Forward-to-a-friend is being replaced by links to online communities

Internet users may feel inspired to share a timely news article, funny video or even a holiday shopping wish list with friends and family, but retailers’ emails are generally not the most popular type of content to spread virally. Email marketers are realizing this and shifting focus from including forward-to-a-friend links in messages to leading consumers straight to their Facebook pages.

A Responsys study of the email marketing practices of top online retailers found that there has been a shift in their use of sharing links. Forward-to-a-friend, a promotional email staple, has declined 15% since 2009 while share-with-your-network jumped 12 percentage points in 2010 before dipping slightly this year. The biggest change, though, has been the adoption of direct links to a retailer’s own social networks.

Viral and Community Link Usage in Promotional Emails Sent by US Online Retailers, 2009-2011 (% of online retailers tracked)

The rise of community links is not directly tied to the shrinking of share-with-your-network. A Facebook and Twitter presence has simply become standard; among the retailers linking to social media within emails, 100% directed to Facebook and 84% to Twitter.

According to Responsys, consumers are less inclined to socially share emails than product pages. And retailers are aware of this: 59% included links only on product pages compared to the 8% that only included them in emails and the 17% who did both.

An Internet Retailer survey discovered that one-third of online retailers considered adding a share-with-your-network link in emails a valid tactic for improving marketing effectiveness. One-quarter thought the same of including forward-to-a-friend, which was an 11% decrease from 2009.

Tactics Used by US Online Retailers to Improve Effectiveness of Email Marketing Campaigns, March 2011 (% of respondents)

The retailers in this survey were not asked about community links, perhaps because driving subscribers to a company’s social media sites is not considered a foundation of email marketing. The two practices are often separate, though this too is changing.

A StrongMail survey of business executives across industries found that 43% thought integrating social media and email marketing would be their most important email marketing initiative for 2011. The only goals ranking higher were the more evergreen increasing subscriber engagement (52%) and improving segmentation and targeting (49%). Nearly all respondents had implemented or were interested in integrating social media and email marketing. Only 4% did not see value in doing so.

SOURCE eMarketer

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