A new study of social email practices by Silverpop has found that ‘social sharing’ (in which recipients share noteworthy emails with their friends on social networks) already outperforms ‘forward-to-a-friend’ linking.

Even though the rate of sharing is still relatively low, more people share messages on social networks than do by clicking the forward link, and each message posted on a social site reaches significantly more people.

The ‘Emails Gone Viral: Measuring Share to Social Performance’ study indicates that simply dropping a Facebook or Twitter link into email messages isn’t enough to get recipients to share them on social networks – 35 percent of the email messages analysed for the study generated no clicks on social-sharing links.

To be successful the study recommended marketers:

  •  Educate their readers – explain how the sharing process works and why recipients would want to pass your messages along
  • Reward persuaders – track which subscribers share most frequently, so reward them with offers, inside information or other special treatment, and
  • Design for sharing – group all your viral features to capture both social networkers and email forwarders, and don’t overlook any opportunity to go viral.

According to the study, social sharing delivered an average 24.3% increase in reach, using actual numbers from study subjects and an average of 100 friends in a users social network.

On top of that, the shared messages generated, on average, an additional 1% of opens.

It also found that the emails most frequently shared were more likely to feature a brand or product name in the subject line rather than a specific offer.

Other findings included:

  • Social email click rate (additional clicks on shared links per delivered email message): 0.5% overall, ranged from a low of below 0.1% to a high of 38.7%
  • Social email view rate (how many additional people viewed the message after it was posted on a social network): overall average 1%, with 3.9% for the top 25% of performers and a study high of 292%, and
  • Social network effectiveness rate (how well a social network drives additional views): Facebook was far and away the top performer, with an average of 68%. This means that on average, 68% of share link clicks resulted in emails being viewed from a post on Facebook, while Twitter (average 5%) and MySpace (average 4.6%) were a distant second and third.