June 08, 2009
Case Study

Share-to-Social Buttons Increase Newsletter Interaction: 6 Steps

SUMMARY: This year saw a surge in interest for social sharing features, which let subscribers post email content to their social networks. If you haven’t yet added social sharing to your email newsletters, check out this case study from our archives and consider testing the tactic in 2010.

We spoke with a B2B email newsletter publisher to learn how they implemented social sharing this year. The early results showed a 25% boost in reader interaction, and a surge in inbound traffic from social networking sites. Includes tips on:
o Choosing the right networks
o Designing a template
o Launching the program
o Measuring results

Like most email marketers, Rob Birgfeld, Director, Audience Development, SmartBrief, could not ignore the rise of social media. Subscribers to his team's B2B email newsletters were increasingly asking questions about the value of social networking. And in late 2008, Birgfeld and his team expanded their own social media efforts, through a new email newsletter and blog dedicated to understanding the channel.

The more the team interacted with social media, the more they wanted to create closer ties between their newsletters and those networks -- particularly around content sharing.

"We created a blog and Twitter account that started show some interesting results and value to readers. But our newsletter "share" button was only giving he option to email articles," says Birgfeld. "We realized that for a publication in the social media space, we had to relate to those networks."


The team had followed the development of share-to-social functionality that allowed users to click an icon that automatically uploads a link to their social networking accounts. So they developed a plan to include social sharing as an option alongside their existing button that let subscribers email newsletter articles to their colleagues.

Here are six steps they took to develop their social sharing functionality and measure reader interaction:

Step #1. Identify the most relevant social networks

The team didn’t want to clutter their email design with too many social sharing buttons -- especially if those networks weren’t popular among their B2B audience.

"We don’t want a brief to look like NASCAR, with buttons and logos everywhere."

So before adding share buttons, the team identified which social networks were most relevant to their B2B audience:

- They sent an online survey to the 80,000 subscribers of their SmartBrief on Leadership, asking them which social networks provided the greatest business opportunities.

- The team also examined inbound Web traffic to see where subscribers were already posting article links on social networking sites.

Data from both sources showed that the top three social networks among their newsletter subscribers were:
o LinkedIn
o Facebook
o Twitter

Step #2. Point shared links to article summary pages

Next, the team established a sharing methodology that was aligned with subscribers’ interests and the company’s goals for reaching a broader audience.

- SmartBrief daily newsletters feature a collection links to current news articles related to a specific industry or operational focus, such as Advertising, Manufacturing, Retail and HR.

They decided to place share buttons at the end of each article summary, rather than creating one share button that posted the entire newsletter to a subscribers’ network. That way, subscribers could choose which stories they found most interesting and worthy of sharing.

- They also made the share button upload a link to the article summary page, rather than the original source of the story. That way, the team could generate traffic to its own website, and introduce non-subscribers to the value that article summaries provide to their newsletter audience.

"Some would argue that from a user-experience point of view, driving people to a summary is an extra step," says Birgfeld. "But our readers have shown, year after year, that they appreciate the summaries."

Step #3. Use focus group to test new newsletter templates

The team created a few mockups of new template designs that incorporated share buttons alongside the existing email forwarding button. Their goal was to create an understated design that still made it easy for subscribers to share content with their networks.

Then, they showed those mockups to their in-house reader-advisory panel. They asked for feedback on social sharing in general, and asked them whether:
o They recognized the icons
o They had interacted with similar buttons in the past

The majority of readers understood the concept and recognized the icons.

Step #4. Stagger social sharing launch across newsletter titles

With more than 100 newsletter titles on their roster, the team did not want to roll out the social sharing feature to all subscribers without first testing the concept further. Instead, they rolled out the feature gradually to specific newsletter titles.

- They first added social sharing buttons to their SmartBrief on Social Media, because they figured there would be significant interest in social networking among that subscriber base.

- Next, they added the feature to other SmartBrief-branded newsletters, including SmartBrief on Leadership and SmartBrief on Entrepreneurs.

- Shortly after adding the feature to their own newsletters, the team began receiving requests from its trade industry association partners to include the social sharing buttons on co-branded newsletters.

Each time the team added social sharing to a newsletter, they sent a note to those subscribers highlighting the new feature and providing instructions on how to use the buttons.

Step #5. Track shared article metrics

Once buttons were active on newsletters, the team monitored how subscribers were using the feature.

- To determine how many subscribers were interacting with the social sharing feature, they tracked how many times users clicked on share button. This metric was easy to calculate, as it was no different than measuring clicks on other links within the newsletters.

- Measuring subsequent activity once a user had shared a link with their social networks proved more challenging. But for articles shared to subscribers’ Twitter accounts, the team used its own URL shortening system, which allowed them to track how many times a day their articles were accessed from links that had been posted to the microblogging platform.

(The team is currently working on additional technology to help them monitor what happens with a link that’s been shared with a subscriber’s Facebook or LinkedIn network.)

- They also measured in-bound traffic from their three featured social networks to help gauge the impact of shared articles.

Step #6. Use sharing data to provide additional content

Social media sharing also became another source of content for newsletter subscribers.

- Clicks on social media share buttons became another element that factored in to a "Most Clicked" story feature. The editors of each newsletter compile a list of most-clicked stories -- typically on a weekly basis -- which are then highlighted on each newsletter’s homepage.

- Editors also encouraged readers to provide feedback on specific stories, or to provide suggestions on articles that could be included in future newsletters or the company’s SmartBlog on Social Media.


Although the program is still in the early stages, the team is excited by the impact they’ve seen so far.

"It shows innovation, and it shows relevance, because this is what everyone is talking about," says Birgfeld. "For the most part, it’s about visibility and showing the value of your publications, because this is the way people are sharing information with each other."

- Overall inbound traffic from their featured social networks increased dramatically. The team compared statistics from the month before launching social sharing to the month after adding the feature and found:
o Visits from Twitter increased 1,680%
o Visits from LinkedIn increased 2,070%
o Visits from Facebook increased 1,351%

- Overall subscriber interaction with newsletter articles also jumped the month after adding social sharing buttons. Users clicking any of the share buttons (Email, LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter) increased about 25% when social networks were included, compared to clicks to forward an article via email only.

- 85%-90% of the team’s newsletters now include social sharing buttons.

The next step for the team is measuring the conversions (in the form of new subscribers) generated from articles shared to social networks. The SmartBrief on Social Media newsletter attracted more than 17,000 subscribers in five months, with no additional marketing investment. Birgfeld says that much of that growth came from word-of-mouth and visibility within social networking sites through features such as content sharing and the social media blog.

One important task to encourage more conversions for all newsletter titles will be redesigning the article summary pages, which serve as the landing page for links shared to social media sites. Those pages are currently designed for existing newsletter subscribers, and Birgfeld envisions adding content that tells new visitors more about the story summaries and which newsletters they came from.

"I don’t think marketers have a choice any more," says Birgfeld. "This is the way people are sharing information now, and it’s important to adjust to where your readers are."

Useful links related to this article

Creative Samples from SmartBrief’s social sharing campaign

Learn about the integration of social media and email in the B2B track of MarketingSherpa’s 2010 Email Summit in January:

SmartBlog on Social Media


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