From the Comms Cupboard

Is email still the godfather of comms tools?

Is email still the godfather of comms tools?
John and Shaun consider the lifespan of email, and whether it should be put out to pasture. And what other tools are out there that could take its place?

They discuss WhatsApp’s alleged open rate, short messages, Ernest Hemingway, work mobiles, guilt, being ‘always on’, and the real reason people like to keep email around!

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Episode transcript

Shaun: Here’s an opener: Is email dead?

John: Wow 😲

Shaun: I’ve given this some thought.

John: Have you?

Shaun: But I’d like to hear what you’ve got to say.

John: I would say … no … but with a heavy heart ☺️

Shaun: That’s because you wish email was dead.

John: Well, maybe not dead. But I wish email wasn’t so used.

Shaun: Do you mean so used generally by businesses, or so used internally, inside a business?

John: Both. I think I can safely say that when I open my email in the morning – work or personal – I would have lots and lots of emails to open. A lot of it, certainly in my personal, is marketing.

Shaun: Bumf, junk, from outside the business.

John: From outside. My internal email one … I don’t get too much marketing but I can an awful lot of emails. Do you know what drives me nuts about emails? People think that when they’ve sent it, it means you’ve read it. How many of us read every email we get sent?

Shaun: We’d be lying if we said all of them. I don’t.

John: I don’t. What do you think the percentage is?

Shaun: I actually know the answer, because I looked it up.

John: You’ve done some form of research for this podcast?

Shaun: Sometimes I prepare like a p-p-professional. I can’t say p-professional today, but I p-prepare for it. 40% is the open rate. It’s the average.

John: You see, that’s much lower than I thought it would be.

Shaun: The alternative of course for internal communications are all those fancy tools that people are sometimes afraid of. You know, Slack, Yammer, the new one … Teams, right? Microsoft Teams. And WhatsApp, believe it or not. WhatsApp. I know a lot of businesses are afraid of WhatsApp because they think it’s less secure, but it’s actually a really secure platform. It’s harder to control, but you should see the open rate. You know what the open rate is?

John: No, but I have a feeling you might.

Shaun: I do: 98% open rate 🤯 communicating through WhatsApp.

John: Wow! That’s a selling point for WhatsApp for businesses, isn’t it?

Shaun: It is. It’s certainly something to take note of in terms of messaging services; text messaging services. They’re shorter and snappier. It’s not an envelope. It’s a postcard.

John: Do you think it takes more effort and thought to construct a text message than an email?

Shaun: Yeah, I do, because I’m a writer, and I think it’s harder to write more concisely. It’s easy to …

John: Babble.

Shaun: … babble, and put your pen to paper and come out with 2,000 or 3,000 words. But the real writer manages to pare all that down to 1,000.

John: So if you introduced WhatsApp as an internal communication channel, you would have to be pretty snappy with the length of your messages, wouldn’t you?

Shaun: You would have to be the Ernest Hemingway of internal communications, but perhaps without the alcoholism 🥃

John: It’s usually prerequisite, but who knows? I’m sure each of us has had a drink at some point.

Shaun: Particularly in internal communications, I suppose.

John: I think in any role in the world!

Shaun: Not that there’s much in the way of alcohol in this cupboard at the moment.

John: Not a drink in sight.

Shaun: That’s because it’s dark and we can’t see anything. If you hear a clink, it’s just me 🥂 Now WhatsApp Business has come out. What do you know about that?

John: Not much, to be honest.

Shaun: I think it’s new.

John: Like, hot off the press.

Shaun: Hot off the press. I don’t know how it works. I downloaded it and had a peek, but it wanted to connect to my contacts, and you know what I’m like. I don’t like things connected to my contacts, especially if they’re made by Facebook. (There are other social media platforms available.)

John: There are. How do you think people will feel … In my experience, people are not always that keen to use their personal mobile for work, so if you were to go down the route of WhatsApp as in internal channel, does that mean you’d have to buy everyone a mobile phone?

Shaun: I’m in two minds about this. I think it’s good to have a work-life balance. But I also think it’s naive to think you can separate the two these days. I think modern business works very, very differently. You’re still in control. I’ve never had a second phone. I’ve always had my own, but I know when not to answer it.

John: That’s true. It’s quite simple to turn off alerts.

Shaun: There’s ‘do not disturb’ features on most phones now. If you’re the type that gets that message when you’re halfway through Corrie

John: Not me.

Shaun: Not me either, but let’s use it for this example. And then you get a message from your line manager and you think, if I don’t reply to it, what are the consequences? What’s going to be said to me tomorrow if I don’t reply? I guess there’s that sort of guilt.

John: Guilt’s a big thing. I suppose that’s the beauty of an email in that an email can be sent and then read at a later date.

Shaun: Ahh, the unique characteristics of an email can be more easily ignored than a message.

John: Yeah, I guess so.

Shaun: That’s why people like to keep email around.

John: There are benefits of email. It comes straight to you. Most people have Outlook or Gmail – or whatever it is – open on their desktop all day, so you know the message is going to go to people.

Shaun: Well, on average 40% of people at least open it. If you had a newsletter though, and you knew the statistics were 98% for sending a Slack call or WhatsApp, you’d do that wouldn’t you?

John: You would, wouldn’t you.

Shaun: Yeah, you’d do that. I would.

John: What do you think stops people using Slack or Teams, because they have their downsides too, right? I’ve got plenty of experience of Yammer and Teams where people just don’t interact at all – I don’t have time for this; it’s another thing; I’m busy doing my job – all those excuses. What stops people collaborating on those tools? Those tools are more than about sending a message, like email is about sending that message.

Shaun: I think it’s about being ‘always on’. I don’t think people like to be seen as always on and always available. I’ve worked with Slack for a couple of years – two or three years actually – and you don’t have to reply straight away if you don’t want to. My favourite button on Slack is snooze this till later. And you know what, email has one of those too. So there isn’t much difference between …

John: Is it about boundaries then; about culture? Is that where this is? Is there something about reassuring people that you don’t have to answer that message straight away. When you get that dreaded email and it’s got the red mark on it for ‘urgent’ – you must answer, and those types of things. Does that make you want to open it any more?

Shaun: No.

John: 😆 But you do have authority issues.

Shaun: I do have authority issues. But I like the idea of messaging being quicker to get sign-off – you know, getting projects signed off. Isn’t messaging quicker? You know when someone has a green light next to their name and you can go, hey can you sign this off straight away?

John: Yeah, and I think that comes back to boundaries: My green light’s on, I’m there, I’m talking. My red light’s on, I’m not and don’t expect an immediate answer back. I don’t think it’s either/or – email or collaboration tools. There are other things. Some people enjoy taking something and reading something. I can remember internal magazines, for example. People used to love those. We don’t see them very often because of environmental challenges and not wanting to produce too much paper. But there was something nice about having that in your hand, and you would maybe read those magazines and see your friends and colleagues in there, and they’re a good way of celebrating things. Some people really love to read. Some people like a podcast.

Shaun: I can’t imagine who.


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