Teens & Email

An article by mStoner says that teen abandonment of email may be a bit of a myth. Citing research (reg. required) from Ball State Center for Media Design and ExactTarget, the article says teens would rather have promotions sent to them via email rather than text message. The lesson to be learned is that higher ed organizations shouldn’t be so quick to abandon email for other communication methods — essentially, every medium has its place.

While I agree with the last sentiment, I think the ideas need further investigation. Many studies show that teens’ email usage is going down. That downward trend and the study by Ball State and ExactTarget seem to be somewhat at odds with each other. But I do think they can be reconciled.

Email is in decline among teens overall, but that doesn’t mean it will necessarily go away. For now, texting, IM, Facebook and other communication platforms are simply preferred in terms of personal communication. So it’s not surprising that teens want promotional messages sent via email rather than text message. If your main communication medium is texting, would you want to clutter it up with advertising? That’s like asking marketers to please interrupt your favorite TV show with more commercials. The Ball State white paper already backs this up: “College Students are very spam-savvy and believe private communication channels such as SMS and social networks are off limits for marketers.”

My intuition tells me people are actively specializing the roles each communication medium plays in their life. Text messaging, for example, might be reserved for close friends and family, IM and Facebook for a broader audience and Twitter for the world at large. In that scenario, teens might regard email as the communication method to use with the “adult” world of higher ed so that their other, more preferred communication channels are not sullied with it. Don’t we all have a junk email address that we readily use for companies we believe will spam us? Teens are likely doing the same thing — segregating their world into manageable chunks — a savvy approach, wouldn’t you say?

If the higher ed world wishes to reach teens, they need to use all available methods and let teens opt in to whichever medium they prefer. So don’t abandon email or the offline world. Instead, introduce new worlds, but ensure that how you use them and what you say are worthwhile, relevant and of interest. If it’s not, you’ll be, in the minds of teens, asking to be tuned out. A communication strategy across all of these new mediums will require a more sophisticated level of coordination, but it can be done through a systematic centralization of efforts.

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  1. Thanks for checking out our research and sharing your thoughts on it with your readers. Your explanations are consistent with ours regarding the increased adoption of these new channels. A couple additional points to back up some of what you are saying:

    1) Consumers are definitely compartmentalizing their communication preferences. This is best seen in the “Wired” group highlighted in the white paper. They have the most uniform and distinct preferences about which messages should be delivered via which channel. For example, promotions and confirmations should be sent through email, customer service notices (e.g., travel updates or fraud alerts) should be sent through SMS with a cell phone call as backup, and advertising on social networks is frowned upon… but things like surveys or games on social networks are ok. Teens and college students were not quite as consistent about how they compartmentalize messaging preferences, but it is definitely happening.

    2) Yes, email usage is clearly down among teens. It is not going to be the first thing they check in the morning… nor something they check as often as text or social networks. That said, 94% say they use still use email. In follow up interviews… we consistently hear that much of this is due to the need to interact with the “adult” world–teachers, employers, etc as you suggest.

    3) Your analogy is right on about text being like interrupting a favorite TV show with yet another commercial. Furthermore, the potential lashback is severe. These kids like to share their experiences and an improper or annoying text message can push them to share their displeasure with your company to their friends. Text is not off limits, but permission and a strong, compelling value proposition are vital.

    At ExactTarget, we’re starting a “Subscribers Rule!” movement encouraging all marketers to create subscriber-centric marketing programs designed to serve the individual, honor their unique preferences, and deliver them timely, relevant information. Thanks for “getting it”, we would love have you to join the movement at http://www.subscribersrule.com.

    Morgan Stewart
    ExactTarget, Director of Research & Strategy

  2. Offering multiple platforms of engagement is key. No one solution or site is going to solve the problem.

    Welcome to the higher ed blogosphere! Glad you joined us. 🙂

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