Is Email Dead, Dying or Just Changing? Facebook says Yes, consumers No.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg recently caused a stir at the Nielsen Consumer 360 conference by reportedly stating that Email is dead (she would say that wouldn't she and if you listen to the whole clip she didn't actually say what she was widely reported to have said).

However, her argument that only 11% of teenagers use Email daily is compelling and I find when talking to students they don't really understand the concept of email marketing - they just perceive most marketing emails as Spam while being positive about integrating with brands through social networking sites.

What consumers say about their email and social media usage

Two recent surveys from the email industry suggest email is very healthy in terms of account usage and here to stay for the foreseeable future (they would say that wouldn't they). Social network usage is surprisingly low although for a fairer comparison, SNS usage should be broken out by age group.

I've presented these figures since they can help inform your investment in email and social media and help argue against colleagues that have been swept away by the social media hype. Ask them whether they knew that 31% of UK folk don't use social networks at all while only 11% use Twitter.

Here are the relevant surveys :

1. e-Dialog global consumer attitudes survey of 13,000  consumers  worldwide- June 2010

This survey shows the variation in social network account ownership in different countries and the significantly lower level than email marketing.

The survey also showed that 58% having been driven to make a purchase in a store or over the phone by a marketing e-mail. And while Websites are the preferred place for consumers to opt-in, they are also willing to subscribe to e-mail messages offline, for example when placing a catalog order (46%), at the point-of-sale (29%), or via SMS text message (13%).

Implication: Review your offline email signup options.

2. DMA Digital Tracker of 1860 UK consumers - May 2010

These are some of the most relevant answers:

Q. Which of the following social networks do you use?

  • Facebook 58%
  • Do not use any 31%
  • Youtube 24%
  • msn 16%
  • Yahoo 12%
  • Twitter 11%
  • MySpace 8%
  • The Gumtree 6%
  • LinkedIn 4%
  • Bebo 4%
  • Flickr 3%

Some other questions also show the risks of email:

Q. What is most likely to prompt you to mark email as Spam?

  • I suspected them of phishing attack 32%
  • Too many (frequency) 19%
  • Don"€™t remember signing up 18%
  • Lack of trust in the brand concerned 11%
  • Products offered are illegal 10%
  • Lack of time to go through the opt-out procedure 5% (marking as spam is easier)
  • The unsubscribe mechanism was too hard 3%
  • Don"€™t like brand 2%

Implications: Get the frequency right, remind subscribers of how they opted in and make the opt-out easy.

Q. How many promotional emails do you receive in your in-box on average each week?

  • Over 20 43%
  • 16-20 9%
  • 11-15 11%
  • 6-10 14%
  • 3-5 13%
  • 1-2 6%
  • None 5%

Implication: Getting cut-through is going to be hard due to inbox competition - over half received more than 15 a day, so maybe reducing frequency or investing more in creative and offers is needed.


Share your thoughts

  • Dave Chaffey commented on July 7, 2010

    I agree Dan, I think we already seeing the long-term decline in stable/declining response to email despite more sophisticated targeting being used. Part of this may be overlap in interaction with brands through “social messaging” and email which we would expect to cause a decrease in email response from those who have already interacted through Facebook or Twitter.

    I took a look at the full report, but there wasn’t an age break down to back this up.


  • Hi Dave,

    Interesting post, but it did cause me to ponder whether younger people who are also heavy users of social media are likely to cause the slow decline of email effectiveness. This segment of internet users brought up on social media platforms may have lower levels of interest in personal emails, and over time the ROI of emails could suffer.

    It’s a shame that the data you present wasn’t broken down by age, as my prediction is that email will go into long term decline within the next 10 years, unless we get a lot smarter about relevance and targeting.



  • There’s also evidence that increased use of social media goes hand in hand with increased use of email. And some claim the smartphone revolution is driving an email revival among students, who were one of the demographics supposedly turned off email.

    Dave makes the key point in the title. It’s not about email dying or not dying: it’s about how email is changing through, particularly, the influence of social media.

  • Thanks Dave, excellent information, really useful to share with clients and prospects alike. Generally speaking, our most successful customers have found the right balance of integrating email and social while controlling frequency by either capping or sending emails based on a user’s actions (browsed, purchased, interests, etc).

    • Dave Chaffey commented on June 25, 2010

      Good that’s useful Patrick – we need to unite to fight misinformation! Integration of email and social is key.

      You’re right – the best email strategies have a well thought through communications strategy with defined rules, automated where possible. It’s amazing how little is written about that online in comparison with the barrage of information on social media.

Get FREE marketing planning templates

Start your Digital Marketing Plan today with our free Basic membership.

  • FREE fast start guides to review your approach
  • FREE digital marketing plan templates
  • FREE alerts on the latest developments

Need help with your Email marketing?

Get more from your digital marketing with in-company or remote training and consultancy from Smart Insights

Get FREE marketing planning templates

Start your Digital Marketing Plan today with our free Basic membership.

  • FREE fast start guides to review your approach
  • FREE digital marketing plan templates
  • FREE alerts on the latest developments