When I released a report last week showing that forward-to-a-friend (FTAF) usage among the top online retailers was four times greater than share-with-your-network (SWYN), it surprised some people in the industry.

While only 12% of retailers use SWYN, 48% use FTAF -- and FTAF adoption is up from 44% in 2006. That said, SWYN adoption is up from essentially 0% early last year, so it's growing rapidly.

I had a great Twitter conversation with a number of industry experts about what was holding up SWYN adoption. Here are some of the barriers:

1. Consumer education. It will take some time for subscribers to be educated on how to use SWYN. I recommend putting your SWYN links next to your FTAF link, if you have one. That way, subscribers will associate these two methods of sharing. Also, if you're using a sharing interface like ShareThis or AddThis, be sure to leverage the logos of the social networks they connect to. I guarantee that more people recognize the icons for Facebook, Twitter and MySpace than the ShareThis icon.



2. ESP integration of SWYN. Not all email service providers have SWYN functionality baked into their systems yet. However, as evidenced by another Twitter conversation that I had a couple of months ago, SWYN functionality is on the radar of virtually every ESP. I would expect SWYN usage to become much easier for marketers over the coming months.

3. Marketer inertia. Marketers may have questions about the best way to move forward with SWYN, but there is enough to go on to definitely get started. For instance, don't know which networks to focus your SWYN efforts on? Facebook and Twitter are by far the most popular choices, so begin there. You can also start by including a wider variety of SWYN links and see which get used. Why not offer a link to share via Digg, Delicious, StumbleUpon and MySpace? If usage is very low, you can always pull them from future emails.

It was suggested that SWYN links raise expectations regarding the sender's social presence, and not all marketers are ready to meet those expectations yet. However, among the retailers I track, 30% already include "join our community" appeals to become a fan or follower on Facebook, Twitter or another social network. So retailers at least are active in promoting their presence on social networks.

While it appears that SWYN efforts are lagging "join our community" efforts, it would be more logical if the reverse were true because marketers would be able to use their SWYN clicks to identify which social networks their subscribers are active on and dedicate their efforts to those.

Future forecast. Despite FTAF's incumbent position, I expect SWYN adoption to overtake FTAF usage over the next 24 months as more marketers and consumers become familiar with it. 

Also, just as FTAF has to compete with the "forward" button in every email client, I expect that we'll see SWYN links built into email clients in the future. They'll likely show up first in MySpace Mail and Facebook's upcoming email client as single SWYN links to share over their network. But over time I expect all email clients to offer SWYN functionality that will work with a wide array of social networks.

8 comments about "FTAF Vs. SWYN".
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  1. Mike May from Huge, August 11, 2009 at 10:19 a.m.

    Hi Chad-

    Thanks for the pointer to the Reportlet, which I just read. We're right at this very moment rolling out SWYN features (we call ours SocialCasting) and are eager to add our findings on adoption and effectiveness to the growing body of knowledge on integrating email with social channels.

    I understand your report focuses largely on retailers - any data / insight / hunches on how adoption looks in other industries?

  2. Chad White from Litmus, August 11, 2009 at 10:40 a.m.

    Mike, I haven't seen any other data on SWYN adoption in other industries, but I believe that the largest online retailers are a little ahead of the curve because of the resources at their disposal and their web-focus.

  3. Ian Mccollum from Razorfish, August 11, 2009 at 11:39 a.m.

    I keep getting hung up on item 2 above. I hear conversations every day from just about every ESP about their "social integration" which most time refers to a fancy link builder in their UI to share an online hosted version of the email they are sending. Some ESPs have taken some steps towards advance reporting around who shares items the most and what shared items are being clicked on the most. but it is all still in its infancy.

    ESP integration is in no way a roadblock to putting share links in your emails today. Each social network has a specific URL syntax for sharing content that we can use to share any piece of hosted content we choose. Those links can be tracked in every sent email to determine who is sharing the most and what they are sharing. Without ESP support link tracking within the shared content we do not have one click access in the ESP platform to how much traffic shared content is generating, but that can be derived from landing page traffic statistics.

    Still, I roll my eyes every time we get to the "social integration" portion of an ESP's sales demo, we can do it all today. They aren't adding much value without some advance link tracking abilities. And if they are doing that there are few marketers today who are sophisticated enough to target their top sharers with customized content, but they will get there.

  4. Chad White from Litmus, August 11, 2009 at 12:45 p.m.


    Admittedly, the technology side of things is not my strength, but I have heard that SWYN integration is an issue from several smart folks in the industry, which is why I included it in my list. Perhaps marketers just aren't aware of the URL sharing syntax, making ESP integration important for bridging the knowledge gap?

  5. Aaron Smith from Smith-Harmon, August 11, 2009 at 3:16 p.m.

    This is a follow-up response to both Mike and Ian's questions/points.

    Mike, my anecdotal experience is that I have seen just as much, if not higher adoption rates of SWYN in B2B email messages and from smaller and midsize organzations.

    Ian, I agree it's quite simple to create the URL syntax for each of the major social media platforms. It shouldn't be a roadblock, but I can speak from personal experience as we've encouraged our clients to adopt SWYN, many are hesitant until we do a test to show how easy it is :)

  6. Loren McDonald from IBM Marketing Cloud, August 12, 2009 at 2:10 p.m.


    Great post as always. Continuing our conversation from Twitter...

    1) FTAF: I'm actually surprised that FTAF adoption by email marketers is still less than 50%. FTAF functionality has been a pretty standard feature in email technology for years and years. Do marketers just not know how to set up their FTAF, or do they just not see the value?

    While I recommend that marketers still incorporate FTAF functionality, its usage by subscribers is now very low. But FTAF is a bit like fax technology, you still need to offer this option - as it is preferred by some and more appropriate for some situations.

    2. Consumer education. We've seen that placement, design and how the S2S links/functionality is promoted within an email plays a huge role in whether subscribers actually click the share links. Secondly, a great practice that a number of our clients are deploying is to have a "What are these" link to a "landing page" that explains what sharing links are and the purpose/value of sharing. Within the next 12-18 months, however, I believe almost all users of email will understand sharing functionality.

    3. Marketer adoption. As perhaps the first ESP with broad sharing functionality and reporting, we have seen tremendous adoption among Silverpop clients. In fact at this point, approximately 55% of our clients have sent mailings using our share-to-social (S2S) feature.

    4. Sharing success. While consumer understanding/usage and marketer adoption of share-to-social functionality is still very early, those companies that are using it are seeing great success when deployed correctly. We have a UK client, for example, that grew their list 8% from a single email with share links; and who saw a click-through rate (on the shared version of the email) of 3 times their average CTR. And one Silverpop client in the entertainment space is consistently seeing sharing activity that is 2.5x higher than their FTAF share rate.

    5. Which social networks? Silverpop will be releasing a study in the coming weeks on share-to-social usage, but a quick highlight: Of our clients that incorporated S2S links in their emails, 100% included a Facebook link, followed by MySpace, Twitter and Digg. And while there is no "one-size-fits-all" approach, we've seen some clients have success by focusing their efforts on a single social network - one that they are confident is highly used by their subscribers.

    Chad, FTAF isn't quite dead, but it certainly is on life support. The emergence of sharing functionality is very exciting, promising and is a development that will continue to make email vital for both marketers and recipients.


  7. Chad White from Litmus, August 12, 2009 at 2:30 p.m.

    Loren, I love the "What are these?" link idea. I haven't seen any of the retailers I track do that. I look forward to reading your SWYN study in a few weeks.

  8. Anne Hannan from Consultant, August 20, 2009 at 8:38 p.m.

    We started using a while ago for their great services, one reason being for their SWYF functionality which took 2 minutes to set up and people could email to their address books etc with ease.

    In addition, they also track user behavior as well so it's generated amazing results.

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