You may have missed it but this past weekend TechCruch reported that Instagram is launching a new email marketing effort, called Highlights. With the goal of increasing usage by presenting content that you may have missed from people you follow. On the surface this is not huge news at all, rather the opposite, a large brand is leveraging email communications to engage their subscriber base. This has been the foundation of the Internet for the past 15+ years, so I could understand why someone might gloss over this story as just another written to drive traffic on a slow day. But this is not just another story, not even close, we’re talking about Instagram.
Instagram! The same Instagram that Facebook purchased for $1B because it represented a threat so real to their core business, they had no choice but to buy it. The same Instagram that has been absolutely on fire for the past 2 years and quite possibly the hottest social platform (outside of perhaps only Snapchat) in the world. Why, oh why, would they need lowly lowly email for ANYTHING? Instagram, like Facebook before it, represents a new way to communicate with friends. Instagram to many I’m sure, represents a world that no longer needs email to communicate. However social platforms face a major usage problem that quite frankly is not present within email, the problem is clearly articulated in the same TechCrunch article:
“This ‘Unfiltered Feed Problem’ happens when people follow too many oversharers that drown out their real friends who don’t post as often. That leads to a noisy feed full of content people don’t care about, which can decrease their usage. It can also cause them to be stingy with following more accounts, making it tough for new users to gain an audience and want to stick around.
I think if we can all be honest with each other, this is the core problem with almost every social platform in existence. If your Facebook feed looks like mine, here’s what you see:
1. Selfie Obsessed: This is a friend who snaps multiple “duck faced” self portraits per day
2. Chronic Oversharer: Oh you’re at the grocery store? How f’n exciting. You’re flying to Siberia for work? Could care less….
3. Foot Shot Friend: Enough said, we all know (and probably dislike) this “friend”
4. Profile Changer: Everyone has a friend that changes his or her profile pic every day, sometimes multiple times per day. Hey, guess what??? You look NOTHING like you did 15 years ago, sorry but that is reality
5. Kid Pic Extraordinaire: Nothing and I mean nothing they post is ANYTHING but shots of their damn kid
There’s more…many many more. But I almost broke my keyboard typing those 5 out and I dare not go any further. The fact that almost anyone reading this can relate to any of the following people, speaks volumes to some of the challenges that social platforms face today. Simply put, there is a ton of garbage in your feed and it’s hard, real hard, to filter out all the noise. Facebook for instance has an entire algorithm dedicated to filtering your “News Feed” based on what Facebook believes you “want” to see. The problem is, the combination of all the people/brands/companies/publishers etc… you follow, makes your Newsfeed a very noisy noisy place. Particularly when publishers like Upworthy, ViralNova & Elite Daily have been savvy enough to manipulate the Newsfeed algorithm. The core issue stems from the Signal vs. Noise ratio. With a TON of noise it’s really really hard to find any signal. Enter email…once again to save the day.
Email represents almost all signal and very little noise. Particularly for brands who want to connect with customers and potential buyers. While social is almost all noise, email is nearly entirely signal. Why? Simple…I find this Teddy Roosevelt quote says it all:
“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty…”
As I took some time to really think about the differences between email and social, it became very clear to me why email is superior to social in almost every marketing function. Social represents the path of least resistance, while email represents the path of the most resistance. Think about what it takes to “Like” a brand on Facebook or “Follow” a brand on Twitter…next to nothing. A simple tap of a button and there you go. You are now following a person, brand, maybe even a pet. Some people I follow on Twitter, follow 200k+ people, yes, 200k+people! One couldn’t even subscribe to 200k+ email programs if they tried, it would be nearly impossible. And therein lies the rub, social was made for connecting with friends & email was made for connecting with brands.
I know of no one, who today, creates a social account (and you can name them all) to connect with brands. Not a single friend of mine created an Instagram account with the sole intention of connecting with their favorite brands. Yet I cannot think of why anyone would create an email account for ANY OTHER reason than, connecting with brands. Aside from the fact that you really cannot use the Internet without an email address of course, there would be no reason for anyone today to create an email account just to connect with his or her friends. The alternatives would be too numerous to even consider. So if communication between friends is primarily done via social or messaging platforms that leaves email for all the other tasks such as – managing bills, signing up for special offers from brands, publisher newsletters and of course registering for social networks, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, iCloud etc…AKA using the Internet. And the reality is that most people do not receive 1000’s of emails per day, most are not working towards “Inbox Zero”. In fact, most people are highly efficient at managing their inbox. Does it get cluttered from time to time? Of course it does but since owning and operating an email account has been the prerequisite to do ANYTHING on the internet for at least the past 15 years, managing email is a task most people are well suited for. The inbox is a living, breathing organism that helps most manage their day-to-day life. Everything is ordered chronologically and nothing is hidden or removed without explicit action. The subject line tells us all we need to know and we make decisions from there on…Google even tried to replace the subject line but to no avail. The fact of the matter is – our inboxes are far less cluttered than social feeds and we are far more proficient at sorting through them.
And this is why email is going NOWHERE, any time soon. Social is for friends, email is for everything else you do online. Email is incredibly effective because it is based solely on Effort & Intent. It takes effort (and trust) to provide your email address and potentially other information on a web sign up form. This of course signifies intent because you do not go through the effort of providing a brand with your digital ID, unless you explicitly want to be connected. So while social platforms like Instagram have made the barrier to connecting with friends & brands very easy. They are plagued with the problems that arise from other activities that involve little to no effort, minimal return. Which is why it’s not surprising to see Instagram turn to email to re-enagage users.