Increasing the Net Worth of Your Email and Social Networks

There is an article on the FastCompany.com blog last week about a company in Europe that is in the process of banning all internal email among its 75,000 employees. According to the company’s CEO, “email is no longer the appropriate communication tool.” The company plans to implement a “zero email” policy over the next 18 months, replacing all internal communications with Facebook, phone and in-person conversations.

The operative word here is “internal.” It’s one thing to tell your employees to stop emailing the person in the adjacent cube, but another thing entirely to expect all the company’s customers, partners and vendors to get on board with the policy. The company is Atos, an IT firm that counts among its clients the Olympic Games. With a zero email policy, what is it going to do when someone buys tickets to the 4-man bobsledding event online, or orders a souvenir Olympic mascot coffee mug – tweet them a purchase confirmation for their records, or ask them to fan the Olympics on Facebook in order to download and print their tickets?

More laughable than laudable, the Atos policy is showing up in FastCompany as an example of a management decision to improve internal communications. But the idea overlooks the staggering value of the email network Atos and all other companies are part of. Metcalfe’s Law says that the value of a network increases exponentially with the number of connected users. With billions of active email addresses worldwide, this makes email likely the most valuable network every in the history of the world. Social media still lags considerably but is nevertheless valuable. The secret to improved communications within email and social is not to eschew the network altogether, but to find ways of increasing the value – to everybody – of the part of the network your brand is most closely connected to.

How do you do that? Here are a few ways you can increase the net worth of your email and social networks:

1. Add Users: The lynchpin of Metcalfe’s Law is the number of connected users. A billion people on Facebook do not directly benefit you, though the hundreds or thousands of fans you have do. Obviously, you want to continue increasing the number of people who follow you on social channels and subscribe to your emails. But Metcalfe’s Law implies that the increase in value is not just from the users within a network able to connect to a hub (which in this case is you) but to each other. Having 5,000 fans on Facebook who only listen to you is not nearly as valuable – in Metcalfe’s terms – as 500 who communicate with you and each other. Driving the “social” component of social media is particularly important to a network’s value.

2. Listen and respond: We’re talking about communications networks after all, not broadcast networks. (Metcalfe’s Law was developed to explain telecommunications technology, not TV or radio.) The people in your network will find greater value in it if they know you are listening and responding. Over the past few years, we’ve heard our customers breathing a collective sigh of relief when the companies they followed on blogs, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn actually began to respond to their questions, comments and complaints. After a decade of “do not reply” email addresses, attention was something they were exchanging with companies, not simply giving to them. Make sure you track all mentions and comments in your social channels, and you have a process for responding to – and even inviting – replies to your email as well. Conversations are harder to tune out than mere broadcasts.

3. Rise above the clutter: I’ve said before that the greatest obstacle you face in the inbox is the clutter from all the other messages in there that aren’t yours. The same is true of social media. In both channels, some of your audience is learning to triage, filter, sort and prioritize messages, which helps you if your brand makes the attention cut. But there are also some tools available to help your key messages rise above the din. Facebook Ads are a powerful and relatively inexpensive way to elevate the visibility of some of your messages with strategic importance – both to your fans and also their friends and other targets you identify. Twitter also offers Promoted Tweets that serve a similar purpose. Don’t dismiss either of these as mere advertising. Instead, think of them as amplifiers – they take the messages you want your audience to see, and make them louder. There is no direct inbox correlation to these features, though of course spam and junk filters are designed to serve a similar purpose. Curiously, the author of the article in FastCompany.com I referenced at the top posited an inbox solution of his own, where USPS takes control of email and implements stamp-like fees and expenses to discourage illegitimate senders and allow senders to elevate the stature of their messages in the inbox. I think he was kidding, or at least I hope he was; I have not received a desirable piece of postal mail in about 4 years now, despite a daily armful for the recycling bin.

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