Tools & methods

Email isn’t dead, but it is ageing: How young people now communicate online

There’s no shortage of articles proclaiming that email not only still alive, but continues to thrive despite predictions that social media would bring about its demise.

However, these stories are missing important factors: changes in demographics, and the rapid rise of something new beyond social media.

An article in The Telegraph reports that email is indeed dead for today’s university students, who prefer to communicate using Twitter. Professor Sir Steve Smith, vice-chancellor of Exeter University, reveals how students are tweeting for help rather than waiting for email responses. The university has had to establish teams to monitor Twitter for these messages, with students expecting a faster response than would occur with email.

But while young people might prefer Twitter for communicating with an institution such as a university, they are opting out of social media sites like Twitter and Facebook for their private communication. An article in The Conversation reports that:

Just as young people were the first to migrate on to platforms like Facebook and Twitter, they may now be the first to leave and move on to something new.

Young people are instead embracing the relative privacy of messaging apps such as Snapchat and Facebook Messenger. Three possible reasons are given for this:

  1. The number of older people now using Facebook means that young people’s posts on the site are no longer private from people such as their parents.
  2. The permanence of information posted on sites like Facebook can cause problems in the future.
  3. There is the risk that employers can use Facebook and other social media profiles as part of employment assessments.

The implications of this shift are significant. If young people are communicating in private online spaces then it can be difficult for advertisers to reach them, and it makes it harder for parents to monitor the online safety of their children. The exposure of young people to social and political issues might also be reduced.

An article in Medium alerts that while the emergence of messaging apps has already caused dramatic change, the phenomenon is only really just beginning:

There are 2.5 billion people in the world on messaging apps today, meaning that messaging is 25% larger than social media in terms of registered users. More surprising is that messaging growth has just begun, and an estimated 1.1 billion new users will onboard by 2018.

The article discusses research into the global rise of messaging apps, which apps will be adopted where, and how user count will convert to revenue growth. The most unexpected findings were:

  1. While China, Japan, and South Korea have dominant messengers with large user counts, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp are poised to take Southeast Asia.
  2. The most significant growth market for messaging is the Middle East & Africa, where Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp also have the advantage.
  3. User growth will convert to revenue through services built on top of messaging platforms.

Email isn’t dead yet, but that appears to be its ultimate destiny because young people have abandoned it, initially in favour of social media, and now messaging apps. Your business, organisation or agency needs to plan ahead for this change, particularly as older generations are likely to also progressively embrace messaging apps, just like they have become enthusiastic users of social media.

Image source: whatsapp application by is licensed by CC BY 2.0.

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Also published on Medium.

Bruce Boyes

Bruce Boyes ( is a knowledge management (KM), environmental management, and education professional with over 30 years of experience in Australia and China. His work has received high-level acclaim and been recognised through a number of significant awards. He is currently a PhD candidate in the Knowledge, Technology and Innovation Group at Wageningen University and Research, and holds a Master of Environmental Management with Distinction. He is also the editor, lead writer, and a director of the award-winning RealKM Magazine (, and teaches in the Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU) Certified High-school Program (CHP).

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