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.