I’ve seen the future of social media. And it’s… email

Email your RSS and make someone happy. Click image for source.

Email your RSS and make someone happy. Click image for source.

I’ve been playing around with Posterous recently. It’s stunningly quick and easy. This is in no small part down to the way you use it. You email your posts.

Now, at first I thought this was just a small feature of Posterous. But it’s making more sense to me. When I email something, I’m emailing it ‘to’ someone. That is, it’s not a blog post – which no one will comment on, they never do any more – or a tweet, which is here today gone today (or, more accurately, gone in a fraction of a second). No. I’m in my ‘telling someone something’ frame of mind, because I’ve got all the usual visual cues going on around me – inbox, outbox, drafts etc – that tell me so.

So from a strange psychological perspective, emailing your posts makes good sense for the user. It also works for Posterous too. They don’t need to provide much of a front-end, and certainly no text editor to get your head around. They simply let users get on with what they’re used to, whether it’s GMail, Outlook, Thunderbird – whatever. Nice.

And it got me to thinking about other cool uses of email in social media. I really like the email updates I get from LinkedIn. Without them I’d probably forget about it. But with them, I get an update on what’s going on in my professional network – who’s doing what with whom, and for how much, etc etc.

In the past I’ve poo-pooed Google Alerts, claiming that RSS readers offer much more. Well, yes, they do, but there’s nothing more effective than an alert popping up telling you when something’s come through. Email is more active in this respect. It’s more like an servant than an agent.

Back to Posterous. I’ll freely admit I heard about it when I discovered Steve Rubel was using it. That he’s using something with an email interface doesn’t surprise me because he’s an email ninja and has been using GMail as his intel database for quite some time. Turns out he’s found interesting studies and stats relating to email prominence: firstly, that email newsletters can be much more effective than RSS; and that you can do cool stuff with email such as get weather updates.

Mark Krynsky explains how it’s not all about email either. Posterous can access so many other platforms, it’s almost the post platform for other post platforms, in the same way Friendfeed was an aggregator of aggregators (until Facebook consumed it). So I only have to post something once and it goes wherever I want, to Twitter, blogs etc. I was testing it today and found I could post to many blogs at one time. Definitely something for the blog providers to think about, and I’m sure that if I continued that way I’d get banned.

Looking more widely, I was doing research recently for a non-profit organisation and found this: fundraising via email is more effective than through social networks. With (hopefully) their blessing (I’ve given them a link after all), here’s an excerpt I find fascinating:

… we found this interesting and profound story about the nonprofit group “Save Darfur.” This organization had grown to be one of the largest Facebook Causes, with over 1 million members. But it took Save Darfur over a year to raise about $28,000 from those Facebook Cause “friends,” — and almost two years to raise their current total of $78,000. Contrast that with a single email campaign that Save Darfur did in June of 2007 – with the help of M+R Strategic Services – to about a million of their email supporters. In only 10 days, Save Darfur raised more than $415,000 through an email series.


Of course, there are still many reasons social media is good. The Facebook example above isn’t a continuous study, that is, we don’t know what sort of momentum it continues to pick up which a one-off email campaign would not. It’s also clear that a well-run campaign of whatever kind will beat a badly run campaign no matter what platform you choose.

There are also still limits to what you can do with email. For example, I find it frustrating that I can’t use my WordPress categories in a Posterous post, but perhaps I’ll find that out sometime.

In the final analysis perhaps Posterous’s greatest selling point is the visibility: I’m looking at my most recent posts, admittedly just bits and bobs grabbed from the web that are probably popular anyway (because a video of a man falling over is basically funny), and I’m seeing the number of views at 50, 60, 70+. When I compare that with the number of views my blog posts get, it’s a no-brainer: Posterous posts get more views.

The trick here will obviously lie in convincing clients to use it. They’re just about ready to blog, and whereas Posterous is still blogging, it’s ‘new’. Clients, on the whole, don’t like ‘new’. And maybe the high viewing rates are just because Posterous is the new kid on the block anyway.

But email. Think about it. Email. It’s the unsung hero of digital. With a good system you can really target people, and get great stats such as who opened the email, who forwarded it, who replied, and so on. You simply cannot get this from RSS – in fact, you can’t even tell who subscribed, just how many.

I’ve often dreamed of having the perfect interface to the web, such as just talking and watching the words come out (bye bye SpinVox), or plugging a USB cable direct into my forehead (hello Doctor Who). Email isn’t perfect, but it’s what we know. And whereas it cannot replace social media, maybe it’s the best gateway to it. It was there all along and we never realised it.

POST EDIT: I just realised, with a wry smile, that I actually posted this from WordPress! Doh!

4 thoughts on “I’ve seen the future of social media. And it’s… email

  1. Dunno why but I’m not feeling the posterous love, I can’t see the advantage over Tumblr, which I’ve been using for about two years now. One of the reasons I love Tubmlr is I can text updates, including photos or videos direct from my phone and I can emaol them too, if I fancy. Of I can just post direct from the open tab I’m in via the firefox button – no need to visit the site at all. Even the stats are done offisite.

    Not sure about email either, it’s too abused, too easy to opt in and ignore.

  2. True enough. I remember you setting up that Tumblr blog! But then, again, selling in to clients might be the obstacle. They sort of know about blogs. Some of them might have heard about WordPress or Blogger. But Tumblr? Very easy, very effective, but barriers to convincing a client (I should explain I just post-edited my post to include the problem of selling Posterous to a client – soz).

    But yes, very good point about Tumblr. Thanks for reminding me!

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