Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg Is Embracing the End of Email, Here's Why

Facebook COO <a href=Sheryl Sandberg" />

"If you want to know what people like us will do tomorrow, you look at what teenagers are doing today," Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg told the audience at Nielsen's Consumer 360 conference yesterday. And according to Sandberg, only 11% of teens email daily—clearly, a huge generational drop. Instead, they are increasingly turning to SMS (or Twitter) and social networks for communication.

"E-mail—I can't imagine life without it—is probably going away," she said.

But this transition will be good for businesses and brand marketers. Why? Because while it's very difficult to gain access to a consumer's email address, connecting with them via social networks is quite simple. Indeed, with Facebook's 400 million members and 100 million daily mobile users, the network enables brands to connect with more customers than ever before—or, as Sandberg explains, "On any given day, you can reach twice as many people in the U.S. as watch American Idol—and that only makes up 30% of our global audience."

What most drives the effectiveness of social networks is its authenticity, said Sandberg, echoing a claim recently made by Martha Stewart. The COO contended that many join Facebook's social network because people use their real identities—she also claimed that users join because they entrust the network with personal information (although that may be changing given the company's many problems around privacy controls of late).

Regardless, authenticity on the Web certainly means better word-of-mouth communication for brands. Sandberg cited one study which showed that people who receive product recommendations from their friends are 400% more likely to buy that product. On Facebook, this is encapsulated in the site's "like" feature. The study also revealed that friend-recommended products have 68% better product recognition and 200% greater memory of brand messaging.

Check out part of her presentation below:

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  • murrayzz1

    Is Sheryl Sandberg still behaving like she did when she was in high school? I doubt it. 

    To say that we can find out how adults of the future will behave by looking at how teenagers today behave is absolute rubbish. Otherwise my generation would still be sitting in the park smoking pot and drinking cider with safety pins through our earlobes.

    Teenagers don't send emails because they don't need to. They don't need to because they don't work, or pay bills, or have mortgages, or use banks. 

    People from Facebook are always coming out with this nonsense, but ask yourself this - how do you log into your Facebook account? 

    With your email address. 

    And when Facebook want to tell you something, what do they do? Post it into your newsfeed? 


    They send you an email.

    Email is the ONLY non-proprietary, asynchronous, universal electronic communication medium. There will always be a need for such a medium, so there will always be email. It may change, but rest assured, it is not going away.

  • Mike Kunkle

    The end of email? Really? Well yes, maybe someday, but how far out do you want to prognosticate? (With apologies to Zager and Evans, perhaps the year 2525?) I'm still waiting for the end of paper and snail mail.... which have been predicted since at least 1995, if not earlier.

    Mobile technology just makes it easier and faster to send an email. Through various social networks I am directly connected to over 12,000 people. Do you want to guess whether my email volume has increased or decreased?

    A lot of fun, disruptive change is coming. Anything *could* happen and I don't want to be one of those "the world is flat" people, but I'd bet against this one.

  • Lisa Nirell

    Is it me, or is this a faintly disguised sales pitch?

    I sincerely doubt that one mode of communictation will trump all others--at least in my lifetime.
    The joy of today's society is that we get to choose our ideal mode: pen and paper, email, phone, face to face, and so on.

    I do not determine my method of working and communicating based on what teenagers are doing. I choose based on how my friends, family and clients want to be treated and nurtured. No single method wins. Ever.


  • nicksail

    RE: Sandberg's comments on giving voice to the masses.

    Facebook is not real social interaction, and it does not give voice to the nameless faceless. It may cause shallow empathy, but I think this is probably more damaging than good. So we spend our limited time investing in shallow relationships and voyeurism instead of relationships with meaning and accountability.

    However, I'm not saying Facebook is all bad. It is neat and does connect "long-lost friends." It serves a purpose.

    The largest harm I think is this:

    Take a self-conscious teenager and teach her to live life in a mirror. Instead of actually experiencing life from within herself, teach her to experience life by how her life looks to others. Teach her to live life as a display from the outside in, instead of an experience from the inside out. Or take a self-conscious adult and teach him the same.

  • Suzanne Lainson

    I've been online since 1993. The one constant form of online communication during all these years has been email. Online communities come and go. Something will come along to replace Facebook.

    Some topics do not lend themselves to short messages. And many topics need to be communicated within fairly private exchanges. Running those communications through an online social network not known for its respect of privacy isn't going to happen.

    Using today's teenagers as a gauge for what tomorrow's adults will do is not very insightful. Priorities change considerably as people get jobs, get married, buy homes, have kids, etc.

  • Pablo R. Naranjo

    Well, I believe everybody caught Sheryl as a self-promoter, therefore, her comments lack credibility, at least regarding this specific issue.

    I have an 18 year old, 1st year college student, and I see him using emails for the first time. The system does not allow him to use anything different for many chores in school. And, once FB or other companies screw up keeping information confidential, the whole 400 million will jump ship. Meanwhile, we will continue using e-mails so not everybody in the rest of the world knows our well kept secrets.

  • Eric Groves

    As fellow commenters here have noted, it is farfetched that Facebook will cause email to go the way of the telegraph. We’ve all seen the studies that show that frequent users of Facebook and other social networking sites actually use email more than those who don’t participate as much in social networking.

    As for teen’s behavior today influencing the future, another study by fellow email service provider Exact Target shows that today’s smartphones, combined with text messaging and social networking, have increased the use of email among teens. Let’s face it email is not going anywhere anytime soon for businesses small or large. The advent of tools, like NutshellMail, that aggregate your social networking content in your inbox shows that email is not going away for business big and small. They help make sense of the chaos that is social networking.

    Smart marketers know that the need to reach their customers and members through multiple channels, including email, social media, and whatever new technology is coming down the road.

    Eric Groves
    Constant Contact

  • Beckie

    There was a time when folks complained about too much junk mail in the postal mailbox. But we still cherish the handwritten card and know that we will surprise another by sending one with a stamp on it.

    Then there was the invention of mass market emails. We can no longer respond to each and every email we receive because it it too overwhelming. But in business, it is the best communication method to convey lots of nitty, gritty details and data to another.

    We are on the verge of becoming over stimulated by social media. New products are coming out to help us manage our communities all in one interface. One day, some new communication method will come along that the public will flock to because mass marketing hasn't infiltrated it yet. And we will cherish the personalized emails and twitters just like we do those old-fashioned hand-written cards and letters.

  • Rita Ashley

    All technologies are 'interim technologies.' There is always something to replace what we believe is indispensable. It is, however, unlikely that technology that exists today is what will replace email. It is more likely to be something we haven't yet imagined.

    Re: email addresses and Facebook. FB makes it very easy to acquire email addresses from 'friends.' But just because you have my email address and send me something doesn't mean I read it. That's the issue, not address acquisition.

    Regardless of the medium, the challenge is always getting people to read what you present. And if we judge by Teenage communications, the English Language is also a thing of the past. LOL.
    Rita Ashley, Career Coach
    Author: Job Search Debugged

  • Amber Schwartz

    Facebook Login = Email + Password. Seriously... Fast Company Login = Email + Password... shall we go on?

  • Noah Robischon

    Ha, great point Amber. Although we did use Facebook Connect here until very recently...

  • Jeff Namnum

    Wow, I think the biting edge to the comments is clearly indicative of how much Facebook has pissed people off over the last few months.

    It's clear that to draw a 1to1 analogy between teenage habits and the resulting habits of the adults they become is somewhat silly (I'm not still watching horror movies for example), but it's not entirely off either. Of course Ms. Sandberg is promoting Facebook as the future, that's part of her job (ideally she actually believes it, and passionately) but there is some useful information delivered here as well. No commenter has yet mentioned the discussion of authenticity as a marketing strategy; that's a huge, important shift in the way business works. Humanizing sales and marketing in any way prevents a lot of misdeeds that can happen in the name of business as usual.

    No one should be surprised that the COO of any firm would get up at any event and deliver a talk that shows a rosy future for her company. The point is to glean the useful tidbits from what is said and then act on it.

  • Olivier Redmont

    Agree with the rest of the comments below. Though the 11% figure Sandberg quotes seems low, it's probably not at all telling of what percentage of those teenagers will use e-mail a couple years down the road. To add to the analogies, just because fewer than 10% of teenagers currently have resumes is no reason to think that they will no longer be around in the future. The same goes for teenagers and credit cards. The examples are countless, but in the end, it's just another ploy to have us believe that we won't be able to function without Facebook in the future.

  • Scott Byorum

    Just like we don't use pencils anymore because the pen was invented.
    Just like we don't listen to the radio anymore because TV was invented.
    Just like we don't go to the movies anymore because we have DVDs.
    Just like we don't use stoves anymore because we have microwave ovens.
    Should I continue?

    She is either incredibly naive or just downright stupid. But since she is the COO of a very successful media company, she is probably neither... just a blatant self-promoter. Technologies rarely replace others completely. They get refined and find their niche (Did you know that there is still a market for LP records and that they still issue them from new music? Did you know that we still write on paper and use ground based mail?).

    Her ruse is a great attention grabber. Email going away? I better pay attention to this! But if you think about it, you smell it for what it is.

  • Gen Hendrey

    I am so tired of this silly disconnect in which the biological fact that today's youth will become tomorrow's adults is illogically used to infer a vision of the future in which youth become adults without exhibiting any significant behavioral changes caused by neurological development and age-related changes in social roles.

    Mark Zuckerberg himself just spent several days explaining how his behavior as a teenager shouldn't have much bearing on how he is regarded now since he has grown up and now behaves like an adult.

    Who knows? Maybe email will vanish. But if it does, it won't be because it was replaced by Twitter.

    Sure, Sheryl, I have looked at today's teenagers and am thrilled to discover that tomorrow I will no longer have to work or pay for my own expenses and those of family members who depend on me. I won't have to juggle my schedule to do pre-school pick-ups or grocery runs. A hot meal will be waiting on the table for me in the evening. I will happily dispense with my email accounts because nobody from my non-profit will need any feedback on the budget proposal, and all 15 members of the Board of Directors will be pleased as punch to schedule our next Board retreat via Twitter. Whatever.

  • joe rozsa

    THAT is a big and stupid assumption to make. Not everything is social. She may be the COO of Facebook, but it doesn't mean she's right. She's basing the what everyone will do on what teens are doing? Give me a break. These kids don't even know what happens in the real world yet let alone wipe their own asses. She's also assuming that we ALL live and breathe Facebook. Sorry. As much as she'd like to believe, the world does not revolve around FB.

  • Joe Ranft

    Does it really make sense to look at what teenagers are doing to predict future behavior? Have teenagers ever used e-mail? E-mail works when you need to communicate with a more distributed group, and teenagers do not have this need. They have a tight-knit and small communication circle and very little to communicate beyond their conversations in person, so SMS works fine.

    College students are really a better group to watch. You get your first useful e-mail account until you're in college, and you end up with a larger, more distributed communication circle--professors, more students, the university itself. You don't see everybody every day any more, so you can't simply talk to them, and SMS is either difficult or not appropriate. Plus, the university maintains the e-mail system and addresses.

    That said, college students do use Facebook messaging much more than they used to.

    This is why Facebook is working on an e-mail feature, and why Google is giving away Gmail to universities.

  • Mark Von Der Linn

    I agree it's very unlikely, especially for biz. I assume she's talking personal mail, and if so, it's more likely. If you imagine an app (like Fbook/Twitter) where you have total control over the way in/out messages are handled (eg, who can see what) and provides other email-like features, maybe. But not Fbook/Twitter in their present form, surely. Also, there is a shred of truth to the idea that youthful habbits foretell the future.


  • Estefania Llanos

    This is the most idiotic thing I have ever read. I am 20 years old and use gmail regularly, I couldn't live without it. I use it for college, to communicate with friends from out of the country, for work, and for a variety of things. Facebook and Twitter are social networks to connect with friends, not to have private conversations. And why would I believe the COO of Facebook on this subject, this article is completely biased.

  • Nick Corcodilos

    Gimme a break. This is news? The COO of the biggest social networking site tells us that mail is dead because kids use Facebook. This is self-promotion, wishful thinking and a public relations coup for Facebook. Trouble is, your readers are smarter than Nielsen's event coordinators, who are rapidly dispensing with good presentations in favor of live advertisements at their events.

    Steve Jobs told us many years ago that the pc is dead.

    Like Todd Singleton says, attendees at 360 should ask for their money back. They could have watched a Facebook ad instead.