The explosive adoption of social networking won't put email out of business, but it does mean marketers need to look at the emails they create and send in a whole new light: How "shareworthy" are they?
Sure, email has always had a social aspect to it, thanks to the "forward" button. But today, the field is broader than inbox to inbox.
Your customers and subscribers are sharing content with their various social networks: bookmarking sites in Delicious and StumbleUpon, networking in Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace, or microblogging via Twitter.
Further, they're viewing your email content in many environments, including on a PC inbox, on a mobile device, in a social network or on a Web site.
The forward-to-a-friend (F2F) or send-to-a-friend (S2F) button has been relegated to second-class status in email marketing. Without incentives, you can typically expect forward rates of only a few tenths of 1%.
Social networks, services like Twitter, and "share" links and buttons everywhere are motivating people to share content with friends, peers and the world at large. But, as with F2F, simply putting share links in your emails, Web site or landing page will not suddenly make them go viral, like a JibJab video.
As outlined in my earlier column, "Expanding Email Reach with Social Networks," integrating a share function with your email program can deliver new subscribers, additional sales and greater engagement with existing subscribers.
So, what are the secrets to a successful email "share-to-social" program?
Why People Share
Before exploring what makes email or other content shareworthy, we need to understand why people share. These "sharing" impulses are outlined in the book "Groundswell" by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff (with my own interpretations, modifications and additions):
Contributing to the conversation: The goal or impulse to share is to further a conversation. Sharing benefits people through the value of the information shared in return.
Self-Interest: Sharing provides personal benefit in the form of points, discounts, freebies, etc. Sharing rewards the pocketbook.
Altruism: People share content because they believe their network or friends will want to know about it. Sharing makes them feel good.
Validation: Sharing certain kinds of content validates the sharer's sense of worth, expertise or views. Sharing feeds the ego.
Affinity: When people have common interests, like fly fishing, muscle cars or California Zinfandels, they want to share news, articles and other information with like-minded friends and contacts. Sharing makes people feel more a part of the "community."
Prurience: Think of videos of car crashes, plane crashes or nude Hollywood actresses that appear online and reach millions of eyeballs in a flash. Sharing makes people feel less guilty for gawking.
What Makes Your Digital Content Shareworthy?
These key factors make your emails and other digital content shareworthy:
Trustworthiness. Sharing content involves some risk for subscribers, because they are attaching their personal brand to yours. If your brand's trustworthiness is questionable or in decline, sharing your email is likely to be the last thing on a subscriber's mind.
Tribal interests.Tap into the tribes within your subscriber base. Presumably, subscribers to this Email Insider newsletter share an interest in email marketing. But, within this group are dozens of tribes such as retailers, B2B marketers, publishers, agency people, international marketers, newcomers to email and grizzled veterans. Shareworthiness requires you to know what tribes comprise your list and what motivates them.
Simple and obvious. If something is complicated or requires an explanation, the recipient will realize that it will fall on deaf ears and will have little motivation to share. One exception: People who want you to think they are brilliant will be excited to show you just how smart they are.
Ease of sharing. If the recipient has to spend too much energy to share the content, few will bother.
Social acumen and adoption of subscribers. While social networks have gone mainstream, your subscribers' use might vary widely, from near 100% to very low. Also, someone with a Facebook account might not know how to share.
Creates value. Your email must provide value to your recipients before they will share with their networks. One exception: when people know that a particular topic or offer is extremely relevant to friends, even though they don't benefit personally.
Reward/Incentives. Incentives or rewards can increase your forward or share rates, but they come at a cost. "Rewards" that tap into the reasons why people share, as outlined above, deliver a better ROI than a chance to win a free iPod.
Content. More than ever before, content is king, especially well-written, timely and relevant news articles or offers. Your copy must snap, crackle and pop off the screen (without reading like spam or late-night TV infomercials).
In my next Email Insider column, I'll share more advice on creating emails that your subscribers will want to forward, post and tweet. Until then, if you have thoughts about shareworthiness or examples of emails that rocked for sharing and subsequent clicks, post your comments on the Email Insider blog.
Take it up a notch!