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Email was once at the forefront of convenience. Used as a way to quickly send messages and share files from anywhere in the world, it was — and, for many, still is — a primary tool to communicate with friends, family, and colleagues.
However, over the past several years, the proliferation of chat apps, SMS, and social messaging platforms has largely displaced this more traditional form of online messaging. In 2016, instant messaging and texting (e.g. SMS and chat apps) were the first things 35% of US consumers checked in the morning, according to Deloitte, up from 29% in 2014. Meanwhile, 22% of US consumers checked their email first, down from 29% in 2014. And as these communication channels enhance their capabilities and add more functionality, the threat to email’s sustainability will increase.
But is email the next legacy technology to fall prey to obsolescence? The short answer is no. However, it’s worth looking more closely at shifting user behavior when it comes to online communication — whether it’s at home, on-the-go, or in the workplace.
The saturation of premium smartphones in many mature markets, and the existence of mobile-first economies such as China, means that mobile devices are everywhere. This gives users immediate and consistent access to other people and businesses with the touch of a button through means like social media, chat apps, and email.
This proliferation is beginning to impact the way people communicate, not only with each other, but with businesses, too.
Chat apps are altering consumer behavior. The wide adoption of chat apps and texting is remodeling the way people communicate online, including via email. A study by Adobe found that almost 70% of respondents believe text messaging is resulting in shorter, less formal emails.
Chat apps are replacing email as the preferred mode of business-to-consumer interaction. More and more millennials — those between 18 and 34 years old — are finding that chat apps are a more reliable and convenient way to reach brands and service providers, according to an Ovum survey of millennials in the US and Germany. Around half of respondents noted they preferred to interact with a service provider via chat for several reasons, including the desire to achieve a swift resolution to a problem and the idea that they don’t have to use a separate service or app to achieve this resolution.
To learn more about chat apps and chatbots, you can read BI Intelligence’s detailed chatbots report.
Communication In The Workplace
Several trends that have emerged over the past 18 months or so point to the decline of email as the primary mode of communication in the workplace. These range from an overall shift in user behavior to the widespread adoption of chat apps, which boast a growing list of functions and capabilities.
The emergence of less formal, more engaging modes of workplace communication is most obvious in the adoption apps like Slack and the growing trend in using social networking apps such as Facebook Workplace. Chat apps are proving successful in the workplace for several reasons:
Chat apps are convenient. Chat apps support quick and easy-to-access communication, and enable businesses and users to communicate with those who may not have an email address. For instance, many doctors in Brazil use WhatsApp to converse with patients, schedule appointments, and share test results.
They are used as a collaboration tool. Chat apps like Slack offer employees the ability to engage with multiple colleagues at one time as well as instantly upload and share documents and files without having to leave the app, potentially enhancing productivity.
They enable businesses to monitor workplace communication. Some chat apps enable businesses to retain and read employees’ correspondence, and gather statistics on the frequency, volume, and times of conversations.
To learn more about messaging apps, you can read BI Intelligence’s detailed messaging apps report.
Internet security is increasingly becoming a priority for both businesses and consumers as threats from hackers become more prevalent. A survey of 1,250 registered US voters showed that a decisive 84% of respondents consider personal data protection very important, according to Purple Insights.
Chat apps provide an appealing alternative to email by offering superior data security. For example, following Hillary Clinton’s notorious email scandal, her staff began utilizing Signal, a highly secure chat app that encrypts data automatically. And while not all chat apps provide the same level of security as Signal offers, a majority of the big-name apps provide varying degrees of data and communication security for consumers. Here are a few examples of such apps:
- WhatsApp supports end-to-end encryption, which makes it extremely difficult for anyone other than the participants of an interaction to gain access to messages’ contents. In fact, the technology is “about one of the best safeguards you can have in place,” according to health data attorney Katie Kenney.
- Snapchat, the popular image-sharing app, offers ephemeral messaging, meaning that messages, photos, and videos disappear after being viewed or after a certain amount of time.
Other chat apps offer users the ability to opt in to encryption. That’s because artificial intelligence (AI) powered virtual assistants and software require access to the information users are putting into their messages in order to work. However, these chat apps also recognize the importance of personal security. A compromise is to allow users to choose when they encrypt their messages. Here are two examples:
- Google Allo, Google’s new chat app with baked-in Google Assistant lets users choose to turn on end-to-end encryption for their correspondence. However, turning on this feature comes at the loss of Google Assistant.
- Facebook Messenger recently added support for opt-in ephemeral messaging, called Secret Messages. Like Snapchat, users can allot a set amount of time their messages can be viewed before they’re deleted permanently. As with Google Allo, Messenger requires access to user data to power the increasing number of functions users can access within the app, such as location information and data within messages.
In the workplace, though, businesses still face serious risk to enterprise security by implementing chat apps. Viruses, spam, malware and phishing attacks, data leakage, and inappropriate use are among some of risks associated with employing chat apps in the workplace.
To learn more about mobile security, you can read BI Intelligence’s detailed enterprise mobile security report.
Why Email Won’t Die
Despite current trends, email maintains an entrenched position as a trusted form of communication among consumers. Because of this, email will persist as a legacy mode of communication, both within the workplace and between private correspondence, much as using pen and paper has since the proliferation of the internet. In fact, we project that it’ll be at least five years before most of the younger generation of users join the workforce and further diminish email’s relevance in the workplace.
Email is still seen as a primary mode of communication. Consumer behavior is often slow to change, and email is still the most used communication tool for older generations. This preference is often passed down to members of younger generations. In the short term, email usage is even expected to increase, according to Adobe. However, this is largely because of the global adoption of smartphones, which has boosted the access users have to their email accounts.
- Email is a powerful tool for marketers in reaching consumers. Around 50% of participants of Adobe’s survey noted that email was their preferred mode of receiving marketing material. That’s followed by direct mail with 22% and social media with 9%.
- Email is a more than just online mail. Because of email’s virtually limitless capacity as well as its ubiquity, people are using it as a storage and filing system, making it easier for them to quickly access important information and log away files for later retrieval, notes TechCrunch. This is something that ephemeral chat apps can’t replicate; in fact, their security works against it.
Given its many benefits, along with its entrenched position in users’ lives, email will remain an important part of the connected consumer. Still, the increasingly large volumes of personal data users are storing and transmitting (as a result of the smartphone), will be of mounting importance to businesses securing workplace data and information. Moreover, as adoption of chat apps and work collaboration tools continue to climb, email will continue to wane in popularity as a mode of communication. Nevertheless, like pen and paper, email will live on as a relic communication tool for some time.
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