Emails are getting cluttered. It’s not enough to have a headline, some copy, and an image or two anymore. These days we need preheaders, snippets, “view this email online” links, and all sorts of social sharing links as well. Some marketers are starting to question whether we need all of these links when most of them drive very few clicks. And first on the chopping block seems to be those “share with your network” links.

Social sharing links can be confusing, as Chad White noticed in his column last month. Readers may not be able to tell the difference between sharing or “like-ing”, and this could depress already tiny response rates. So there’s good reason to question whether these links add value. Unfortunately, uncovering the value of your social media sharing links is probably not at the top of your testing list.

Here are the top three reasons to keep those sharing links, or toss them:

  • My email content is newsworthy. Keep the links if what you’re sending is new and noteworthy to your audience. If you’re talking about your 15th 30% off sale this quarter, it’s not worth sharing. They’ve heard it all before. But if your email is an editorial about the latest historic Red Sox blunder, well, you should probably activate your share links. (Though I guess it’s possible we’ve heard that news before too).
  • Sharing is central to my message. Keep the links – and give them prominent placement – if you’re going to make sharing the focus of your message. But don’t sacrifice your goals in favor of sharing the moment. “Like” me only makes sense when your strategy is to get readers to take the specific action to “like” you. Otherwise, you’re better off letting readers like your product or service.
  • Sharing is the way I increase my audience. Keep the links and give them a permanent home if sharing is one of your top customer acquisition tools. But remember that emails are usually a retention tool, so make sure you’re staying true to your goals and not sacrificing retention for acquisition.

If you do decide that share with your network links are not adding value, don’t toss them by the wayside completely. Chances are good that you’ll find occasions where they make a lot of sense to use, even if they’re not your consistent tool of choice. In this case, you’ll want to make sure that your readers know what they’re clicking on so they don’t get frustrated with a sharing screen when they had hoped to like you. Here are three quick tips for placement:

  1. Physically separate sharing and like functions. Since these should have different priorities to your business, there is no reason for them to be near each other anyway. But if you find yourself burying one set of links near the legal language in the bottom of your email, chances are you should consider eliminating them entirely.
  2. Don’t rely on icons alone. Many of the social network icons are so, well, iconic, that they need no explanation. But you still need to explain what readers should expect when they click on those buttons. Make sure your explanation is clear and concise.
  3. Place the function where it is needed. When do your readers think about sharing? When do they think about liking your brand? Make sure you put the share or like buttons near where they’ll be most needed. If you don’t know, try heatmapping different layouts (include these with other heatmapping testing to save on costs) or at least an informal survey that doesn’t include marketers.

These six tips should help you decide whether to keep sharing buttons and where to put them. Share your examples below – how have you decided to handle sharing functionality in your emails?

Originally published on MediaPost.com’s Email Insider blog. View comments there.