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How to Make Emails Go Viral

The search for the perfect recipe to making content “go viral” is never-ending. You posted at the right time of day, included exciting content (so you thought), but still received minimal shares or retweets. Though most people associate viral content with social media, a recent study by Litmus reveals marketing emails are equally capable of reaching viral status. With these tips, you’ll rake in the forward-to-open rates you deserve.

Email vs. social media

If most people correlate viral content with social media, why should organizations bother sending marketing emails? Well, if your organization has a tight budget and likes to stick with it, then email is a perfect choice, because it’s free. Emails are also a surefire way to reach your target audience and beyond, because readers can forward to family and friends. Social connections tend to be more widespread, thus weakened.

People also treat their inboxes as to-do lists. We all know at least one person who can’t stand to see the numbers of unread emails next to an Outlook folder, right? It’s organization 101: Take action with every email to avoid a cluttered inbox. This action facilitates reach. On the flip side, social media feeds are muddled with easily overlooked content that doesn’t require action other than a quick swipe.

Relevant content

Sadly, marketers still fall for the myth that discounts and promotions are the best way to increase virality. MarketingSherpa has news, friends: The subject of the email has the most impact on its virality. However, information-based emails are the most likely to go viral. Can you guess what emails were considered among the most “un-viral”? That’s right – promotions, deals and discounts.

Furthermore, if you’re looking to expand your reach to younger generations, relative content is a must. Millennials are especially aware of outdated content and could be turned off to future exchanges. Sharing relevant, updated content is a way for them to show they are in the know.


While you may assume sending to more subscribers equals higher open and forward rates, bigger is not necessarily better in the email marketing world. Emails sent to larger lists are more likely to be viewed as spam. The Litmus report noted, “Email content with mass appeal is clearly viewed by subscribers as less worthy of being forwarded.” Because content can be personalized and structured more easily with a smaller audience, they receive greater forward-to-open rates.

What do you do if your list is enormous? Break the audience down into various categories, such as interests, location, member type or chapter affiliation. Then, mold your message accordingly.

Ask for the share

Of all the tactics mentioned, the most powerful is to include a prominent “share” call to action. As most people with sales training know, you must ask for the sale. The same principle applies here. Make this a quick and painless option for subscribers by asking for the share, first and foremost. Then, be sure to include a button to complete the action.

Social media virality may be the all the rage because of its public noise, but the Litmus study gives marketing emails a strong leg to stand on. While it’s impossible to determine what will go viral, you can bet relevancy, personalized messages and asking for shares will increase the likelihood of reaching the viral dream.

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