Smarter communications: will social media kill email?

By Guy Clapperton, journalist, speaker and author

Social media is great of course – but how many people consider using it for work as well as play? This isn’t about the linkedIn style way of staying in touch, nor about promoting your business on Twitter how about the idea of using social media as a complete substitute for email?

For younger people this is already becoming instinctive rather than an extraordinary idea. It’s worth, however, considering the experience of some more senior people as well.

Luis Suarez – not the footballer – is pretty senior at IBM. He’s heavily into knowledge management and five years ago realized he was getting through a load of email and his inbox was overstuffed – so he informed colleagues, politely but firmly, that he would be using the company’s internal social network instead. People assumed he was crazy or he’d be fired, but within four years he’d eliminated 97% of unwanted junk from his in-box. The business hadn’t been impacted at all, except for not wasting his time on unnecessary inbox-keeping.

The reasons were straightforward. If someone contacted him through social media, either internally through IBM Connect or externally through Google or linkedIn (his preferred means of communication), he could click through their name and find out who they were – eliminating a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and frankly irrelevant contacts.

Possibly more usefully, social media eliminates the secrecy that can happen when emails are in place. It’s all in plain view so it’s all shared and archived so if someone needs to know something from him, first they can check that it’s not a question he’s answered before. If they still need to ask then his answer in turn is shared again and may be of use to others. Meanwhile if he’s on holiday then others can step in and offer their help – so he doesn’t get that call saying ‘Luis, we know you’re away, but we have this issue…’

The quality of his life has improved overall as a result. It’s part of the smarter working ethos – monitoring outputs rather than getting hung up on processes.

Throwing email out doesn’t work every time, of course, and it’s not something to be insisted upon if you’re not fairly senior within your organization. Nonetheless there are viable alternative means of communication that won’t cost a fortune. Microsoft’s Yammer is one such, an internal social network your business can sign up to for nothing if you stick to the basic version. Podio is another – just Google them, you’ll find them, and they all have apps available for all major phone and tablet types for nothing.

Getting rid of 100% of email isn’t going to work. You may have something confidential – a document, a salary, a private note when a colleague leaves a company, that doesn’t need sharing. But as a rule, to eliminate internal politics and to ensure communications are as open and easy to search and share as possible, an internal social media structure has a lot to recommend it.


Guy Clapperton has been a journalist for longer than he cares to remember most of the time. He has a particular interest in communications and in May 2014 was pleased to be asked to present the winner of the Guardian’s Small Business Showcase award for excellence in PR and marketing with their trophy. He has written a number of books including This Is Social Media, This Is Social Commerce and The Smarter Working Manifesto – you can contact him via                 

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