For years, the digerati have been declaring the end of email as a useful tool.

Back in 2003, experts said RSS feeds would spell the death of the inbox. In 2007, Wired and CNET said younger generations were using IM, Facebook and MySpace instead of email. More recently, PC Magazine’s John Dvorak proclaimed “9 Reasons E-mail is Dead,” and The Wall Street Journal told us “Why Email No Longer Rules.”

The prognosticators point to the annoyances of spam; the difficulties of getting mass messages through corporate firewalls (and of having them stripped of HTML or graphics); and the fact that overflowing inboxes are causing people to pay less attention to email.

It’s true that media companies — and isn’t every company now a media company? — need to pay attention to important social platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. But they shouldn’t underestimate the power of a well-crafted subject line that lands in front of an email subscriber.

Let me give some examples from my own experience, and also provide some data to help bolster my case that email is alive and well.

Don’t Underestimate the Email Newsletter

A business associate recently suggested we not devote too much energy to a client’s email strategy because people are “overloaded with email.” But within four weeks of launch, more than five percent of the client’s website visitors had signed up to receive email communications. The list continues to grow at a fast clip, and I consider the people on it to be among of the site’s most loyal following.

Another recent example came when a representative from a potential sponsor for MediaShift expressed interest in banner ads, but told me they were really keen to learn about opportunities in our email newsletter. They found email to be the most effective means of communicating, according to the representative.

“Email is probably the single most effective marketing communications platform available
to publishers today, especially since it already has a high penetration level,” Chris Sturk, managing editor for the publishing consultancy Mequoda Group, said via email.

For a publisher, email ads, which by law require a user’s permission and are thus more targeted than many other advertising formats, tend to garner a much higher fee on a per-user basis than web ads. They also allow for a level of design and linguistic craft that can be impossible to achieve on social platforms like Twitter and Facebook.

I have consistently seen spikes in traffic to websites in the hours and days after email newsletters are sent out. Email allows you to keep messages on your servers, and not have to trust the security and delivery of the social network you’re sending them through. You can use the data related to open rates (the percentage of those receiving an email who actually open it), clickthroughs from links and bouncebacks (when an email address is no longer valid, for example), and not have to be as concerned with whether your information is secure. Users’ privacy can be better protected with email, as well.

“In business communication with customers, oftentimes a private channel is desired, especially when pertaining to the exchange of money,” Sturk said. “Email has this privacy, while social media is mainly public.”

The aggregate numbers, too, show that email is not in decline. The Journal story cited data that found the number of email users grew 21 percent, to 276.9 million people, across the U.S, several European countries, Australia and Brazil from August 2008 to August 2009. Sturk said delivery rates and open rates, meanwhile, remain relatively stable.

Social Networks Make Email More Efficient

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True, Twitter and Facebook and some social bookmarking and sharing sites are climbing up the rankings when it comes to referring traffic to websites. But surveys conducted by the marketing research company Marketing Sherpa find that users of social media consider them venues for personal communication, while 75 percent prefer that companies communicate with them via email.

Social media users, in fact, may use email more heavily than others, according to Marketing Sherpa editor Sean Donahue. “Just look at LinkedIn or Facebook — how do you set up an account?” he said. “With an email address. How do you receive your notifications from those services? Through your email.”

Social networks, as well as other tools like wikis and document sharing services, may also have made emailing more efficient. Collaborators can now more easily find out a project’s status and access documents as needed without having to send and receive emails for every update.

Email may not have the buzz, but it still has a lot of power. If you’re in the communication business, you ignore it at your peril. Email should still be in your mix if you’re looking to reach your users in a way that makes them comfortable, lets them communicate with you, and also brings you business benefits.

Dorian Benkoil is consulting sales manager, and has devised marketing strategy for MediaShift. He is SVP at Teeming Media, a strategic media consultancy focused on helping digital media content identify and meet business objectives. He has devised strategies, business models and training programs for websites, social media, blog networks, events companies, startups, publications and TV shows. He Tweets at @dbenk.