The Cockroach of the Internet

 Just try not to be a pest.


Email is the cockroach of the Internet, says Michael Rothman, of Thrillist, conqueror of cockroaches. All the people in the room, who have dedicated a full day to the study of email, write this down. In the first episode of the new season of Orange is the New Black, the prisoners race cockroaches for fun and sport. We are all here at Inbox Awesome to learn how to win the roach race.

When I first started making web media in 1996, email didn’t have a lot of competition. If you wanted to reach someone digitally, the inbox was your option. But then came posting and tweeting, and people started saying email was for old people. It was, they said, dying. But it did not die (hence: cockroach, not dinosaur) and it did not die for a good reason. Email has a different value than social media, and that value persists.

Some of us thrive on the process of seeking and finding, or are at least accustomed to the content washing over us continually throughout the day. But not all of us, and not all the time. Email is a way to bypass the crowded room for something more intimate. When everything else is parading naked through the living room of your mind, email is politely waiting outside for a personal invitation. This is both good and bad when you’re trying to connect with the person on the other side of the door. They open it, or they don’t. The hope, for all of us in that room and anyone else having Gregor Samsa fantasies, is that whatever we offer will feel important or prettily packaged enough to get past the threshold. That’s harder than it sounds; people are happy to wade through a political debate between a guy they just met and his high school frenemy to get to a video of their nephew’s first steps. But the mailbox? That’s protected space. We are constantly guarding the gate and weeding out spam.

But that velvet rope is part of why the roach is still around. Social media is ephemeral and unpredictable. You can’t possibly see it all. And as brands have learned the hard way, social media can be stingy with the content, even to the dedicated fan base. Over the past 6 months, tweaks to the Facebook newsfeed have drastically cut fan penetration. Only a small percentage of brand followers are likely to see each individual post. Email is a way to ensure you’re getting the media you want without being a slave to the algorithm.

Here is how alive and well email is, according to the experts at Inbox Awesome: 6 billion emails are sent every hour. 70% of opens are now on mobile, and engagement is climbing above 30%. More executives get their news via email newsletter than any other source. Creative products are bridging the gap between the inner sanctum and the rest of the internet, melding email’s intimacy with social media’s immediacy.

At Wifey.tv, video is our primary currency, but important stories are everywhere, in all forms. We started our newsletter as a way to share those stories that happen outside the realm of video, and share them in a simple format for people who don’t have all day to scroll through tweets and posts. There is more than enough out there to keep any audience entertained and educated indefinitely.

The game isn’t just creating content anymore—it’s capturing attention and keeping it. The people who are winning at email are the ones who think about what they’re giving as well as what they’re getting. If your messages are useful and engaging, the reader will want to open them—not just because they care about you as a brand, but because they believe they have something to gain. When opening them becomes a habit, you have a kind of trust that’s hard to replicate in another kind of online brand relationship. And vice versa. You can’t tame the cockroach by being a pest.

Rebecca Odes (@rebeccaodes) cofounded Wifey with Jill Soloway in late 2013. Way before that, she cofounded gURL.com, the first major internet site for teenage girls and a proto-social network.