Posted September 30, 2013 7:33 am by with 4 comments

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emailStudents don’t like email. It’s boring. It’s too slow. This is a subject that crops up from time to time but as marketers it is something that we need to be acutely aware of because whether you are trying to communicate with a student as your target market or working with co-workers who don’t think they need to bother with email there are going to be repercussions.

An article from the New York Times this weekend addresses the situation with

As a professor who favors pop quizzes, Cedrick May is used to grimaces from students caught unprepared. But a couple of years ago, in his class on early American literature at the University of Texas at Arlington, he said he noticed “horrible, pained looks” from the whole class when they saw the questions.

He soon learned that the students did not know he had changed the reading assignment because they did not check their e-mail regularly, if at all. To the students, e-mail was as antiquated as the spellings “chuse” and “musick” in the works by Cotton Mather and Jonathan Edwards that they read on their electronic books.

“Some of them didn’t even seem to know they had a college e-mail account,” Dr. May said. Nor were these wide-eyed freshmen. “This is considered a junior-level class, so they’d been around,” he said.

You may be asking “So what?”. If you are I would respectfully tell you that you are not thinking this through.

Email is one of the most effective online marketing tools despite its decided ‘unsexiness’. Why is that if email is dying or any number of the other arguments about the waning days of email are close to true? It’s because they are not and likely never will be. Why? Because email is needed for one thing that even an over coddled student will have to do one day: work.

Kids these days communicate with social media. That’s all well and good but it is also haphazard and sloppy communication to track. As a result, it is extremely unlikely in the foreseeable future that email will go away as the modern day form of a paper trail in the world of business.

So the word of warning is to all of us about how we manage our expectations of the place of email in the online space as we trudge forward. Let’s take a look from the perspective of three different types of users.

1. The modern age student. If I hear one more description like the one below I may toss my cookies (not the virtual ones either). From the same NYT article

Morgan Judge, a sophomore at Fordham University in New York, said she thought it was “cool” last semester when a professor announced that students could text him. Then she received one from him: “Check your e-mail for an update on the assignment.”

“E-mail has never really been a fun thing to use,” said Ms. Judge, 19. “It’s always like, ‘This is something you have to do.’ School is a boring thing. E-mail is a boring thing. It goes together.”

Yikes. A little cheese with that whine? This group in particular will have to get over themselves because they get to the workplace email rules and that is not likely to change any time soon. Even the complaining of the over-entitled won’t change this.

That said, the best piece of advice I can give college students and those who ‘don’t like’ email is “Pipe down, get over yourself and learn to use it”. When a student is in that first job after school and tells their boss, “I don’t use email because it’s boring etc etc” you better have the resume ready because you won’t last long there. Actually you won’t last long anywhere until you understand that the world doesn’t revolve around your digital life.

2. Marketers as marketers – Even if the email challenged come along begrudgingly as part of their jobs it is not likely that it will bleed over into their personal lives too much. This means that marketers are going to need to sharpen their pencils in reaching younger folks in the online space because email marketing to this group may not be effective at all. ‘Adapt or die’ as they, right? Segmentation of your email marketing may simply mean you don’t do it at all the younger your target audience is for a particular message.

3. Marketers as employers and co-workers – So you have hired the latest crop of young kids who ‘get’ social media. Congrats, are part of a short sighted bunch but you won’t be alone for sure. What will need to be understood is that your internal communication and paper trails may hit a snag or a bottle neck with the this group who simply don’t like email.

Fortunately, you can simply fire them if they don’t want to play along but having turnover is sometimes a bigger headache than trying to teach someone a new trick.

Different colleges even have different temperaments regarding email.

Paul Jones, a professor at the University of North Carolina, does not think they should have to.

“E-mail is a sinkhole where knowledge goes to die,” said Mr. Jones, who said that he gave up e-mail in 2011. It was a radical move, not least because Mr. Jones helped write the code for the university’s first e-mail program 30 years ago. “I’m trying to undo that sinful work,” he said, joking.

E-mails to him receive an automated reply: “Goodbye E-mail, I’m divesting,” plus some 20 ways to reach him. About the only person frustrated by this, he said, was a department head who wanted to know “how will you possibly read our important departmental announcements?” Mr. Jones said with a laugh.

But in his quest to eliminate e-mail, Mr. Jones may have a surprising obstacle: students. Canvas, a two-year-old learning management system used by Brown University, among others, allows students to choose how to receive messages like “The reading assignment has been changed to Chapter 2.” The options: e-mail, text, Facebook and Twitter. According to company figures, 98 percent chose e-mail.

Interesting. An Ivy League school, which has students that are likely influenced by high end corporate types in their families prefer email while someone at UNC-Chapel Hill (a top public university in its own right) is trying to get rid of it.

Which attitude would you hire?

What’s your take on email moving forward? Let us know in the comments.

  • If email is “too slow” then you’re using it wrong. With modern phone and apps like Gmail, it’s as quick and easy to use as anything else. The issue is when email becomes “slow” due to walls of text, which is a problem that is separate from the medium.

    Regarding Morgan Judge above, I’m not sure what she expected from the professor. If it was a sizable update, did she want a dozen separate text messages?

  • Paul Jones

    The choices by students at Brown need to be seen in a different context than Ivy vs Public and especially when looking for potential hires. As I write and as studies show, under 25s see email as something from The Man — a painful necessity. Social is the intimate and sharing and trusted choice. Official notifications – send them in email where I won’t be bothered. Average email reply time in 2012 went up to 2.5 Days from 2.2 days in 2011. (according to which also notes that dogs are mentioned more often than cats in corporate email. 38% vs 32%).

  • sayakipli

    They are probably just as interested in

  • sayakipli

    If you are I would respectfully tell you that you are not thinking this through.