Dear Email Diva,
Do you have any information on the effectiveness of Forward to a Friend links in emails? Are there specific industries/sectors that are more apt to forward an email? Is it better to offer the forwarding on a Web page or just via the email client? Is there any functionality offered with a forward to a friend script that beats simply hitting "forward" [on the email program], aside from the fact that an HTML email won't be blown apart?
I have not seen industry stats on Forward to a Friend (FTAF, or Send to a Friend, STAF), but I do have some of my own. I have calculated the STAF rate as Emails Forwarded/Total Responders, and tracked it for years. On average, 1-2% of responders will forward an email through the forwarding functionality, i.e., a link to a Web page where you enter the friend's name and email address. Forwards using the email software forward button, are not, as far as I know, trackable.
DISCLAIMER: My clients, their email content and their audiences may not be similar to yours. As the Email Experience Council/Strong Mail 's "Email Metrics and Bounce Management Report" demonstrated, there are major differences in how data is collected and interpreted, so we should all approach "industry standards" with extreme caution.
But back to STAF. It is part of the basic blocking and tackling of email marketing. Yes, you can do almost the same thing by using the email program "forward" button, but, as you point out, HTML emails do not forward intact. Other advantages are that a) the forward button gives a little encouragement/reminder to the reader who is considering forwarding the message and b) you can track it.
At the end of the year, look at your most- and least-forwarded emails. If your goal is to get as many forwards as possible, learn from this information. You will also see that some messages simply don't lend themselves to forwarding, even though they delivered strong response rates, and vice versa. This should be more valuable to you than any industry data.
Invite but do not induce readers to forward your emails. The next round of updates to CAN SPAM will likely require companies who procure STAFs to ensure their forwarded messages comply with CAN SPAM. "The Commission believes the initiation of the message has been 'procured' if the person receives money, coupons, discounts, awards, additional entries in a sweepstakes, or the like in exchange for doing so. In such cases, the seller/advertiser... would be responsible for ensuring that the message contains the required opt-out mechanism and disclosures, and that opt-out requests are honored." (page 17). While the proposed changes have not yet been made into law, it would be wise to follow them. At any rate, you don't want to encourage people to spam others on your behalf.
I wrote about best practices to "Help Friends Build Your List" in a previous article, but here's the bottom line: if you want readers to forward your emails, deliver compelling content.
The Email Diva
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