Truths and Consequences

 
 
By Tom Gibson  |  Posted 2011-01-24
 
 
 

Is email sexy again?  In August, Google introduced Gmail Priority Inbox, a new feature that learns to identify your important email for you. Imagine, just the email you need right now, right in front of you.
Then in November Facebook announced a major messaging rethink. Facebook Messages will be a "modern messaging system" that unifies email, Facebook messages, chat and SMS in a single application. Like Google, Facebook also recognizes that some emails are more important than others. What's important for Facebook? Email from Friends of course. Non-Friend emails will side-step the Inbox and land in the "Other" folder.

Two new but very different takes on an old email effectiveness challenge: how to bring your important email forward.

GMail, Facebook? … But I used Outlook!   Yes, at work we all do, and like most other business email users you too might be wondering how these and other social developments affect you. 

As for highlighting important email, don't expect help from Microsoft anytime soon. While Outlook excels as an email program, it's the Outlook add-in market we look to for productivity automation. On the social front there is hope. Outlook 2010 includes a Social Connector feature for passive awareness. A good start.

What's social got to do with business? Why now?   In case you are inclined to dismiss social communication and its tools as only for younger generations (or to use when not at work), I challenge you to consider that our interactions at work couldn't be more social. Email is often awkward and too formal in our social world of business.  That these emerging social tools better handle it outside of email , and in a complementary way to email, is now a re-defining opportunity for email, and for you.

To better understand how social media can help email, let's be up front about what we all now know to be true.

Truth #1 - Email doesn't do social.     An asynchronous medium, email fails us for communications requiring real-time back and forth, discussions, emotionally sensitive issues, and urgent matters.

Truth #2 - Email is for the keepers.  Emails to  set meetings and interim updates are annoying.  In contrast, we like and want to keep emails that contain (1) information to do our jobs with colleagues and clients, and (2) external information like e-newsletters that keep us informed. 

Truth #3 - Email is the world's most popular   business information system. Surprised? Where does your most important business information reside?  Many haven't noticed, but with automatic sorting and browsing tools, vastly improved searching and cheap disk space all converging, email now rocks as a way to manage your information.

Three ways to up your email game

1. Use SMS and chat for throw-away emails

Your first surprise may come when you notice people who are unresponsive via email often respond quickly to your text (SMS) messages. And you'll find chat surprisingly effective for clarifying things in quick Q&A sessions. It's easy to set up free accounts.

Is it professional? Absolutely, when used appropriately. You'll see rapid and broad uptake of these tools this year. For your team, consider Yammer, a social networking product designed specifically for internal communications. Either way, start with those you communicate with most, and you'll soon enjoy correspondingly fewer emails.

2. Separate out your important email

When helping clients we look to see how many newsletters they receive. If just a handful, Outlook's Rules feature can handle the job. For more, we recommend Nelson Email Organizer, an Outlook add-in that separates correspondent (important) mail from bulk mail that can be read later.
 
3. Keep all the Outlook emails you want

People who work hard deleting email and religiously file to folders may feel efficient, when in fact they're stuck in old ways. The trend today is to email less but save more of it, and find it using new browsing & searching technologies instead of filing.

We help shift people into the new ways. For many, improving their workflow and how they use Outlook is just what's needed. For those managing many external relationships, more is needed. Nelson Email Organizer has its own version of "friends"—it puts all email (sent and received) from each person you correspond with into automatically-created NEO virtual folders. It makes it easy to browse to any email you need.

For those who just want to improve on Outlook's search, X1 or NEO Find can be a great fit.

Can social media really save email? Not entirely. But increasingly it will take over the social exchanges email is poor at. Then email programs can do what they do best - manage the information we all need to better do our jobs.

Tom Gibson is principal trainer for Slipstream Advantage Group. He coaches busy professionals and trains companies in the new ways to manage email.