It wasn’t all that long ago at all – maybe 10 or 12 years – that you couldn’t assume with any certainty that a person had access to e-mail. The medium was still fairly new and not everyone had adopted it yet. With that in mind, it is a testament to how fast technology moves that we can now seriously pose the question of whether e-mail has already become obsolete.
Some research that was published early last year suggests that it’s heading that way, at least among younger people. It appears that text messaging and social media are supplanting e-mail as the electronic communications of choice among teens and other age groups as well.
Anecdotally, we in The Bunker have observed this trend at work. For example, when we do focus group recruits, we give people an option of receiving an e-mail reminder or a text message reminder (or both) prior to the groups. For a focus group project we did this month, we recruited 32 participants, all age 25 or older. Out of the 32 recruits, 18 opted for a text reminder, and only five requested e-mail. All five of the people who opted for e-mail were 30 or older.
Admittedly, that’s a very small sample size, but it was still dramatic enough. In light of the information I had already read about people migrating from e-mail to text messaging, I decided to explore the issue further. I posed the question to some coworkers, friends and people in my social media networks (most of whom are 30 or older) and they overwhelmingly said that text messaging, and to a lesser degree social networks like Facebook, had reduced the amount to which they and/or their family members used e-mail. A few parents of teenagers ruefully reported that their kids would barely respond to any message unless it was in text form. Several people said that they check their e-mail accounts less frequently than they used to and now viewed e-mail as reserved for business or more formal communications, and used texting or Facebook messaging for quick, informal messages. Most agreed that response time to a text message tended to be much quicker than for an e-mail. Of the few that still clung to e-mail, discomfort with typing on a small smart phone keypad was cited as a reason for not texting more.
Again, that’s all anecdotal information, but when the message is that consistent and it is in line with formal research findings, it’s impossible to ignore. The implications of this trend for marketing and market research are profound. Any researchers who are using online surveys with e-mail invites, considering the value of mobile platforms for surveys, collecting panel member data or recruiting for qualitative studies need to think about how the technology adoption of texting at the expense of e-mail can affect the age (and possibly other) demographic characteristics of their survey respondents and qualitative research participants.
We’re curious to know if others in the market research field are experiencing this same phenomenon and how they are addressing it. If you have any insights on this, please leave a comment. (I’d invite you to send a text, but then I’d need my teenage son show me how to retrieve the message on my phone.)