How to Get Your Email Marketing to “Go Viral”

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Every so often, a company strikes it big on social media. Content goes viral, springing them into the spotlight. Like a gold rush, it keeps us all headed West to strike it rich. Our next content nugget could be pure gold. According to Chad White, Litmus research director, we may want to refocus some of our “going viral” efforts on email.


Email is not glamorous. It’s not new. And it’s not as easy to measure email forwarding as it is to gauge social sharing. But White suggests this course for two reasons. First, because people act on emails, much as they would a to-do list. Whereas social media posts often float around for days or weeks without any action or any deadline. And second, he points out that we usually know most of our email contacts better.

But how do you get recipients to open and forward emails?

Subject Lines

First, let’s revisit subject lines.

If your inbox looks like mine, you’ve seen a lot of uninspired, easily deleted emails. Subject lines are the most important element of every email. If you create a beautiful email with great content and no one sees it, you’ve wasted your time. Subject lines have got to be intriguing. They’ve got to be timely. They can’t look like advertising. And they can’t be deceptive, or your recipients will eventually stop opening your emails.

Copywriter Maria Veloso suggests we spend time crafting great email subject lines. She recommends a personal-sounding, friendly subject line, rather than corporate or commercial. Steer clear of words that “reek of commerce.” Two specific tricks she shares in a 2005 book (that I’ve resurrected with some success 10 years later):

  1. Use the word this at the beginning of a subject line.
  2. Use ellipsis points at the end of the subject line ….

As with most Internet marketing, there are few absolute truths when it comes to email. Trends change. Recipients get tired of seeing the same thing. Things that once worked stop working. And things that were phased out might just start working again ….

Try your emails out on yourself. See how they look in your inbox. Would you open them?

Forward Triggers

Now that you’ve got your recipients’ attention, and they’ve opened you email, how do you get them to forward the email? White offers five suggestions to help encourage forwards:

  1. Send focused content to subsets of your subscribers.
  2. Personalize the content.
  3. Use a call to action asking subscribers to share. Try “please forward,” or “share with your social network.”
  4. Focus the email topic on one thing, so the forwarder doesn’t have to explain to their intended recipient which item they’re sharing.
  5. Make your message concise and clear.

There are so many Internet marketing options. Your big viral social marketing idea may still be hatching. But don’t write off email forwarding. Craft your subject lines with care. Personalize your clear, crisp content and messages, and ask people to share your offers.

Agree? Disagree? Add your insightful comments here.