Another Email Fairy Has Died. Who Killed It? Susan Hallenbeck

Every time someone says they don’t believe in email, an email fairy dies—and another one just bit the dust. Why? Because Susan Hallenbeck is losing faith in email to reach college students.

Recently, in a post on her blog, Refracted Higher Education, Susan bemoans that “younger GenXers and Millennials…seem to be relying more heavily on text messaging, Facebook, and other forms of social networking to communicate with one another.” She links to a Pew Internet report from July that said, “Email, once the cutting edge ‘killer app,’ is losing its privileged place among many teens as they express preferences for instant messaging and text messaging as ways to connect with their friends.”

She also links to an iMedia Connection article by Tiffany Young, who says that “While 89% of teenagers have email addresses and check their email regularly, it seems they’ve collectively decided ’email is for talking to old people, like parents and teachers’,” quoting from the Pew Internet report as well.

Tiffany correctly says that keeping email viable among teens is all about having relevant messages. Give teens a reason to read your email and they will, and that includes tailoring content to their individual interests by allowing them to indicate their preferences.

I’d also say that you should play to email’s strengthens, which are that it handles HTML so you can have rich messages and it also handles longer form messages better than IM and texting. It makes me think of EB Games’ email newsletter, which I’m sure has many teen subscribers. The newsletter includes blurbs about new releases and several lists, including one about upcoming releases—all of which wouldn’t render well via other communication methods.

Susan points out that teens (as well as everyone else) have multiple email accounts that they use for different purposes, and that because of that teens many not check all of their email accounts super regularly. EB Games deals with this reality by only sending two emails per week generally and not including any “today only” deals, which are so popular among retailers. Having deals that are good for the week are probably much more appropriate for teens who might be checking their email less frequently.

Of course, with the media splintering, you have to reach out to teens through new mediums by launching blogs (like Neiman Marcus just did), by setting up shop on Facebook (like just did), and by tapping into YouTube (as TigerDirect just did). And, of course, email can support and be integrated with all of these other communication tools.

So don’t give up on email, Susan. Email has reinvented itself several times already and is constantly morphing to fit in and maintain its standing in the web 2.0 world.

—Chad White