As the number of ways in which businesses are able to communicate continues to grow – through social channels, instant messaging and other digital mediums – the debate over the importance of email rages on.

To some, email is “stuffy”, “formal” or “cumbersome”. It can be hard to filter, requiring effort to organise multiple emails into meaningful and organised units of communication. It’s not a spontaneous medium, capable of getting messages across quickly. Email can be time-consuming, formulaic, inefficient, impersonal and impractical – especially in a business environment. However, the hard facts tell a different story.

Email isn’t under threat from new social platforms

Research compiled by communication specialist shows that the number of emails sent globally in 2010 rose by 19 per cent to 107 trillion. Therefore, for every second of 2010, nearly four million email messages were being sent.

Per day this would break down to around 188 billion emails being sent, dwarfing the three billion web searches, one billion items shared on Google+, 140 million tweets and 60 million Facebook updates made daily. The rise of internet-enabled smart-devices (phones and tablets) is certainly playing a part in keeping email alive and well, in addition to boosting the profile of all the other relative newcomers (Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare etc.).

An eMarketer report, entitled ‘Email Marketing Benchmarks: Key Data, Trends and Metrics’, looked at the email engagement habits of US consumers. It claimed that one-third of emails worldwide are in fact opened on mobile devices.

Positively, email opening rates are on the rise, even if the click-through rates are declining, proving that people still set aside time to at least browse the contents of their email before making a judgement on whether or not to click through. This begs the question: if email remains such an important communication tool, then just how are businesses making the most of it?

Business-to-business communications (B2B)

The majority of email’s strengths in the corporate world are the same ones that have been there since the early adoption of the format: a sense of permanence, accountability, traceability, forward-planning and low-cost.

Just like printed letters, emails represent an interaction at a fixed point in time and can be stored or archived for later retrieval. This makes them an official record of sorts that can easily be traced back to a point of origin. Email provides evidence that a communication took place or an attachment sent and so on.

B2B parties also have the luxury of taking their time to construct carefully-considered emails: a well-researched pitch for a job, or a formal request for workplace change, for example.

Importantly, emails are an extremely low-cost communicative tool and can reduce the need to print out documentation, thanks to attachments and external links. Additionally, emails can incorporate rich media in their main body, such as video or audio players. The content contained within will run just as fast and smoothly as it does elsewhere on the net, providing the business’ web hosting infrastructure can cope with the demand that is sure to arise.

Business-to-consumer communications (B2C)

Email, when used in B2C communications, offers the same benefits as B2B. However, it’s also possible to use email as a primary marketing and/or research tool. An email address enables retailers and marketers to build up a profile of a customer, linking their likes and dislikes in order to offer them a more tailored product; ultimately making a sale.

Even the behaviour of a person that doesn’t buy as a result of an email communication holds valuable data: did they unsubscribe? Did they look elsewhere on the site? Did they share the communication with their social network?

Email also gives a business a direct line to their consumers, to whom they can send confirmation receipts for the sale or billing of goods and services (just like the traditional letter). They could also communicate the latest company newsletter or respond to complaints. Thanks to the proliferation of internet-enabled mobile devices, a consumer is unlikely to ever miss a single communication.

Despite the threat of other emerging communicative technologies, email prospers because of these constants. Its ability to be filtered, organised, mulled-over, customised and formalised means email will always used by businesses as a primary messaging tool, just as paper is/was before.