Today we launched our Share With Your Network (SWYN) tool for MagnetMail. We eat our own dog food here, so the newsletter that went out today to Real Magnet subscribers was sent in a new SWYN template, allowing recipients to easily share the message with their friends on Facebook, their followers on Twitter, their contacts on LinkedIn, or their networks on about 50 other social sites. (If you received the newsletter try it out – share it with your own network to see what it will be like for your own subscribers.)

If you’ve ever shared a link on Facebook, maybe you’ve noticed that Facebook allows you to choose a thumbnail picture. This picture, the title of the article on the shared page, a brief excerpt of content, AND a comment provided by the person sharing the link, are what appears on the News Feeds of everyone in the sharer’s network. That’s a lot of stuff in a News Feed populated by status updates and other shared links, videos and many other real-time and insistently urgent items. With all that noise from all those stories in the feed, the pieces that command the most attention are these thumbnail images.

social_125_borderWhile we were testing our newsletter today I clicked on the little blue “f” to share it with my Facebook friends and up popped the window on Facebook, showing me the title of the article (the subject line of the email), an excerpt from the first paragraph, and a box for my own comments. But what caught my attention was the thumbnail image. Facebook let you choose one from the pictures they lift from the page you’re sharing. Our newsletter didn’t have a great thumbnail image. So we chose to hold up the newsletter, create and insert a better one, re-test, and then send.

Email marketers have been optimizing around message content and subject lines for years. But design and graphical elements have largely been a function of corporate branding and content organization, not optimization. No longer. I’m willing to bet that messages with more compelling thumbnail images generate better responses when shared on Facebook through SWYN. Exponentially better responses? Probably not. But this is an environment where incremental improvements can really add up. If we can make our messages perform better with little or no additional effort, why shouldn’t we?