Viral Email Marketing: Create emails that forward

By Scott Winterroth / 2012 10 25

The practice social media marketing is often about pushing content to a following that will grab hold of the content with likes, and retweets. The name of the game is to create engaging content that users will want to share with their friends.

In this world of likes and tweets, digital marketers tend to steer towards utilizing social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ due to the social nature of the platform and the ease for users to simply “share” with the click of a button.

But email marketing should not be look upon as a non-viral tactic.

There are plenty of opportunities to create email newsletters that are also compelling enough for readers to want to share. The bonus with viral newsletter marketing, which is often forgotten, is the friend referral is often more direct, creating a very compelling third party endorsement that marketers covet.

Viral Email Marketing Best Practices:

When a reader opens an email, depending on how they receive it, they are often many obstacles that make sharing your content on a social network even more of a hinderance.

Let's take a look at the pretty typical workflow of someone who is reading an email - on a desktop computer - and then decides to share this content on a social network

They must:

  1. Open the email
  2. Read or skim the complete email to see if there's something they like.
  3. They've found something, so now they might want to copy some text
  4. Now they need to open their web browser
  5. Now navigate to their social network of choice
  6. Craft a short message (Something witty of course)
  7. Hit share.

Plus, they need to do all of this without being distracted along the way. Not sure about you but Facebook and Twitter can be quite distracting.  Also, it's important to note we're not taking into account those who open newsletters on a mobile device or a tablet.

The Good News:

Let's examine ways we can reduce these barriers and create email newsletters that have a higher potential for readers to share.  Either by simply hitting forward in their email client or by sharing on a social network.

1. Provide quality content that people actually want.

By providing readers with something they might actually want to share will increase the likeliness they will actually share it. Depending on your business, and your digital marketing goals, the answer to this will vary. We do know that readers often share information that will make something in their life easier or make them look good upon their peers. For example, how-tos or new statistics are often shared. These are pretty safe areas for businesses to engage readers to share. Avoid sending jokes, political commentary or satire.

2. Put quality content at the top

As writers, we often try to arrange our content in what we call an inverted pyramid. Important news and information at the top, the lesser information at the bottom. This practice should apply to both your articles within your newsletter and the overall newsletter design flow.

Think about how a newspaper is arranged. Headline news on the front page with other softer news following.

As we discussed in the beginning of this post, the process of actually sharing your newsletter on a social network can be a long process. Make it simple for readers to share your content by inserting links to popular social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+ directly in your newsletter. This will also benefit you on your newsletter click-through reports as you will be able to see what users clicked your links.

Also, think about how they might use these links if they're on a mobile phone or tablet device. These link will probably evoke another app - such as facebook or twitter.  How can you enhance this process for your readers.

4. Simply ask your readers to forward to a friend

Think old-school for a second and actually ask your readers to forward this newsletter to a friend. As the old expression goes, you don't know unless you ask.

5. Not all emails are destined to be shared

Maybe not all of the email newsletters you prepare are meant to be something people forward. That's ok. It's best to create an email marketing schedule that is unique in content so you're not always sending the same type of email.

For the newsletters that you do want your followers to share, take a moment to think about what would make this newsletter more “share worthy” and prepare content based on your ultimate goals.