Justin Bieber, Vanilla Ice and email

Detroit — During a recent lunch with few communications professionals, I came away thinking about two questions that stood out hours after I finished my mint-chocolate chip gooey brownie dessert: “Do you like Justin Bieber?” and “Can I email you story pitches?”

After thinking about those questions for the remainder of that day, I can now say with a great deal of certitude that I like Justin Bieber a lot more than I like getting email story pitches.

This is nothing against public relations professionals, communications specialists, or even my Detroit News editors, all of which email me on a daily (and sometimes hourly) basis.

Blame the system.

Email is still the most popular form of digital communication, but — to stick with musical comparisons — it’s more Vanilla Ice than Justin Bieber. Email, like Vanilla Ice, hasn’t gotten much better since the 1990s, has miraculously found a way to remain relevant and probably won’t die anytime soon.

If email had a face, it’d probably look something like Vanilla Ice.

Not to take this debate To The Extreme, but I — like most in media and communications — receive thousands of emails every week. Most of them have nothing to do the automotive industry, casinos, and surprisingly, free food in the break room — things relevant to me. There are hundreds of misguided pitches and new spam, so much so that I’ve occasionally missed important emails.

We send emails about everything. We send emails without body text. We forward emails like we’re passing out Halloween candy. We all contribute to the unintentional spamification of email accounts everywhere.

Even my junk inbox has a junk inbox. There’s so much crap in my garbage bin, that if all that crap actually existed, every city in America would refuse to pick it up Thursday mornings because that bin would exceed the maximum weight limit.

And the problem is only going to get worse as the number of sent and received emails will continue to rise.

So what’s the alternative? (Remember, think Bieber, not Vanilla Ice.)

There are plenty of effective ways to use email but those ideas have not been widely accepted. So let’s use some mediums that have.

  • Twitter: While this may be a byproduct of being a Millennial, a tweet — or even better — a direct message, will have a significantly better chance of getting read. Probably a 10-times-better chance of getting read. A quick note: send me a direct message on Twitter (which at 140 characters will keep even the most inattentive engaged) and I will receive a notification on my phone. Send me an email and my phone will vibrate in my pocket, just as it does when I don’t get an email.
  • Phone: Unbelievably, a majority of Americans now own smartphones. And fewer use those smartphones to place phone calls. But unlike most email clients, which provide a near-endless amount of space for emails, the number of voicemail messages the average person can ignore is somewhat limited. And the phone, unlike email, will keep the constant alert of a missed call or voicemail in plain sight until you acknowledge it.
  • Text message: As phone call volume declines, text messaging continues to accelerate. The length of text messages can vary, but rarely will challenge the length of emails. Plus, unlike terribly timed story pitches and other email junk, you wouldn’t dare send me a text message at 3:30 in the morning.

My answer to the communication professionals was a combination of all three — but specifically not email.

Don’t get me wrong, email is not irrelevant. But it should no longer be the main or primary method of digital communication.

For Pete’s sake, it’s 2012.

We have smartphones. We have Twitter. And yes, we have Justin Bieber.

So catch up, and get used to it.

Follow Karl Henkel on Twitter, friend him on Facebook.