5 Reasons Email Is Key for Communication in 2016

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“Email is the cockroach of the Internet.” – Stuart Butterfield, co-founder, Slack

(Nearly) everybody is on Facebook, most professionals are on LinkedIn, Instagram is a (relative) engagement powerhouse, Snapchat is a content game-changer, Twitter has hearts, and so on and so forth.

The argument for diversification of and focus on different (newer, shiny, social) communication platforms is complex: for every advantage there is an equally compelling disadvantage.

In this focus in prognosticating the future of shiny things, businesses may overlook email. Although businesses may intuit email as an afterthought, it easily outperforms each of the platforms mentioned about in open rate (to its social equivalent) and click-though.

What I want to do in this post is make a five-point argument that email is one of the most important communications channels in 2016.

1. Email open rate and click-through remain high

Sixty-three percent of email to B2B professionals is deleted before it is read, yet it still is the most effective way to reach this audience. How in the world is this possible?

Compare a 37 percent impression rate for emails with a 5 percent impression rate for a tweet (and .1 percent engagement rate), or a 3 percent impression rate for an organic Facebook post.

Depending upon the industry, email open rates continue to impress relative to social: around 20 percent open rate and 3 percent click-through. Of course the downside is that the acquisition cost for an email subscriber is higher than a social fan. It’s easier to get Twitter followers than opt-ins to your mailing list.

Two key takeaways for PR and marketing professionals:

  • Email is a reliable way to communicate at scale
  • Focus on growing your email list to maximize the impact of this channel

2. Email is the most consistent communication platform

Pocket Watch - Email Communication 2016

“Facebook’s existence is proof of why we need federated, non-proprietary services like email, where no one can interpose a tollbooth on a route that businesses and their customers traverse voluntarily to reach one another.” – Cory Doctorow, Guardian UK

You may see 10 to 20 percent of things that your friends post on Facebook, and 1-3 percent of organic brand content on Facebook. The amount of your Twitter content seen by your fans is inversely proportional to the number of people that they follow, and also depends upon how much time they spend on the platform and when they do.

In other words, there is quite a bit of variability to it all.

In 2016, Instagram may introduce ads, Twitter may change their algorithm to more of a Facebook model, or Facebook may restrict reach (content volume will increase, so this happens naturally as well).

Advertising revenue on social platforms is oftentimes contingent on content access that platforms deny or allow, so the reliability of communication using social platforms may depend upon on whether these companies want to make more money (want to bet against that?).

PR and marketing professionals can hedge their bets against future social platform volatility by building large email lists.

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3. People prefer email to social communication (for brands)

In a Retention Science study about how millennials prefer to be contacted by brands, nearly half prefer email, while only 5 percent prefer social media (one can only guess about the other 45 percent). This is consistent with similar studies that have found that customers who engage a social promotion may never subsequently engage the brand.

Many people find email the most appropriate place for brands to proactively engage them, which is a serendipitous preference given the better open rates and click-through…even with a majority of people deleting the message upon receipt.

The key takeaway for social and PR professionals is that people may not only engage email at a higher spell, but may prefer email communication over social communication.

4. Email is far more customizable than social content

B Test - Email Communication 2016

If you post something to a social channel and it doesn’t take off, you can pay to have it distributed further or let it die a shameful, unpromoted death.

With email, the customization opportunity is rich and A/B testing is easy. For instance in the Retention Science study cited above, open rate was inversely proportional to number of words in the subject line. A similar study by VentureBeat found that open rates can be increased by double digits if emails are appropriately personalized for the recipients.

The key takeaway for PR and marketing professionals is that if email underperforms, there are many customizations that you can test and implement that may achieve better results.

5. Email is mobile-enabled

According to Pew Internet, almost half of adult cell phone users receive and respond to email on their cell phone (this data is more than a year old – I’ve read that it may be greater than 50 percent now). While apps vacillate in popularity (I was pretty high on Google+ at one time) and frequently change, an email reader is included with most phones and most email is mobile-enabled.

The key takeaway for PR and marketing professionals is to test email “blasts” to make sure that they can be accessed from mobile or desktop devices, and to realize how versatile email is.


“Contradictions, in any communication, are the first stepping stones of mistrust” ― author Paul Babicki

What I wanted to do in this post is make the case for email as a key communications platform in 2016. This may seem counterintuitive or out of touch, but the data supporting this is pretty compelling.

I included the above quote out of its intended context to point out that the contradiction of social platforms to communication is the difficulty to reliably communicate with them. Which is why the cockroach of the Internet may remain an important communication platform for 2016 and the foreseeable future.


About Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty is a featured contributor to the Cision Blog and his own blog, leaderswest. His areas of interest include statistics, technology, and content marketing. When not writing, he is likely reading, running, playing guitar or being a dad. PRSA member. Find him on Twitter @jimdougherty.

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