Email Share-to-Social: Not Just About The Links

I agree with my industry colleague Chad White, who predicted in this space that marketer adoption of email social sharing -- referred to as "share-to-social" or "share with your network" -- will overtake "forward to a friend" usage, perhaps even as early as two years from now.

We already know that social sharing outperforms form-based forward-to-a-friend (FTAF), where users fill in a Web form with friends' addresses. A study that Silverpop just released  ("Emails Gone Viral: Measuring 'Share to Social' Performance" ) showed that the average social sharing rate is 0.5%, which significantly outperforms FTAF rates (typically less than 0.1%).

Assuming average click-through rates are about 5%, this means that one out of 10 clicks is on a social sharing link. This is extremely impressive at such an early stage of social sharing adoption by marketers and consumers alike.



We expect social sharing to grow exponentially as it goes mainstream among people using networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, and as more marketers add social sharing links.

No 'Easy' Button for Social Sharing, Either

The core objective of encouraging subscribers to post your email messages on their social networks is to expand your brand and message-reach beyond your existing email database. It's the next generation of viral marketing.

As an example, using a model we created, the study estimates that social sharing increases an email's reach by an average 24.3%. This means that, on average, a list of 100,000 would be exposed to an additional 24,300 people.

However, our study made another lesson crystal-clear: Successful social sharing takes much more effort that simply dropping a Facebook link into your next email message.


Although every email message we analyzed included at least one social-network link, 35% of the messages collected no clicks on those links, and 49% of the messages that did get clicks had a rate of 0.1% or less.


That's why I say there's no "easy button." Successful social sharing results will require the same efforts that go into other improvements in engagement and performance in your email program.


Three 'Must-Dos' for Share-to-Social

1. Be ready to educate: As I noted above, while social network usage has exploded, the concept of sharing content from Web sites and emails is still quite new to most people.

It can also be a bit confusing to people until they've actually completed the sharing process a few times. Clicking the "forward" button is second nature to your subscribers, but social sharing likely still requires some thinking.

Explain how to use your social-sharing links. But also, tell subscribers what's in it for them. Appeal to the reasons that motivate people to share information (see my list in this earlier Email Insider column, "Are Your Emails Shareworthy?") Once the novelty wears off, you must give subscribers reasons to keep sharing your messages.

2. Know where your subscribers hang out: Yes, Facebook dominates social sharing. No surprise there. However, it doesn't necessarily deliver the highest share rate.

Every email message analyzed for the study included a link to Facebook, followed closely by Twitter and MySpace.

LinkedIn, Bebo and Delicious, while not included as often as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, actually had a higher email share rate (percentage of clicks on share links).

Most likely, when marketers included these links, they were more closely aligned with the interests and habits of their subscriber base.

3. Study and reward sharer behavior: Your job won't end when you add social-sharing links. In fact, the work has just begun.

As with any other link in your email messages, you need to track the action on several fronts:

  • Click activity on your sharing links
  • Which kinds of messages, content and offers generate the most share clicks
  • Which type of content is ultimately then opened and clicked on once it has been shared on a network
  • Which subscribers share your content most often, and what they share more frequently

Our study found, for example, that email messages with higher sharing rates more often focused on brands rather than promotions that didn't mention brands. This makes sense when you consider that trust and affinity are important motivators of sharing.

What do you think about social sharing? Have any experiences that support or conflict with our study findings? I welcome your comments below.

Until next time, take it up a notch!

3 comments about "Email Share-to-Social: Not Just About The Links".
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  1. Chris Wheeler from Bronto Software, September 25, 2009 at 1:36 p.m.

    Great post, Loren.

    Do you think SMS is also a social channel? It doesn't have the sophisticated layers of organization and friend hierarchy that the SNS's do, but it can be just as, if not more effective when getting a message out from one user to the next.


  2. Loren McDonald from IBM Marketing Cloud, September 25, 2009 at 5:19 p.m.


    Well as you point out/imply, SMS is like email in that it is not a "network" that has a public/semi-public nature to it. To me SMS is more like email in its form of being a "pointer." Both channels tend to be very effective at "pointing" people to additional content or in this case communities and networks where social activities and sharing occurs.

    Among other things, email has other social advantages over SMS in that email can actually aggregate and share UGC, comments, social conversations, etc. back into subsequent emails. Try that in an SMS message.

    Fundamentally, is your question really - Is it easier to forward or share a text message or email with a friend? I think that probably depends on your level of technology adoption, age, which devices, clients, etc...


  3. Chris Wheeler from Bronto Software, September 30, 2009 at 9:23 a.m.

    Makes sense. So in your opinion, since there seem to be a gazillion social networks out there popping up for every one that has real traction, what are your top 5 social networks that you should be aware of and engaged in? If you try to tackle every one that exists, you spread yourself (or your marketing dept) too thin and it has a fractal effect. But, it you can execute on the top (say) 5, your reach and coverage will be much better.


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