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The point of the article is that 40% of the people who opened the email passed it on to a friend. How can that be measured? Do you think they are they talking about an automated "Tell a Friend" script, or is there another tracking method that's possible here?
In the middle is the forward feature: people were entered to win a signed poster of Aguilera for passing on the e-mail to three friends.
Looks like they were using an embedded tell-a-friend form.
Other ways of tracking forwards are looking at unique IPs for an embedded image over a certain time period, although this is pretty inaccurate.
There are other ways (using vbscript, etc) - however, since these pose a security risk & have serious privacy implications, it is not wise to consider using them.
It had our sales director *very* excited, but I was wary of the privacy implications - plus I wasn't convinced that this kind of thing would get past virus checkers etc for very long.
I'm really wary of the privacy implications as well - and since most of the campaigns I get near use text-only, we don't have nearly the same options available anyway. But my campaigns are small potatoes next to BMG. I can usually learn all I need from click-through numbers and conversion rates.
You would still need a script to see how many total forwards were made compared to opens of forwarded email. But the sweet thing about virals is their high (extremely high) open percentage, because they come from a known party.
Sometimes I can't see the simplest answers.