Friday, August 31, 2012

You've Got Mail: Email Notifications from Enterprise Social Networks?

When I had America Online in the 90’s, I thought the “You’ve Got Mail” announcement was one of the most exciting sounds I had ever heard. Now a days, my overflowing inbox is more daunting than delightful.  It’s like an approaching tide – take your eyes off of it for too long and it’s lapping at your ankles, soon creeping back up to unmanageable, and maybe dangerous levels, leaving you grabbing your beach towels and legging it for the hills.

Nick Bilton of the New York Times wrote an amusing and relatable piece about it this July: Disruptions: Life’s Too Short for So MuchE-Mail.  He admits his inbox makes him sad and describes his never-ending struggle to "reach In-box Zero, the Zen-like state of a consistently empty in-box."

I have known many innovative, driven, hard working employees that will not want to let go of a certain amount of email. They are efficient, talented, and top performers and do not want to have to login to a enterprise social network or "Corporate Facebook" in order to see the essentials they need to do their job. 

Dependency on email as a primary means of communication is at one end of the spectrum and inability to get work done from email overload is at the end.  When one is thinking about designing and managing a social network for the enterprise - how do you reach the perfect balance?

I think that customizable email notifications are a great solution to this conundrum. For a community manager, this means clearly articulating the options and making sure your members are aware that they've been empowered - hear from us if you want. While managing my own community I work with email notifications from the Saba People Cloud application.  Like any other automated email system, they can be useful because you can see what’s new and what’s available without taking the time to sign in.  They can be annoying if you are receiving lots of notifications that you don’t care about. 

The Saba Online Community exists to connect the members, not shout at them. To hand them tools, not to bury them in resources they neither want nor care about. That’s the plan, anyways.

We set it up so our users can personalize your settings and decide which types of messages are important to them.  For example, they can get a notification for each new discussion thread from a product discussion group so they can read tips and offer advice from other customers, but turn off notifications for another group they want access to. They can see emails when their consultant shares a valuable file with them, while excluding piles of email that tells them that same social-savvy Consultant just started following 20 new people. 

And as always, we take advantage of a neat feature that means I can respond directly to my email notification to post in a thread. I know a number of my most active and helpful superusers haven't signed in to post a question, idea, resource, etc in months.  Yet they offer fast and expert responses to their peers daily.

What do you think about email notifications in terms of enterprise social networks?  What about RSS feeds as an option? Do you think we could reach a day of no email?  

Would you want to?

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