Mark McDonald

A member of the Gartner Blog Network

Mark P. McDonald
8 years at Gartner
24 years IT industry

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a former group vice president and head of research in Gartner Executive Programs. He is the co-author of The Social Organization with Anthony Bradley. Read Full Bio

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Frustrated by chain email? You just found an opportunity for social media collaboration.

by Mark P. McDonald  |  July 23, 2012  |  5 Comments

Chain email, we get them, sometimes we even add them but we are all confounded as they clog up our accounts.  Recently my email account has been bombarded with several of these chain emails.

So while I was mass deleting the chain, I wondered what was really going on.

  • What is all the energy behind people posting a few sentences of a response, a new question, or a comment?
  • What was behind having a large group of people read these individual comments, which piled one on top of the other in sequential rather than contextual order?
  • Why were people using such an intrusive, inefficient and unproductive approach to communications?

The answers were that they had no other easy means to communicate, no other place to share quickly and easily.  Email rather than social media were the primary means of communication so that was where the communication happened.

Social media mavens know that social media tools provide a better means for sharing the type of information and topics discussed using this type of chain email.

The people who grew up with email and see it as the primary means of communication and coordination may not see the advantages of moving the conversation into a different tool.

This is happening, as younger workers prefer social media as a means of messaging rather than email.

In the not too distant future, message traffic via social media will exceed the volume of email.

When that happens, a lot of things will change because a social media message is not the same as an email.

Email is point-to-point, individual, isolated, exclusive, voluminous and accretive.

Social media is ‘one to many’, it quickly becomes many to many, it is inclusive, topic focused and represents the aggregation of ideas rather than the assembly of messages and responses.

The positives of social media are easy to describe in principle, but a challenge to understand in practice.

Chain emails provide an example that we all understand and we can all begin to see the advantage of working a different way.   If you think chain emails are effective, then please continue to use them.  If not, then consider applying another form of communications and collaboration.

Are there other examples? Please add your comments to identify situations that illustrate the contrast between hierarchical and closed communications and more social forms of collaboration.


Category: Social Media Social Organization     Tags: , , ,

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Frustrated by chain email? You just found an opportunity for social … | Best In Phoenix, Arizona   July 23, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    […] Frustrated by chain email? You just found an opportunity for social … This entry was posted in Uncategorized by cptnjosh. Bookmark the permalink. […]

  • 2 David Kelly   July 23, 2012 at 5:29 pm

    Hi Mark, great post – this is a big problem and one of the reasons we are using a social collaboration app.

    I run a small web design shop, and our day to day work involves a lot of back and forth discussion via email with clients and other project stakeholders, which creates in long reply chains that are extremely difficult to follow – especially when it comes to trawling through messages trying to find the decisions/agreements made weeks in the past.

    These aren’t the sort of conversations we’d want to have in via public Twitter or other social media, but private social collaboration networks like Jive and Yammer (for the enterprise) and Shareflow (for small creative teams and everyone else) are ideal for the job.


  • 3 Future of Work Enabled - James M. Connolly - Think Before You Reply to All or Get Social   July 24, 2012 at 3:47 pm

    […] hours after reading and nodding in agreement with a blog by Gartner Inc. analyst Mark McDonald about the inefficiency of chain emails, I got caught up in one today. So, apologies to those team […]

  • 4 Stanley Rao   July 27, 2012 at 2:30 am

    Agree … emails that are sent in chains will not be read but will just be deleted without even knowing what is being said.

  • 5 learn more   June 22, 2013 at 4:20 pm

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