Adam T. Sutton

Social Email Marketing: How to encourage sharing wisely, not randomly

October 13th, 2011

You have likely experimented with social sharing buttons in your emails. You know, they’re the buttons readers click to share your emails on Facebook, Twitter or another social network.

And how’s that working for you?

All kidding aside, many email marketers struggle to get the audience to use these buttons. As you can see in the chart below from the MarketingSherpa 2011 Email Marketing Benchmark Report, “social sharing buttons” are one of the least effective tactics you can use to build your list.

Click to enlarge


Despite this data, encouraging your audience to share a link to a webpage version of your email can be effective — if you execute a good strategy. Simply adding the buttons and hoping they are clicked will not work. You must be more strategic and less random in your tactics.


Focused campaigns for sharing

One example of a successful social media email campaign comes from KFC with its Double Down launch email. The company spring-boarded one of its most successful product launches in 2010 with an email that encouraged recipients to share a link to a product image on a social network.

KFC did not toss sharing buttons onto its emails and hope for success. Its team sent an email that focused solely on getting its audience to share the link (see a copy of the email).

Most of the email marketers I’ve spoken with who’ve tried using sharing buttons did so much more randomly. Most often:

  • The team’s ESP offered the buttons
  • Finding it easy, the team added them to their usual emails
  • A tiny fraction of the audience responded

This approach, I believe, is the main reason why social sharing buttons have dismal results in email marketing. You need a focused approach like KFC to get a strong response.


Know what the audience shares

You also must know what the audience wants to share before you can create a successful social email campaign. The only way to do this is through research.

Before designing, find your audience in social networks. Join their groups, participate in their forums, read their blog comments, and gather as much information you can. Pay attention to:

  • Content that gets them excited
  • Offers that get them excited
  • Style, tone, and language preferences
  • How they first encounter this information

You want to identify the exact type of content that gets your specific audience commenting and sharing. Then, think about how you can apply your research by offering what the audience wants, when it wants it, and how it wants it, in an email.


Design sharing buttons carefully

When readers click a sharing button in your email, a default message is generated. This message is very important to the performance of your campaign. Should it fail to attract attention on a social network, the campaign will fail.

So, program your buttons carefully. Be sure their default messages are relevant and compelling to the audience on the social network, because you need people to notice the link, click it, and engage with your page.

There are many different types of sharing buttons you can use for email marketing:

  • Buttons offered by your ESP
  • Buttons offered by the social networks
  • Catch-all solutions, such as ShareThis or AddThis
  • Buttons coded in-house

Whichever direction you choose, make sure you understand how each button generates its default message. For example:

  • Some ESP buttons will automatically use the email’s subject line to generate the default. Such subject lines must attract attention from two audiences — email users and social media users — so craft them carefully.
  • Facebook’s “Like” button will base its default message on your page’s title and other metadata. If you want to customize the message, you’ll have to adjust the page hosting the content.
  • Twitter’s “Tweet” button appears to be totally customizable.


Related Resources:

New Chart: Most effective email list growth tactics

Marketing Research Chart: Using social media as a list growth tactic

Social Media Marketing: How to ensure Facebook doesn’t tear down your wall

Email Marketing: Why Newegg’s daily-deal alert emails garner a 60% average open rate

Social Media Optimization: Engineering contagious ideas


Adam T. Sutton

About Adam T. Sutton

Adam T. Sutton, Senior Reporter, MarketingSherpa
Adam generates content for MarketingSherpa's Email and Inbound Marketing newsletters. His years of experience in interviewing marketers and conveying their insights has spanned topics such as search marketing, social media marketing, ecommerce, email and more. Adam previously powered the content behind MarketingSherpa's Search and Consumer-marketing newsletters and carries that experience into his new role. Today, in addition to writing articles, he contributes content to the MarketingExperiments and MarketingSherpa blogs, as well as MECLABS webinars, workshops and summits.

Prior to joining MarketingSherpa, Adam was the Managing Editor at the Mequoda group. There he created content and promotions for the company's daily email newsletter and managed its schedule.

Categories: Email Marketing Tags: , , , , ,

  1. October 14th, 2011 at 09:29 | #1

    Great tips – we are trying this exact tactic on our next client campaign. The focus is on getting the email shared. We’re doing fun content, and offering an incentive to customers if they share with their friends, either on Facebook or by forwarding the email.

  2. Katie Long
    October 23rd, 2011 at 23:34 | #2

    I was very interested in this post. I feel that companies often expect the presence of social media sharing options to do the work for them. Yes, sharing via social media is great but I feel this blog explains why we should do more: i.e. incentives.

  3. Angela M
    January 19th, 2012 at 15:08 | #3

    Can anyone recommend some “share this” type widgets that can be embedded in newsletters, emails or eblasts? Thank you!

We no longer accept comments on the MarketingSherpa blog, but we'd love to hear what you've learned about customer-first marketing. Send us a Letter to the Editor to share your story.