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In the age of Web 2.0, sometimes email just doesn't cut it

March 25, 2009
by kate
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Spinning your wheels with email? Time to get creative.

A few weeks ago, I was doing research for an article on the increasing role of Web 2.0 in healthcare IT, and I hit a bit of wall. I found two CIOs who had accounts on Twitter, and I really wanted to interview both of them. While it wasn’t difficult to get in touch with John Halamka, whom I’ve spoken with in the past, it wasn’t so easy to pin down Will Weider, CIO at Affinity Health System and Ministry Health Care in Wisconsin.

I initially emailed both CIOs, and while I was able to get through to John (possibly because he recognized my name), I wasn’t so lucky with Will. I sent out an email, but heard nothing back. So I dug a little deeper and found his blog, which provided all of his contact information, including his Twitter address. Having just created my own Twitter page (www.Twitter.com/khgamble), I found his site and hit "follow." A short while later, I got an email informing me that Will Weider was now following me, so I sent him a direct message through Twitter asking if I could interview him for the article. My pitch, by the way, was limited to 140 characters (a standard on Twitter).

A short while later, I saw that he had responded, and had to contain myself from doing a dance of joy. He said I could either call him over the weekend (which was out since I was headed for Vermont) or schedule a time for the following Monday with his assistant. He then sent me a codeword that his assistant would require in order to confirm that Will Weider did indeed intend to set up an interview with me.

Why all the Mission Impossible antics, you ask? When I spoke with Will, he told me that not only does he get as many as 800-900 emails a day, but his assistant gets inundated with calls from people assuring her that Will knows who they are and wants to speak with them. Using social media tools like Twitter, he said, has made his life easier by enabling him to more quickly sort through messages, and by helping him to, well, cut through some of the muck. If he relied only on phone calls and email to maintain communications, he’d probably spend all day doing just that.

It was a very valuable lesson for me; if at first you don’t succeed by email, try, try another method. It’s funny — all the research I did was helpful, but the experience of trying to get through to Will Weider taught me everything I needed to know about social media.

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Comments

Thanks, Daphne!
It works like this. With Twitter, someone can only contact you (through a direct message) if you've given each other authorization. In other words, you must be "following" that person, and he/she must be "following" you.

So you do have a say in who can reach you. But I understand what you're saying about the last refuge - I think they'll just keep thinking of different ways for busy execs to dodge the masses!

Kate -
I'm really glad you did this post.  You've pointed out a few things.

From the title, I was expecting or hoping that you were going to make the point: For short, status broadcast messages, Twitter is far more effective than Email. 


- It doesn't clog up email in-box; it doesn't contribute to blather and inbox bloat.
 
- And, as you pointed out, its closed-loop subscription model is far more effective.  [The alternative, for example in Outlook, is to maintain distribution lists, by a dedicated, authorized person ... yuch.] 

- and, in the spirit of collaboration, it offers to let people join in (i.e. request to do so easily)

- it's an ideal way to let people know about a resource or news, since it facilitates embedded links and enforces brevity

All of about are very distinct from email and can help move things out of email that are dumped there today.   Caveat:  The above argument presupposes that all parties have adopted Twitter.

Dale -
I understand and agree with the spirit of your theory.  There is a body of brain research that supports your point, and your caveat "for better or worse" :)

Three books that were recommended to me (that I have read) cover this from complementary perspectives (all are informed by new Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging 'Brain Science'):

  1. CrazyBusy by Ed Hallowell.
       see: Ten Key Principles to Managing Modern Life
       The above blog link also reference a list from

"Overloaded Circuits: Why Smart People Underperform" (Harvard Business Review, 2005).
You might also find value in this post, How to multi-task effectively – lessons from playing tennis with two balls

          same author.  It was one of my most popular posts in terms of pageviews. 

The Blog Posts (links above) will give you the Readers Digest version of the book and articles, in 10 minutes or less!


  2. The Assault on Reason by Al Gore.
      Gore talks as you do, Dale.  He adds the dimension that the increased communication can be destructive.  Emotionally laden messages, especially those that conjure up fear, trigger the brain to process the message irrationally.  The political as well as product marketers have this down to a science.  Their own version of Brain Science. 

     The last 40 years of TV led to manipulation of much of the populations Brains, 2.0.  The best example of what this looks like are offered on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.  He routinely elaborates current evidence of communication that's designed to manipulate and lead to conclusions that are counter to common sense and reason.  Gore cites an example from The Daily Show in the book.

3.  Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School, by John Medina, Ph.D., a developmental molecular biologist. It comes with a succinct and entertaining DVD  covering the rules as well.  This further establishes the point that Brain 2.0 craves visual input.  Another meta lesson from YouTube!

So, for those of you who were looking for some books to download to your Kindles and iPhones, for the trip to HIMSS next week, those are candidates.  And remember, downloading the first chapter to the Kindle/iPhone is FREE!

For those of you who are much bigger fans of audio podcasts, I'd recommend this short one called "Toast."  It's done by Manager-Tools' Mark Horstman.  It elaborates the email mgmt concept: 
"We recommend checking email [no more than] three times a day"  If you fall into the trap of reviewing email as it arrives, you and your day will be Toast!

Dale and Kate, thanks for inspiring me to share these observations.


Here's my theory: Web 2.0 Leads to Brain 2.0. We know that the brain is plastic and malleable... it rewires itself, depending on what we do with it. With that thought in mind- no pun intended- I'm seeing a new generation of employees, family, and friends who are much more adept at communicating via text in short packets of information and thought, than they are in verbal conversations that require interactive and longer streams of continuous thought. I seriously believe that our brains are going Brain 2.0 for better or worse I'm not sure mine included!

Kate. Great job on tracking down Will. As we've discussed in the past, the main problem with Twitter (and LinkedIn) is that they can consume the undisciplined person. One has to be very careful not to spend hours in one of these sites while getting no real work done. Everything in moderation, I think (http://twitter.com/anthony_guerra)

Great post Kate, but I have a question: What will prevent the people Weider DOESN"T want to contact from inundating him on Twitter, too? Where's the last refuge?
I agree too that there's no better way to learn something than jumping right in.

OK, I'm in. Thanks Kate for showing my the ropes, and Anthony your'e right, no time right now to spend on looking for people to follow, will do that tonight.

Well, looks like I'll be jumping in too. Thanks to both of you for answering my question, and I'll see you on Twitter soon.

Hi Daphne,

I couldn't help myself from responding to your question - the coolest feature about Twitter is that you cannot send someone a direct message unless they are following you! So, in essence, Will Weider gave Kate permission to contact him by following her. It's really a brilliant system, and it sounds like Kate's figured out the secret formula for maximizing the potential of her Tweets! :)

G.

kate

Kate Huvane, Associate Editor of...