The Shift in Communication – Are You Ready?

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A couple of days ago, @RealtorMatthew posed an interesting question on Twitter

When do you think email will be obsolete?

My immediate response was, “it pretty much already is for my teenagers…” and several others chimed in on the discussion with similar thoughts. The general consensus was that email wasn’t going the way of the dinosaurs, but that “electronic communication” was evolving and changing.

This prompted me to take a look at what methods my daughter and son, ages 16 and 18 respectively, use to communicate in their daily lives.

Here is a breakdown of my families monthly cell phone usage for both voice minutes and text messages sent / received for 2010 year-to-date. I’ve also included an estimate of the volume of email each family member receives.

voice-sms-email-data-chart-all 
First, let me give thanks to T-mobile’s unlimited text and voice messaging plans…

Now let’s take a closer look at that data.

Yes, my teenagers have sent or received over 80,000 text messages this year. My daughter physically wears out cell phone keypads on a regular basis, but she hardly talks on the phone.

More remarkable to me however, is the combined 40 emails my two teens have received – this year. I get 40 emails by 10:00am, every day.

Put simply, other than for the occasional school project, they never use email.

Yes, this is a ridiculously small sample size – for all you math/stats/nerdy people it is nowhere near “statistically significant”. But if you ponder the data, and its implications, it’s quite fascinating.

Email Usage

Will email become obsolete? Probably not. Email is used extensively, worldwide. According to the Radicati Group, a leading researcher on the use of email, in their 2009 – 2013 Email Statistics Report (executive summary is here. I’m not plunking down $2500 for the updated 2010 version…), the number of worldwide email users is projected to increase from 1.4 billion in 2009 to 1.9 billion in 2013. They project worldwide email traffic will grow from 247 billion messages per day in 2009 to 507 billion messages per day in 2013, with 63% of that being consumer traffic and 37% business traffic. According to Radicati, North America accounts for “about 23%” of email use, so that means about 57 billion email messages per day are sent/received in North America.

Incidentally, 81% of that traffic in 2009 was spam (increasing to 84% in 2013). So roughly 10 billion non-spam emails are sent and received every day in North America.

That’s a lot of emails. And spam.

Text Messaging

CTIA-The Wireless Association reported on March 23, 2010 that 822 billion text messages were sent and received on U.S. wireless carrier networks in the last half of 2009, up from 740 billion in the first half of 2009. This amounts to just over 4.5 billion text messages sent or received daily in the U.S. You can of course divide that by two to get the number of individual messages sent. And to think, my daughter only contributes 377 of those each day.

That’s a lot of text messaging.

Back in the Dark Ages…

During my teenage years, I distinctly recall my Father begging, pleading and ultimately commanding my sister to get off the phone. Of course back then no one had a second land line, there were no cell phones and Al Gore hadn’t even dreamed of creating the Internet. The telephone and hand written letters (and maybe smoke signals) were about the only way to communicate.

So, What’s the Point?

Clarence Darrow once said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but rather the one most adaptable to change.”

And communication is changing, swiftly. If you are a butcher, baker, candlestick maker, estate agent or any sort of business person then you would be well served to pay attention to this change and adapt your communication methods to reflect this shift. Sure, no 16 or 18 year old will be buying or selling a home this week, but they will be in just a few short years.

Kids – tomorrow’s home buyers and sellers – don’t really talk on the phone that much. (The bulk of my son’s minutes are spent running his business. He’s an entrepreneur of sorts who buys and resells phones, and fixes broken iPhones.) These youngsters are communicating electronically in ways that would have seemed magical just a few years ago. I’d love to add Facebook messaging and chatting to my stats table but I don’t know how to capture that data. Facebook is a significant communication tool for my daughter, but is non-existent for my son. Twitter? Both my kids think it’s stupid. I happen to find it a fascinating media tool and a reasonably good communication method.

I have clients with preferred methods of communication ranging from phone call to email to text message. Some even prefer communication via Facebook messaging or Twitter direct messages. I’ve had clients (younger clients) tell me, “if you send me an email, text me so I know to check it”.

It doesn’t really matter what my preferred way to communicate happens to be, what matters is that I reach our clients the way they prefer. If a client says, “text me” do you really want to say, “I don’t know how to do that”??

Who knows how communication tools and practices will evolve in the coming years. But evolve they will. If you don’t adapt, you won’t survive.

I would love to hear your thoughts on how you see communication shifting and evolving. Got kids? Do they use email? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!

For the Copyright Police – I purchased the right to use the “Evolution of Communication” cartoon.

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About the Author
Jay Thompson

I'm a real estate broker in Phoenix, Arizona and the publisher of the Phoenix Real Estate Guy blog. I tend to drive too fast and scream at the University of Texas and Denver Broncos football teams. My two kids are smarter than most adults I know and my wife is simply amazing.

The Phoenix Real Estate Guy runs on AgentPress

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  1. Eric Johnson says:

    Thank goodness for UNLIMITED texting! That would've been a tough bill at a nickle a pop!

    Great points on evolving expectations & preferences for communicating!

    Eric

  2. Justin says:

    This. Is. Fascinating.

  3. Tyler Hurst says:

    I'm in awe at the amount of texts that is. I'd consider myself a ridiculously addicted communicator, and my emails, texts and tweets combined for 2010 don't equal that much.

    I do think short messaging (definitely SMS, to a lesser extent Twitter) have vastly degraded people's abilities to communicate outside their tight-knit social circle. Sure, they are really good at talking with their friends, but that ceases to be helpful after a certain point, right?

  4. Tyler – we've talked about that before (Heather & I). I remember getting marked down in high school English for using a contraction. Pretty soon things like ur and omg will be perfectly acceptable grammar!

  5. My preferred communication is email for business, and chat with friends via yahoo or msn. I never have been much of a phone person. I also find Twitter to be useless. Heck, I don't even have a fax line anymore. Not worth the $75 month for one fax.

    Now my daughter only communicates via text.

    You make an interesting point of how we will communicate with the kids just growing up, and what changes they will bring. On the other hand, I still have clients who can barely turn on a computer, much less navigate all the electronic communication.

  6. John Wake says:

    Dang you Jay! You've drawn me in again.

    I'm an email hack. I have a huge real estate e-newsletter that I started in 2002 (and it shows). So, I follow email trends even though I don't implement them into my newsletters… yet.

    Factoids.

    One quick and dirty study found those who were the most active in social media were also the most active in emails.

    So it's not either/or.

    When people share something from the internet, a link to a video or article, nearly 80% used email. (source)

    Email is preferred for some uses.

    Email is still growing monetarily. You may not subscribe to commercial email newsletters but retailers make a lot of money directly and indirectly from their email newsletters.

    A prime objective of many retailer facebook and twitter efforts is to get people to sign up for the far more profitable email newsletter. After the website, email is kinda the foundation on which other online marketing is built. In fact, a major goal of websites themselves is to get the browsing visitor to sign up for the newsletter so the retailer can hit the visitor's inbox instead of hoping the visitor ever finds the website again.

    "Respondents to the survey said they used mostly e-mail when it came to communicating with family members and companies, professional communications, talking about a “serious topic” or setting up a meeting with several people. Social networking was considered more appropriate for casual communications, talking to friends, organizing social gatherings as well as announcing major events." (source)

    Here's a good article on the differences, at least between Twitter and email.

    See the whole thing.

    Jay, texting is more like a short phone call and email is more like a full page newspaper ad. I bet your sister bought a lot of stuff based on both when she was a kid but for most businesses, the newspaper ad was far more cost effective. (Although the barrier to entry is lower for social media vs. email marketing

    I see text displacing some email for short messages but for the serious stuff, people will still use email.

    And who knows what "email" will look like in 5 or 10 years as more people read their email on cell phones? Doesn't texting seem kinda primitive on a beautiful, big Droid or iPhone 4 screen? Will people really use plain old texting after a few years of 4G phones? Isn't texting just an artifact of an old technology, cellphones with tiny screens?

    As 4G takes over, couldn't email optimized to look great on cell phones be far more effective in selling then texting or Twitter?

    Facebook and Twitter are more like phone sales. Websites and email are more like newspaper ads. They both work.

    John Wake

  7. Very thought provoking post. I love email because it’s easily sortable / searchable / saveable – I can keep it to reference later AND I can keep it for the bound-to-happen-eventually lawsuit (knock on wood it hasn’t happened yet & fingers crossed it won’t ever…) But I do find my real-time communication tends to be via text & facebook. And I’ve had younger clients tell me not to bother emailing them as they won’t see it for a week or longer – they feel about email the way I feel about my snail mailbox – nothing important goes there unless I’m expecting something…

    • Jay Thompson says:

      Excellent point Chris about the "archive-ability" of email. One of these days, if it hasn't already happened, some exchange is going to go down via text that's going to be difficult to prove in court. *Maybe* actual text messages can be subpoenaed, but that sounds complicated. And expensive.

  8. Randy Hooker says:

    Jay, you sooooooooooooo love to stir up a controversy! Very nice post. As for me and my tastes, I prefer to keep 'social' media social, friendship based, light, quick, easy. I'm mainly referring to Twitter and FaceBook. But when it comes to business communications, email is the the perfect ride. Email is retainable, sortable, and saveable. Yes, I am an old fart, but hey, a proven system is good regardless of the age factor. If a new client can't handle email, texting or faxing, then they're simply not a good fit for me. And again, very nice post!

  9. I don't use Twitter and Facebook either, but I can definitely see your point that it is important to learn because kids who use it now will be buying houses in the future. The internet is growing so fast and in another decade, it will probably change a lot. I hope I can keep up with it. I already need my son's help to figure out all the new advancements in computers and internet technology.

  10. Text is definitely taking over, but there is still such a huge generation gap. I always ask my clients (average age 50's) whether I can text them and the answer is usually no.

  11. Brian Block says:

    Jay,

    40 e-mails all year! I get twice as many spam e-mails a day…

    I don't think e-mail will go away, but it's significance is definitely on the wane.

  12. Heather Barr says:

    These numbers are simply astounding!

    Jay: "*Maybe* actual text messages can be subpoenaed,…"

    Chris & I work really, really hard to do what Jay's recommending – communicate w/ clients the way they prefer, regardless of what we like — But… a few years back I needed help retrieving some lost text messages (thank goodness not for business) and my cellphone provider said, "sorry, we don't keep those; we don't even see them." Yikes!

    Soon, someone will make a bloody fortune creating an app for business that will archive text messages so business people can use it for cover your behind and legal purposes. Oh, I wish I could be that someone!

  13. Nice post. Thought provoking too. In my opinion e-mail won't hit the tar pits but new innovations will eventually take over. For instance VOIP is rapidly growing in popularity, and with the stiff competition in the communications sector, we can all expect back-to-the-futuresque gadgets and equipments anytime soon. Have you ever heard of multimodal interaction? Simply put, it means that you can choose multiple modes of interfacing with a system which goes beyond the use of your keyboard and mouse. I believe stuff like this will be widely used in a few years' time…

  14. Brittany Miles says:

    Completely agree. I have quite a few friends with new businesses who've had to adapt VERY quickly to all methods of social media – but not because they want to or are even interested in it. They've been forced to realize that by not joining Twitter or not having a Facebook, they're potentially missing out on an entire audience.

  15. Kris Berg says:

    Testing. One. Two. Three.

  16. Kris Berg says:

    Sorry, Jay. Apparently whatever caused your blog to kick my 1000-word comment to the curb this morning fixed itself. :) Now I shall plan my return with something meaningful to contribute.

    Oh, and my 1000 words were along the lines of "great post!"

  17. Maui Condos says:

    Excellent points, Jay. Text is just so convenient and accessible, I can see why it is so widely accepted by younger generations. I don't know that I would use twitter or FB for business purposes, at least not as a consumer, but if a client requests it then so be it. And well, email is my flavor of the day, but willing to adapt as new technologies come (at least for now, let's revisit this topic in a couple of years and I will probably change my mind).

    • I just had a business conversation with a client via Facebook chat a few minutes ago.

      Actually, she is someone I got to know on twitter (and in person by attending tweetups). She asked me about buying property a few months ago, and I referred her to another agent since she is looking in a county that I don't do much work in. Yesterday, she contacted me on twitter to ask if I could find her another agent. I was in a conference all day and told her so, but said I would get back to her with someone. I found an agent today, but didn't have a chance to send her the information yet. She noticed I was logged in on Facebook tonight, and she sent me a chat message. I filled her in on my progress on finding an agent and she updated me on her search criteria. We exchanged a half dozen messages, and she is feeling good that we are on track.

      Facebook and Twitter can absolutely work as business communication tools.

  18. I've definitely shifted away from communicating by phone in lieu of email. I also use texting with people I know well, but think it will never replace business communications because you simply can't get into complex subjects in text message sizes. I wouldn't be surprised if something completely new is the tool of the future…something that is between email and texting, maybe more like FB messaging and can be done easily on a mobile device.

    Whatever it is, we'll all need to shift to it or we'll be left behind.

  19. Jay – Thanks a lot. We just provided my 11 year old daughter with her first cell phone because "all the other girls in school have one. And now my 8-yr old son seems to feel left out so it probably won't be long before he "needs" one – (He already comandeers my iPhone as soon as we sit down in a restaurant).

    Now I have to be prepared to text them when it's time for dinner instead of sticking my head outside and yelling for them, huh?

    Keep up the great mix of real estate and real life here on TPREG!

  20. Josh Aberson says:

    Love this post! So many people out there just simply don't get it, especially in Real Estate! I've started recommending to sellers to ask for texts to show rather than calls. So much easier for them, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Jump on, the worlds a changin'!

    Thanks Jay!

  21. I recently tweeted and stumbled upon your post. Really your post is very informative and I enjoyed your opinions. Do you use twitter or stumbleupon? So I can follow you there. I am hoping you post again soon.

  22. Love the graphic Jay. Definitely gets your point across. Moving with the times is definitely required to be a success, whether that's in real estate or any other business. I find email a great place to keep records and back up information. Otherwise I'm all for texting. Just like email it's not as intrusive as a phone call and the best part is you know the person receiving the text will almost be sure to see it almost immediately, or at least very quickly. It also beats listening to instructions on how to leave a voice message from a computer. BTW, I'm not talking about the personal messages people have on their voice mails, I'm talking about the idiotic idea that I need to be told to press 1 or hold or leave a call number or whatever…. I've come to the conclusion cell phone companies add all that just to increase the number of minutes used making a call!

  23. Aprilette says:

    I use emails mostly for business purposes and facebook to keep in touch with my friends but so far I find texting to be most convenient because I can do it anywhere, as long as I have my cellphone with me. Interesting statistics, though. Love your post!..

  24. Bob Watson says:

    Real time communication is transforming business as we have known it. eMail has become today's snail mail, but will continue to be a communication mainstay. We just opened escrow with a 48 year old client whose preference was to communicate by text. This is directly correlated to how he amd his wife communicate daily with their teenage children. All documents were sent via email, nothing via US mail. All signatures were eSign by our side. Heather Barr made a good point regarding archiving texts for legal back-up. We copy and paste the text into a conversation log within an email which we send to ourselves. So until that SMS archive app shows up we still need email!

  25. Mind blowing numbers! WOW! I knew the younger set was texting more and talking less but I had NO idea that their volume of email was going that low. I do think, now that I've read more about it, that your kids' numbers are consistent with their generation. We must adapt, or get eaten alive.

  26. You bring up some very interesting points and well, the data doesn't lie! We're seeing a lot of our real estate agents adapting new technologies even if it's not completely intuitive to them at first. Being able to communicate with clients in the ways they prefer is important.

  27. Cliffs Edge says:

    Jay, I can't even begin to comprehend/grasp how quickly technology is moving and how we must adapt to communication styles. Now I'm starting more on Twitter/FB, I hope I can master those before we move on to something else!

  28. They should totally have a twitter dictionary. If you can’t define a word in 140 characters or less, remove it from our language.

  29. ann smith says:

    I think we need to adopt as the world changes. very informative post!

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