A man checking email and drinking coffee at a desk
Will email remain the primary communication tool in the workplace PHOTO: Shutterstock

Over the course of the last year, there has been considerable discussion about the role of email in workplaces that depend heavily on social network and other collaboration tools. In these discussions, there appears to be a general consensus that while social networks are useful to achieve work-related goals, email remains the undisputed communications tool in the enterprise.

That does not mean, though, that email and the way it is being used is not changing. The kind of people using it are changing so it is only logical that the way it is being used is going to change too. In July 2017,  Boulder, Col.-based Egg Strategy, an insight, brand strategy and innovation consultancy that helps organizations build better marketing campaign carried out a study into how workers are using email for Denver, Col.-based customer communication platform SendGrid.

 How Email Is Used

Egg Strategy evaluated generational trends in digital communications, including habits, preferences, use cases, and adoption of email across Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z. Given the common perception of millennial, or even Generation Z (those born from the mid 1990's to the early 2010's making up 25 percent of the US population) as avid consumers of social media, the findings are interesting. The Future of Digital Communication report showed that: 

1. Email is a staple form of communication today, regardless of age or stage in life with 85% of Generation Z respondents using email at least monthly. This number grows with age as 89 percent of millennial respondents and 92 percent of Generation X respondents use email at least monthly.

2. When it comes to business to consumer (B2C) interactions, there is an overwhelming preference for email over all other communication forms: 74 percent of people chose email as their preferred communication method for companies or brands to interact with them.  It isn’t going away either. 83 percent of Generation Z respondents believe their email usage will stay the same or increase in the next 5 years.

3. Email is also a much more ubiquitous form of communication. The survey showed that 89 percent of people  have used email at least once in the past month versus 83 percent of all social media tools together, including Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Pinterest.

Developing Email

But this is not the end of it. SendGrid CMO Scott Heimes told CMSWire that over the next 12 months email providers will add newer technologies into email too. “With chatbots making their way into email and messaging apps in 2017, 2018 will be the year in which chatbots effectively provide personalized experiences to customers, if done correctly. Marketers will leverage data from email marketing, display retargeting, social media ads and chatbots to create a cohesive and unified experience for customers,” says Heimes.

According to Heimes, artificial intelligence (AI) will increasingly be leveraged for email marketing campaigns in 2018. "As companies continue to invest in AI and machine learning (ML), they’ll be able to better understand how customers are interacting with their brand, and marketers will be able to create 'personas' based on those interactions - enabling them to further hyper-personalize messages for users at global scale," he says. AI will also be used across other channels too in much the same way it has been over the past year. Heimes pointed out that in order to get to true omnichannel marketing, organizations will incorporate AI into their omnichannel strategies to learn how a customer is interacting with different channels within a brand. This will enable marketers to retarget and inform the messages shared through specific channels, based on user activity. Interactivity and Visual Focused Email will be two other important trends over the next year, he added. 

Marketers are increasing the ways they can engage with customers directly through their inboxes, from bringing shopping carts directly into email, to engaging customers through creative visuals — such as GIFs and HTML 5. In 2018 and beyond, we can expect to see a mix of more visual, colorful and interactive emails from big consumer brands.  The result is the continued us of email by millennials and Gen Z: “Despite the shift of millennials and Gen Z towards social media as a favorite communications platform, email will still be a top communications platform for these generations for years to come. Interactivity, personalization and more social experiences will resonate with these audiences and will be a major part of email marketing geared towards the younger generations,” Heimes said.

Why Email Beats Social Networks

Tim Platt is VP IT Business Services at Orlando, Florida based Virtual Operations. As such he deploys Slack and Microsoft Teams for small-to-medium business clients and Fortune 500 companies alike.  He said that the attraction with these and other social networks is that they fill the traditional “IM” communication gap with persistent channels enabling users to retain and refer back to conversations later, rather than losing them forever when you close the window. The concept of channels, or teams, also helps to keep the group conversations focused — another huge benefit over traditional IM solutions. There’s many other rich collaboration capabilities as well. Even still he says email isn’t going anywhere. “Everyone has an email address. Email has 99 percent market penetration. There are many people that haven’t heard of Slack (or Teams). Nobody is onboarding a new employee tomorrow and not giving them email. They might get a Slack or Teams account or they might not, but they certainly will have an email. More to the point, email is a vendor neutral interoperable standard. No single company is in charge. You can exchange email with anyone on the planet, through a variety of mechanisms.,” he says.

He also points to the fact that email may or may not be cloud hosted, enabling organizations to use cloud-based email or to go on-premises. This is not an option for Slack and Teams. This may change over time and eventually people will embrace cloud as being as secure (or better) as opposed to hosting internally, but right now cloud is not an option for some regulatory bodies and many potential customers. 

Email Security

Like other areas of technology, security is also going to play a major role in the use and deployment of email systems as hackers increasingly target enterprise data. Given the amount of crucial data contained in emails, it likely that more and more email accounts will be targeted. Founder and CEO of Boston-based cybersecurity company PreVeil, Randy Battat, says that organizations are finally realizing that security needs to be prioritized on email systems. “There’s a misconception that because you need a password to access your email, it’s automatically secure and private. That’s not the case," he says.  According to him, encryption used to be just for the most sensitive data but 2018 will be the year that security solutions like encryption finally become usable — and necessary — for email. "The technology improved so that encryption could be used with PCs, but it really wasn't used because it was just too cumbersome. 2017 saw encryption migrating to a handful of everyday apps, like WhatsApp and this yearn it will become so easy to use and so prevalent that it will start to be incorporated into everyday business apps like email.

Alex Smith, Director of Security Products at Mountain View, California based Intermedia agrees. According to him, email was never designed with security in mind, so employees should avoid placing sole trust on email protection to prevent cybersecurity attacks. “Because email acts as a main vehicle in driving phishing and ransomware attacks, preventing the next major hit — be it on a national or global scale — will depend on the balance between employee education and bolstered security."

Emails will still continue to be used and will remain the preferred external communication app for enterprises at least in the medium term. Social networks are more of an in-house collaboration tool whereas email is there to solve outbound communication with other companies.  The only time when email will be disrupted is when Slack or one of the other collaboration tools becomes mainstream as an outbound communication tool. 

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