Three Ways to Socialize Your E-mail Communications

  |  October 19, 2009   |  Comments

E-mail and social media work together. Here's how.

How we communicate continues to evolve as tools and devices we use change. Research from the Online Publishers Association showed that communications accounted for 27 percent of users' time in 2009, down from 46 percent in 2003 while community, which wasn't measured in 2003, accounts for 13 percent of user time online. This shift is attributable to the fact that consumers use social media to communicate and engage with their friends and contacts because it's efficient and device indifferent. Interestingly, a Nielsen study found that high consumers of social media were also high consumers of e-mail. This may be attributed to the fact that many social media sites use e-mail addresses as a form of identification and to update members about their circle of acquaintances. And social media heavy users spend disproportionately more time online across functions.

To adapt to these dynamic trends, marketers are modifying their channels of communication to maintain contact with prospects and customers and to extend their reach across platforms. One way they are doing this is by adding features that enable consumers to share their communications with their social networks. In its benchmark study " Emails Gone Viral: Measuring 'Share to Social' Performance," Silverpop found that adding social sharing tools to e-mail provided an additional views by 1 percent on shared networks, increasing reach by 24.3 percent. While these results may appear low -- this additional reach is incremental to your e-mailing -- it comes with an endorsement and is significantly higher than the rate for forward-to-a-friend functionality. The reach can also improve with testing and better implementation. As with any social media site, most users are passive consumers of content and a small percentage of users create and contribute the great bulk of content.

Three Ways to Socialize Your E-mail Communications

Just adding social sharing links to your e-mail isn't sufficient to socialize your content. Silverpop found no social clicks on offered links in roughly one in three e-mails. Here are three recommendations to make your e-mailings more effective at driving social interactions.

  • Create content that can socialize. To increase your e-mail content's distribution via social networks, the communication must make the person sharing it appear knowledgeable and helpful by providing useful information.
    • Distribute useful chunks of content that go beyond your usual sales-related message. Silverpop research showed that this content was valuable to readers instead of promotions.

    • Focus each communication on one topic to reduce the recipient's need to think or select relevant information before sharing.

    • Enhance trustworthiness of your content to reduce hurdles for sharing the information. To this end, use your brand where appropriate.

    • Create content with which prospects and consumers want to engage.

    • Use text without images. Silverpop found that this was more effective among the top quartile of e-mail performers.

    • Test different types of content to determine what works best for your organization.
  • Make sharing easy. Remember, your readers are busy and time-strapped so you must make "socializing" your information as simple as possible to encourage participation.

    • Make it easy for recipients to share by adding links of popular social media sites like Facebook and relevant social media sites targeted to your audience.

    • Provide context for link-sharing efforts to encourage readers to use them. While social media usage is growing, getting people to act and share requires education and overcoming inertia.

    • Be willing to allow consumers to make their own message. Be willing to let go of control of your communications and let people who share the content add their own messages/mash-ups.
  • Cultivate your advocates. Go beyond understanding the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral profile of your audience as it relates to your product offering. Determine what drives them in terms of their interests and social connections and make them advocates for your brand. Your goal is to identify potential advocates and appeal to their desire to participate and share.

    • Give socializers an incentive for sharing such as an early sneak peak at your new offering or targeted promotions. You want to make them feel special without looking like shills for your firm.

    • Gather input from advocates to determine how to make your offering more appealing.

    • Create special communications targeted at your advocates.

Three Metrics to Assess Your E-mail Socialization Program

When assessing the impact of your social sharing e-mail program, remember as with any interactive marketing initiative, it takes testing and measurement to improve its effectiveness. Here are three of the salient metrics for your social sharing e-mail campaign:

  • Number of social media links clicked. When measuring this indicator, consider where the links are placed in your e-mail, the context of the links, and the social networks to which they link.

  • Social media click-through rate (CTR). This metric shows how effective the link placement, content, and context of the e-mail are in driving click-throughs on the sharing links. The average social media click-through rate across messages in the Silverpop study was 0.5 percent, about one-tenth the overall 4.7 percent click-through rate on e-mails in the study. While these results may appear low, they make sense when compared to the percentage of people who create content and/or comment on social media communities and forums.

  • Number of advocates. To the extent that you can track this target segment by determining which customers share your content, you can enhance your relationship with your strongest supporters.

Because e-mail is a critical communications tool for many marketers, extend its reach and relevance by creating social media friendly content and adding sharing tools. To increase the effectiveness of your e-mail socialization, test different factors including the placement and context of social media links within the e-mail, subject lines, the type of e-mail content, the number of social media links, the social networking sites offered, and your e-mail's target audience. It takes work, but cultivation of social media buzz can really extend the impact of your e-mail campaign.

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Heidi Cohen

Heidi Cohen is the President of Riverside Marketing Strategies, an interactive marketing consultancy. She has over 20 years' experience helping clients increase profitability by developing innovative marketing programs to acquire and retain customers based on solid analytics. Clients include New York Times Digital,, CheapTickets, and the UJA. Additionally, Riverside Marketing Strategies has worked with numerous other online content/media companies and e-tailers.

Prior to starting Riverside Marketing Strategies, Heidi held a number of senior-level marketing positions at The Economist, the Bookspan/Doubleday Direct division of Bertelsmann, and Citibank.

Her blog,, was nominated as a finalist for Top Social Media Blog of 2012 by Social Media Examiner.

Heidi is also a popular speaker on current industry topics.

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