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2/6/2013
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Email Overload: Can Social Really Help?

Social collaboration platforms promise less email in corporate in-boxes, but do they deliver? The small business Brilliant Life Design finds out with a trial of Sendgine.

Facebook's 2012 Highs And Lows
Facebook's 2012 Highs And Lows
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Like a lot of small business owners, Melissa Foster leads a hectic life. Her email account reflects the nonstop nature of running a one-woman company.

"My inbox, of course, is insane -- just like most of my customers," Foster said in an interview. Her company, Brilliant Life Design, offers personal and team productivity training for entrepreneurs and startups, a segment known for the do-it-all, do-it-yourself ethos. That mindset matches Foster's own day-to-day business. "It's just me," she said. "I'm doing it all."

In her search for ways to reduce the amount of email she sends and receives, Foster recently began trialing Sendgine, a new "social productivity" application. Fewer emails is one of the theoretical benefits of various social and collaboration platforms for businesses, Sendgine included. For many users, though, that slimmer inbox hasn't come to pass yet.

One month in, Foster said the results are far better than she expected. She ballparked a 30-40% decrease in email volume over just a few weeks. "It does help cut down [email], which has been nice to see," Foster said. "That was one of the things they had sort of promised, and when it came time to implement I [had] a healthy sense of skepticism."

[ Is too much email caused by management problems? Read Email Overload: Disease Or Symptom? ]

Sendgine's platform is built around a "trains of thought," ostensibly the site's term for "projects." In a train of thought, all of the collaborative data involved in managing a project and moving it forward -- brainstorming, messaging, task lists, reminders, files, deadlines -- funnels toward a common goal. To date, Foster has loaded around 30 projects, both professional and personal, into the site, which recently added an iPhone app.

"Everything is there, so as long as I go in I know exactly what I need to do next [and] I don't need to be firing off emails to let people know where things stand," Foster said. "That has been huge; that saves my email inbox for bigger things, projects that I'm not yet working on but could be soon. It helps draw a line."

Foster had previously tried private Facebook Groups, Asana and Trello for similar purposes. With each, though, she ran into things she didn't like -- less control over content on Facebook, for example -- and so she kept looking before becoming intrigued by a demo of Sendgine.

Although the early results are positive, the platform has not been a panacea. One of the challenges is getting everyone else on board -- literally, in the case of Sendgine's "train of thought" approach. When it comes to technology, smaller businesses, and especially service providers, often have to use what their customers use. You can't well turn down an important client simply because you don't want to work with the apps they use.

"Most of my clients already have something that they're using that they like," Foster said. "Maybe they don't love it, but it works and they're used to it."

That points to a broader reason why social platforms might struggle to affect overstuffed inboxes. Email remains the universal application that just about everyone uses, even if we simultaneously grumble about its downsides.

"I don't want to be across several platforms working with people; I would rather have everybody in one spot," Foster said. As a result, she has been offering to "on-board" her clients with Sendgine and the trains of thought for their projects. It's extra effort, but she's confident they'll take to it once they get comfortable with the service. Foster said that although some customers use the platform more than others, the early response has been mostly encouraging. When her clients do offer feedback on things they don't like or think are missing, Foster passes it along and said it is well-received by the Sendgine team.

Still, there are those that aren't going to hop on the train. Brilliant Life Design has a client, a fellow small-business owner, who simply isn't going to use it. "I haven't had much luck with her," Foster said.

Mixing her personal and professional lives in a single space, without losing control over who sees what and when, has also been a welcome aspect of Sendgine for Foster, who noted that work comes first for many professionals these days.

"I have my mom in a folder. [Family and friends] can get a glimpse into what I'm doing," Foster said. "It's almost like having a private Facebook."

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Colin Mathews
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Colin Mathews,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/8/2013 | 6:17:15 PM
re: Email Overload: Can Social Really Help?
Hi! I'm one of the co-founders of Sendgine, so I thought I'd pop in and reply to your thoughts here.

Sendgine offers unlimited storage and the ability to 'archive' any train of thought (as well as add to folders, etc.). The starter of a train has the ability to set a self-destruct timer that will wipe all of its contents from the cloud on a certain date--so you could use this feature for document retention purposes. The nice thing of course is that it is deleted for everyone, not just your own account. We also have a "Secure+" feature that provides increased security on your outbound messages/files. Sorry to be verbose, but that all pertains to satisfying various legal requirements (one of our co-founders is a lawyer so we've given a lot of thought to this arena)!

The biggest benefit I've personally seen from our product is that with all the goings-on in daily life, the platform makes it really easy to keep track of outstanding items whether they are on my plate or someone else's.
moarsauce123
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moarsauce123,
User Rank: Ninja
2/8/2013 | 2:16:28 PM
re: Email Overload: Can Social Really Help?
How does this work out with archiving and the need for satisfying legal requirements? I get plenty of email every day, but with different accounts for different tasks and detailed filtering the amount of email I need to 'handle' is rather low. I do think that such a system as Sendgine keeps the biggest benefit of email: being asynchronous. Unlike phone or IM the recipient can respond when time allows and when it makes sense (such as after collecting the information asked for).
Joel Blaiberg
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Joel Blaiberg,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/7/2013 | 6:39:25 PM
re: Email Overload: Can Social Really Help?
Very true. Also, I don't know about you, but I find that reviewing my social networking streams be they personal (Facebook, Twitter), business (Chatter, Jive) or a combination (LinkedIn) is just as time-consuming!
MasteringEmail
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MasteringEmail,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/7/2013 | 4:46:41 PM
re: Email Overload: Can Social Really Help?
Improving communications and sharing project knowledge are good goals for social platforms in your business. They will get better. Keep in mind, email has increased and overloads our inbox. We must be careful about overloading our project files. Thanks, Bob
Drew Conry-Murray
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Drew Conry-Murray,
User Rank: Ninja
2/7/2013 | 12:55:46 AM
re: Email Overload: Can Social Really Help?
It's absolutely true that e-mail remains the common communication platform (plus ad hoc file share, to-do list, etc), which is why enterprise social will never be able to unseat it. I'm amused--and irritated--by the fact that the social platform we use at work sends tons of updates on social activity to my in box. Just more testimony to e-mail's staying power.

Drew Conry-Murray
Editor, Network Computing
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