Marketers face a bit of a quandary in deciding how social to be. There is a seemingly endless number of social networks, all with conversations that might be relevant to the business.

There is also nothing more mind-numbing and action-halting than a list of 15 or more social-media and network logos lined up in the sidebar of an email or Web page. When presented with too many choices, most readers simply will not act.

If supporting every social network out there is too much, but integrating no social activity is a big miss, how do you decide which networks to include in your email marketing?

The answer is simple: Ask your subscribers. That's exactly what SmartBrief did earlier this year.

The B2B content aggregator publishes more than 100 email newsletters with news summaries for vertical industries (e.g., restaurant owners or retailers) and business topics (e.g., social marketing and leadership). The company polled 80,000 subscribers of its SmartBrief on Leadership newsletter and asked them which social networks were most important to their businesses.

That feedback was then correlated with data on which sites subscribers were actually posting SmartBrief links. The top three sites were Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Links to them were then added next to the Forward to a Friend email button.

A click on any of the Share buttons will auto-update the user's status. Automating the process certainly helped. Adding the social-media links increased sharing activity 25% more than the email-sharing link alone, said Rob Birgfeld, director of Audience Development at SmartBrief. Activity on the email forwards has stayed the same.

Birgfeld automates the sharing at the article-summary level, which is on the SmartBrief site, rather than to the original source. That keeps the sharing "in the family" and helps recruit new SmartBrief subscribers. Links to the full article are always provided on the summary page, he said.

"When it launched, all we got was good feedback. There was heavy usage and great comments—it freaked me out a little bit," Birgfeld says. But after a few weeks, the excitement started to wind down.

"It was still working fine for the occasional forwarder, but heavy influencers don't like to forward an aggregate link," he says. "They bypassed our links and linked directly to the article's source. Some of those with large followings told us that their followers were confused to land on a SmartBrief page, thinking that wasn't the right story."

Which, of course, could be a landing-page problem. "Our landing pages have not been optimized for nonsubscribers," Birgfeld admits. Adjustments are under way to put the SmartBrief service in context and make it clear that readers have landed on the right article.

For SmartBrief, success is measured with three key metrics:

  1. Total interaction, which is tracked by clicks on the Share buttons
  2. Total shares, which is tracked by the number of actual status updates on each of the three networks
  3. Total new subscriptions, which is tracked by the inbound leads from the landing pages


With total sharing up and heavy influencers providing feedback to the product team, the selection of those three additional buttons seems to have shifted the simple SmartBrief email newsletter into a multichannel forum—proving once again that less can be more.

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Stephanie Miller is vice-president of market development for Return Path, Inc. ( Reach her via Twitter (@StephanieSAM) or