talk.

Could email be replaced by Twitter? An influential speaker and writer recently told me that he was thinking of dropping email to force people to reach him through Twitter. Said influential speaker (SIS) is constantly bombarded with sycophantic emails, to encourage his attendance at events and endorsement of products and services. SIS likes that the 140 character restriction of Twitter "gets rid of the fluff" and if someone pesters him too much he can simply block them.

Discussing SIS’ comments with a group of marketers last week resulted in a déjà vu moment – I was back with those email cynics from my first job…

  • What about keeping messages private?
    Well, you can use Twitter’s direct messages.
  • What about attachments?
    You can upload the content then include a shortened, say bit.ly, link in your tweet.
  • What about emails where you need to copy in a large group?
    You can ask everyone involved to label their tweets with a specific hashtag.
  • How about corporate use?
    Take a look at Yammer or other similar tools as an example.

I wonder how long it will take before Twitter (or similar) is just one more way for us to talk.

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    • http://twitter.com/jonathanlea Jonathan Lea

      Working as a transactional lawyer in Cornwall a lot of law firms still insist on sending letters and documents in the post (the revolutionary that I am, I always reply by email), so I struggle to see life beyond email quite yet. I’ll embrace it when it happens though!

      However, I recently went to a talk by Cisco on their use of social media at the Technology for Marketing and Advertising show at Earls Court. They gave quite a thorough demonstration of how they use a variety of blogs, wikis, twitter feeds, facebook pages etc etc throughout the organisation which was so dizzying that I’ve forgotten most of the detail, but the one standout point I remember them making was that the business’s use of email had declined by 80% just in the last year alone!!

    • http://twitter.com/jonathanlea Jonathan Lea

      It will be interesting to see what facebook’s ‘email killer’ looks like when they release it. My first message this morning was on facebook from a photographer friend asking to refer me to a contact of his looking to invest in a technology startup.

    • http://twitter.com/jonathanlea Jonathan Lea

      From what I can make out, there are a lot of people who are successful with twitter, but who haven’t yet quite got to grips with facebook, partly I think because it emerged from a younger demographic than the slightly older founders of twitter.

      I think facebook is just as important as twitter to business. Nearly everyone I have had some kind of physical world relationship with, whether its a family member, school friend, client or someone I met travelling (plus one or two new virtual twitter friends), I am now much more intimately connected with on facebook. We communicate and share information far, far, far more often than we would have done without facebook (if at all). The fact that this is mostly ‘just’ social information makes facebook even more powerful as that is the kind of information and sharing that ultimately builds a close personal relationship and higher levels of trust. When I tweet I only usually talk about business or serious things, whereas my more social, perhaps more authentic, self can be found on facebook. As a very simple example of the personable nature of facebook, I know when to wish someone happy birthday, but not on twitter.

      As Linda says “same/old rules, new tools”. My current boss is always urging us to invite important clients and contacts to our own homes for dinner, my last senior partner took key clients and staff away on a raucous ski trip every year and my family have always invited established business partners to family events such as weddings and anniversaries. Facebook is a bit like your own virtual living room in this respect. Some people will always feel uneasy about combining their business and social lives, but with facebook in particular there are an increasing array of tools for others to take advantage of the merging of our business and personal lives, if there was ever such a distinction in the first place.

    • http://twitter.com/craigkillick Craig Killick

      Opt in email is more likely I think.

    • http://twitter.com/michaelscutt Michael Scutt

      The end of email has been predicted for a long time now – no spam being a major benefit. I think we’ll see more and more use of twitter; the addresses are easier to memorise for one thing, but there may be a residual role for email – for those times when 140 characters just isn’t enough. I can’t see email disappearing completely for years.

      To take up Jonathan’s point about the demographic I think he is right. Whether you tweet or facebook does, broadly, seem to fall into age bands, but that will surely change as the “scene” matures. I would predict, at some point, a “bonfire of the platforms”: there are simply too many around and far too many options. My Space seems to be history, will we eventually see a battle for survival between Facebook and Twitter, or maybe a “dark horse” like Linked In will come through to reign supreme?

    • http://twitter.com/jonathanlea Jonathan Lea

      I can’t envisage a “bonfire of the platforms” unless facebook, twitter and others are taken over and run with such ineptitude as witnessed with AOL/Bebo and Newscorp/Myspace. If facebook tries too much to be like twitter and visa versa they will turn off and lose their respective users.

      There are important and sometimes subtle differences how each of linkedin, twitter and facebook etc work and they all add value in different ways. To get any real benefit from these paltforms people need to learn and know the distinct ways they operate.

      Yes, twitter is incredibly useful, but I think the future is email being replaced by a multitude of tools – as I learned from Cisco the other week, the more of these that are deployed well the better your overall communication strategy will be.

      What I can see becoming pervasive is the use of management and aggregator platforms such as hootsuite and tweetdeck which integrate all of your personal and/or business brand’s social media sites in one dashboard.

    • http://twitter.com/RichardMaybury Richard Maybury

      In a word ‘No’.
      This story runs and runs. I, like many people, blogged on ‘Wave goodbye to email’ when Google Wave was launched only to blog again on ‘Lessons from failure’ a few months later. http://richardmaybury.co.uk/2010/08/google-wave-lessons-from-failure/

      Email will morph into something else and – yes – we will remember it as fondly as faxes … one day.

      It just makes so much sense to blow away all the (dis)organised personal .pst silos of knowledge, commitments and delivered work and replace them with transparent communication streams alongside project plans, milestones, actions and delivery.