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This is a post that tries to depict a future where corporate entities could potentially rid themselves of email systems and harness the true power of social to eliminate communication and information dissemination inefficiency and do really high margin business.

I am looking at a social system that allows the following functionalities

  • Communities (employees, employee-partner, customers, public)*
  • Document publishing and storage (including protected sharing mechanisms)*
  • Discussion threads*
  • Rich media “conferencing” (group video, audio, messaging etc.) and broadcast
  • Voice based interaction on a small format mobile device
  • Search, feed, auto tagging, auto bookmarking, recommendations and process friendly interaction mechanisms to arrange and access content

I am an experienced community manager and I was leveraging a subset of the above functionality, because of functionality limitations on the social platform, to help our sales team sell a solution portfolio in the CRM domain.

Let’s dive a little bit into each of the above and how it impacts email in making it an essentially useless tool as compared to the benefits from a social toolset.

Communities

Social tools allow for the creation of communities of interest around a topic, project, action item, opportunity or any other such entity where a team needs to come together to bring something to a conclusion. They easily allow to pull people in and remove them as needed within a particular collaboration.

You can do it the clumsy way in email by having a boatload of people on the TO and CC line, but there is only one word to describe that scenario as compared to being able to create a community, AWKWARD!!!

Document publishing and storage

A social tool allows you to publish, store and distribute a document from a central, and if needed, controlled instance. You can even control who gets to download the document versus just read it on screen. To the extent even disabling screenshots if the publisher so desires.

Email provides you chaos in the name of document distribution, with size limitations, no control over who gets access to the document, where it gets forwarded, who modifies and recirculates the document leading to multiple versions of the document. In one word CHAOS!!!

Discussion threads

Social tools allow you to neatly lay out an argument and initiate a discussion around the same with multiple participants. You have a logical track of who responded to whom on the discussion threads and in case there is a functionality to thread discussions then you get to split out the discussion into appropriate sub threads to the original point under discussion.

Email offers “reply all” 😉 the best corporate tool ever invented to show personal worth and useful/less ness as the situation might highlight. In the face of even double digit reply all’s on a distribution list of say 20 people, your life just turned a shade of sick. One phrase, welcome to email HELL!!!

Rich media conferencing

As virtual organization permeate, this is a need of the hour and other than Google hangouts, I cannot think of any other social solution that has been able to tackle this issue quite so beautifully. I guess other social solutions will follow suit in coming up with their own version of Google hangouts including potential extensions in the way of on-stream translation, transcription; leveraging voice to text and ability to immediately save the conversation for publishing onto the remainder of the social network for the organization in the form of video and an intelligent transcription document, if needed in multiple languages.

One word to describe what email systems can help you do here, MIA!!!

Voice based interaction on a small format mobile device

This point tries to address the notion of how an end user interacts with the social system. Here it would help to have intelligent voice based interaction with the social software in case of small format mobile devices. Just imaging trying to read a full on word document on a mobile device or a PowerPoint document with font 10 text on a small screen of a mobile device. This simply means that as part of the social set up every piece of “heavy” collateral gets an attached video or audio file explaining what it is all about and then the end user needs to decide upon the mode of consumption. If they are in a rush then they might attempt it on the small format device, else they might wait till they get in front of a tablet / laptop / desktop format device.

As regards email you are stuck with whatever the email client can do for you on whichever format device you are on. I have yet to meet an email client that does justice to rich media content in an email client. In a phrase, you are OUT OF LUCK!!!

Search, feed, auto tagging, auto bookmarking, recommendations and process friendly interaction mechanisms

This point is the address the most common feedback that I have heard about social systems. Oh! It is too much information, a flood, a deluge are some of the kinder terms used. My suggestion to social software creators is to leverage one of the mechanisms to provide end users with content outlined above. The Google mechanism, I will let you search for whatever it is that you are looking for including tag. The Facebook mechanism, I will feed you what is relevant to you. Tag cloud based access and click through to help you narrow content down. Bookmarking based on rules that the end user has defined to help sift through the content of the social network. Machine learning based recommendations engine that again studies the access pattern of the user and tries to predict and recommend content of interest for an end user. The last but not the least is the business process tuned social network interaction for an end user, like a sales user is looking for a very specific type of content, more in the sales domain of information of the enterprise as compared to the research and development domain of an enterprise.

Email offers you a BIG BLACK HOLE!!!

What does all of the above mean for an organization?

You get a much more transparent organization. You get a much more team oriented organization, sometimes forced team work 😉 including helping the weaker person instead of running rough shod over them and “killing” them off. You get a politer organization (Link) as most of the “conversations” are held in a very public domain; anger is allowed and valid, but not at the cost of politeness and civility in the dialogue and debate. Problems have a higher probability of early identification. You get a much more democratic organization. You get a much more aligned organization. You get a much more bought in stakeholder pool, be it employees, partners or customers given the high degree of transparency. Trust goes up all around in the stakeholder pool.

Should I just replace an email system with a social software solution?

You might be wondering if just replacing an email system with social software and all evils will be cured automatically. NO. On top of the social software, you will need to put in place a team of connectors as HBR calls them. These people takethe form of community moderators, or the wise men and women of the enterprise who have a finger on every important pulse within the organization and have only one KPI; “How to make the organization a piece of heaven on earth?” such employees have a vested interest in squeezing out the last bit of inefficiency out of the system and in my experience, most of the inefficiency arises out of simply bad communication.

HBR has a brilliant write up on the power of connectors at http://blogs.hbr.org/kanter/2009/11/power-to-the-connectors.html

The biggest grouse I have against email is that all the knowledge that is trapped in a person email inbox can never be tapped for the greater good of an organization. To add insult to injury, that knowledge is permanently lost to the organization once that person decides to leave the organization. A wise man once said knowledge is power.

“Email is the place where an organization’s knowledge goes to die”

So, here’s hoping that people who read this will take back some of the ideas and learning’s above to their organizations and potentially explore how social software would help make them run even better as compared to corporate email.

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4 Comments

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  1. Jelena Perfiljeva

    It’s a very long blog and I have to admit to just scaning it quickly starting from ‘Rich media conferencing’. The headline is a bit deceiving – email and social media are actually completely different tools that work well for different purposes. It’s like saying “shovel killed hammer”. If there are still organizations that use email for discussions and knowledge base then I’d have to question their “IT-intelligence”. Collaboration tools like MS Sharepoint have been available since well before “social media” started.

    You’re correctly pointing out that there should be “community moderators”, but, from what I’ve seen, this is usually exactly the reason why collaboration and knowledge base projects never take off internally – there are no resources available to moderate and curate the content. This has especially become an issue since recession started. What would be your solution / advice in such case?

    Thank you.

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    1. Pushkar Ranjan Post author

      Thanks for the engagement, Jelena. I really appreciate that you took the time to read and comment on the blog.

      “Social” for me is much bigger than social media. It is a functionality set offered up by a software suite that allows you to undertake all manner of activities from publication, collaboration, communication, idea management; with the crowds etc. This breadth of required functionality is scattered across many solutions in the marketplace at the moment and my vision is to unify this into a meaningful solution that frees up information rather than have it locked up in the silo that is email.

      Your second point is something that organizations need to reflect upon deeply. They need to actively cultivate and curate people in the organization to fill up such roles after of course buying into this vision and creating such roles in the first place. If it is not part of their organization culture and just some blah on a strategy deck, guess what a wise management guru once said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. Some organizations are well off working with email systems and the associated inefficiencies; maybe it is part of their business plan, most likely an unresolved remnant from not having explored the social way of undertaking business. Just like anything else, it will be a cost first before the tangible benefits will start being felt.

      Email will always have its place, I personally want it to have a very minor role as compared to the overwhelming majority role that it has at present when it comes to collaboration and communication within an organization context. Video did not kill radio, but radio did morph into a new being because of the challenge. Maybe email will as well once it really feels the heat from social. Vinyl based music is not completely dead.

      The ideas in this blog are also a little out there, but knowing the pace of change we have witnessed over the past decade or two, this is something that might reach maturity pretty quickly provided organizations are serious about it and feel confident about what will initially be “perceived” benefits without specific material value. It is like the transition from a fax and phone world to a world of email.

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      1. Jelena Perfiljeva

        Thanks for a very thorough response, Pushkar! I just thought about this blog yesterday after receiving a global email that had ‘Please read’ added to the subject. How low has email fallen indeed! 🙂

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