Holding Back The Tide

E-mail is a wonderful thing. It has literally revolutionized the way business is conducted. We can communicate better, faster and cheaper to more people than at any time in history.

As with most good things, there is a downside. As anyone who has opened their inbox recently can attest, we are literally being deluged with email. And not just spam, to be sure. The ease and speed of email has also made the legitimate businessperson sloppy.

Trying to bring some order to this chaos, Christina Cavanagh has written an eminently useful book. The basic premise of Managing Your E-mail is that we all must work together to stem the tide of useless email, lest we all drown in the flood. Perhaps easier said than done.

Based on her own research, Cavanagh astutely points out that the more email we receive, the less likely we are to read email at all. When asked what people disliked the most about email in the workplace, “the most popular answer was that there is simply too much of it,” Cavanagh writes. “Those people who received over 80 emails per day on average simply deleted the hundreds of unread messages every couple of months.” Online marketers please take note.

Curiously, the blame for this is not laid solely at the feet of the evil spammers. Rather, there is a torrent of “low-value messages,” including non-essential communications or things that could have been handled by a phone call. Even a personal visit, when possible, is preferable to the trite email that only clogs the inbox and fatigues the recipient.

Indeed, the point is made again and again in Managing Your E-mail that there are alternate forms of communication besides email. That may seem like heresy to the modern office worker, but there is in fact a reason we still have telephones. Obviously a call or in-person meeting is not always feasible when the recipient is on another continent, but that shouldn’t preclude people from calling or visiting the person in the adjoining office.

The challenge is getting people to think differently. In the relatively short time email has been available, it has become thoroughly ingrained in daily life. Almost to a fault, people use email first and relegate other forms of communication to a distant second when issuing business correspondence. Few people would consider making 50 long-distance phone calls or sending 50 pieces of snail mail per day, yet they will send out that much email and more without blinking an eye.

In the end, a judicious approach to email benefits everyone. Cutting down on the daily torrent of email messages virtually guarantees the remaining emails will receive proper attention. That should be welcome news to the legitimate email marketers who are already concerned about being summarily ignored, assuming they are not filtered out altogether.

E-mail is our friend. Let’s take care of it.

Jonathan Jackson is an independent consultant based in New York City. He has written extensively on internet advertising and email marketing since the inception of the internet. A frequent guest speaker, Jonathan has addressed global audiences on marketing and advertising topics and also teaches marketing at colleges around the world.

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