By Christine Dunn published April 6, 2012

Email Is Still the Best Way to Share Content Among Consumers and Businesses

Social media tools such as Pinterest and Facebook may be all the rage, but email remains the top social network and is also the bedrock of B2B interactions, including customer communications, transactional messages and lead generation, two studies independently found. Yes email—that channel that most people really don’t consider a social network at all—happens to be the most-used method of sharing content among friends and colleagues.

Why does a one-on-one email ‘share’ matter for content marketers? Because it demonstrates that ultimately if you want content to “go viral,” the content itself must resonate enough to get people talking among their smaller, more intimate groups of colleagues, friends and family. Trying to gain traction by having thousands of followers click on one link simply isn’t a realistic expectation, or the norm.

“If you think about the course of a day, you spend the most amount of time communicating through email,” Jack Krawczyk, senior marketing manager at StumbleUpon, said in an interview. “People still want to have that intimate conversation.”

This is true even among young adults, who are generally seen as relying on social media tools to communicate. StumbleUpon, who said half of its user base is aged 18-24, found that those 34 and younger are “the ones sharing emails,” Krawczyk said. “They want that direct line of communications.”

StumbleUpon teamed up with BuzzFeed to examine how content is shared. They looked at the 50 stories that had received the most Facebook traffic since mid-2007, and found that the median ratio of Facebook views to shares was only 9-to-1.  That means that for every Facebook share, only nine people visited the story. So even the biggest stories on Facebook are propogated by smaller, intimate conversations within a single network—not the result of one individual engaging 100 of their friends.  Twitter’s median was lower at 5-to-1 and Reddit’s was 36-to-1.

In contrast, a StumbleUpon user shared at least twice directly, either through StumbleUpon or via email. This means that intimate sharing outnumbered so-called broadcasting by 2-to-1 on StumbleUpon, the companies said.

“There is little data to support so-called influencer behavior in social marketing,” BuzzFeed’s Jon Steinberg and StumbleUpon’s Krawczyk wrote in a column in AdAge Digital. “Rather, the data suggest that content and ideas online spread through large numbers of people sharing with small groups.”

Highly ‘Synergistic’

Similarly, a B-to-B marketing study found that email marketing is still considered the “workhorse” of the marketing industry because it’s inexpensive and effective. It’s also highly synergistic with new digital entrants – both social and mobile. In fact, e-mail is increasingly being integrated with social media platforms, according to the study, which is titled Email Marketing: A Legacy Channel Continues to Deliver. 

The study had more than half of its respondents saying that a key initiative on their agenda this year was finding ways to deliver highly relevant content in their email campaigns. Increasing the number of opt-in subscribers to their lists ranked second, with 42 percent of respondents citing that goal. The third priority was measuring success by tracking their e-mail programs.

Surprisingly, almost a third of survey respondents said the most important purpose of their email-marketing program was customer acquisition. That contrasts with the only 17 percent who said customer retention was the top priority.

Author: Christine Dunn

Christine Dunn has almost two decades of experience writing about finance and business issues. As founder and president of Savoir Media, she works with companies and executives on developing strategic, integrated media and marketing programs. Prior to starting her award-winning company, she worked at Bloomberg News, where she served as Boston Bureau Chief and ran industry coverage for several national teams of reporters, including consumer/retail, mutual funds and education. She also authors "Dollar for Dollar," the personal finance blog on The Boston Globe's Boston.com website. Follow her on Facebook www.facebook.com/ChristineODunn or on Twitter @ChristineODunn.

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