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Social Networking Overtaking Email Claim Misleading, Researcher Says

It seems Nielsen had their fingers crossed when they released a report yesterday that claims “Social networks/blogs now 4th
most popular online category – ahead of personal e-mail.”

Adweek reporter Brian Morrissey ran with it in an article titled “Nielsen: Social Networking Overtakes E-mail in Popularity” which is how I found out about it.

But according to Trend Stream CEO Tom Smith, author of the popular Universal McCann study “When Did We Start Trusting Strangers [PDF]” – and featured guest in the next “On the Record…Online” podcast – the claim is misleading because the Nielsen study only measures webmail.

No desktop email or mobile email usage numbers are considered in the Nielsen numbers. Tom says he’s also skeptical of their definition of social networks, calling it “pretty broad.” You can download the Nielsen study and make up your own mind here [PDF].

“It’s not trendy but I still think email is the most important, immediate and utilized communication and influence tool particular in the developed web markets such as US and UK,” said Tom in an email. “That said long term social networks will become core communication platforms to rival email. I just ran some research in the US on video sharing and the number one way to share videos was email, way ahead of social network distribution.”

I recently blogged that for organizational communicators, email is more important than Facebook, basing my opinion on Tom’s research that 99% of all active internet users rely on email daily, making it most popular online communications channel. What do you think? Is email still the most important online communications channel? And will it hold that status through 2009?

If you’d like to discuss this subject directly with Tom, he’s going present his latest social media research at the upcoming Digital Impact Conference in NYC April 30-May 1, which I’m co-chairing with Elizabeth Albrycht.

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