Do Emails Still Go Viral?

In light of Forrester’s recent claim that social ‘aint all it’s cracked up to be, I wanted to revisit the root of the social dream – going viral.


Remember the days of the city boys’ holiday ‘rules’ email that went viral (“we must boast about our wealth”), those mildly-amusing GIFs and cartoons, and forward-this-or-die chain emails?


To me, that was the birth of viral, so the first place I turned was the good old-fashioned Forward to a Friend (FTAF).


Well as you can imagine we watch the usage of the forward to a friend link in dotMailer closely, and as discussed in this blog from last year our data shows it’s barely used.

Email marketers just aren’t using it because it’s rarely clicked on (about 0.002%). Surprising because everyone’s sharing everything on social networks, right?

Surely they want to share emails with their email network?

Let’s look at the stats


Since 2001, our smart ‘user agent’ tracking (which combines IP and software information of a recipient), means that dotMailer reports can show campaign opens in 3 ways:


1.  We can accurately tell how many individual recipients have opened an email in ‘unique opens’.

2.  We can make an informed guess about how many opens were ‘forwards to a friend’ using the email client (e.g Gmail) forward function in ‘estimated forwards’.

3.  And you can see the overall number of views of a campaign in ‘views and forwards’.


Again, I had a look at some of these stats, to see if as opposed to using the FTAF link, people are using their email client’s forward button. And the numbers say they are, more than ever.


Of 10 major b2c campaigns I looked at, sent to over 1m addresses, every single campaign had a significant number of ‘estimated forwards to a friend’.


These marketers were reaching an average of 4% more people per campaign that weren’t in their database. On a send of 1m, that’s a potential extra 40,000 targeted recipients.


Opposed to a social share, which is effectively a non-targeted (often EdgeRank filtered) broadcast in a sea of noise, a direct email is one-to-one, specifically personalised, for the person(s) it’s sent to, inviting a response even if just for the sake of politeness.

It’s a recommendation, that’s very likely to be relevant.

As we know, relevancy and recommendations are powerful influencers.

And I don’t see enough marketers taking full advantage of email’s viral potential. So if you’re planning to go viral, remind your audience how easy it is to click the ‘forward’ button and watch your ‘estimated forwards’ closely.You might find you’ve been missing a trick.

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