Email is losing it's relevance in an ever more connected world of social networking for maintaining personal realtionships. This is not to say that email is now or may ever be irrelevant in a buisiness setting. For business, the organizational and long term storage of communications, documents, and various forms of work-product is no where close to declining. But the things we used to use email for in our personal lives such as keeping in touch with friends and family both near and far is much easier and more immediate with the use of tools such as Instant Messaging, MySpace, Twitter, Facebook, and oh so many others.
People are freeing themselves from the constraints of the one-way-at-a-time nature of email communications with these social contacts. Embracing the immediacy and power of social networking allows them to be more connected to more contacts simultaneously. They no longer need to send out emails to a dozen or so friends when they want to announce a party or even an informal gathering after a long week of work. Now they simply set their Facebook status, or tweet out a brief thought and see who jumps on board.
Additionally the social networking sites, especially sites like Facebook, allow you to share not only updates about your life or what you're currently up to, but they let you post and share photographs, link to your collection of YouTube videos, point out stories in the news, find old friends and acquaintances with whom we've lost touch over the years, and so much more. Again, this saves us the tedium of adding 50 addresses to an email just to share pictures of the baby's first birthday party with distant family. And you don't run the risk of alienating Aunt Edna because you forgot to include her when you emailed out those pictures in the first place. All you have to do is make sure Aunt Edna is your friend on your social network of choice and she can see anything and everything you want to share.
Individuals are basically discovering what broadcast media has known for years. It's far simpler and cheaper to send out a mass message and let those who are interested consume it and those who are not ignore it, than it is to try to maintain dozens, hundreds or even thousands of one-to-one relationships. Networks such as Twitter and Facebook have built in measurement capabilities and the numbers have meaning and names and faces to go along with them. How many followers do we have on Twitter? How many friends do we have on MySpace or Facebook or Friendster? These numbers are a direct correlation to how many people we reach. And those people aren't faceless numbers in most cases (followers of celebrities or brands on Twitter, or in many cases, friends lists for celebrities and brands on the big social networks are a clear exception). They are real people in the real world. In effect, we are each becoming our own little broadcast network. People choose whether or not to "tune in" to our lives. When they do tune in, we can provide a variety of content types from simple text to audio and video.
For marketers, the ever growing relevance of the social networks has become more important than building large lists of verified email addresses. The CANN Spam Act may have been designed to help prevent the inordinate amount of unsolicited email we all receive on a daily basis, but it hasn't really been effective in slowing the flow of bad email. Consumers in droves are instead abandoning email as their primary form of online communication in favor of much more spam-free mediums. After all, on Twitter, we only follow those we're interested in. If someone we're following turns into a fountain of spam, we simply stop following them. On Facebook, with the right settings, only those we choose to allow can communicate with us or see our posted messages/photos/videos/articles/etc. The choice based or closed nature of these networks is an excellent firewall against spam and unwanted messaging. The trick for marketers trying to penetrate and engage these audiences is to either become or gain the eyes and ears of those who have the largest followings or the most friends and then leverage them as a channel for their marketing messages.