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The Last Referral Program Template You Will Ever Need

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Customer referral programs can be worth their weight in gold. They can supply you with high converting leads, long lasting users, and some of your most profitable customers; however, these kinds of results don’t come without their share of complexities, pitfalls, and hiccups.

We put together this referral program template, a road map if you will, in the hopes that we can help you encourage as many users to refer-a-friend as possible.

It Starts with an Announcement

Just because a user can make a referral, doesn’t mean they will. No matter how good your referral program looks, how awesome your incentives are, or how compelling your copy is, if your users don’t know about your referral program they can’t refer a friend.

1. Write a Blog Article

Blog articles and product updates are a great way to make users aware of your referral program for two reasons. First, regular readers of your blog are likely to be supporters of your product and can help give your referral program an early win.

FreshBooks did a great job of this when they launched their referral program a little while back.

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 2.36.54 PM
Second, blog articles typically rank well with search engines so anyone searching for your referral program (now or in the future) is more likely to find it.

Freshbooks referral program search

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2. Send an Email

Still one of the highest converting forms of digital marketing, email marketing is a great way to launch your referral program. Send an email to your users that explains the program and lets them participate directly from the email. did a great job of this when it launched its referral program. Their email explains why they’re launching the program, how it works, and what they need to do to participate.


3. Get Media Coverage

This can be a tricky one, although a few news stories will get your referral program recognized. If you do generate news coverage you want to make sure the message of “what’s in it for me” is clearly communicated to the readers of the article. It doesn’t have to be the main point but it will help encourage your current users to start sharing and entice new users to join.

Google‘s launch of their new referral program for Google Apps is a great example of how this kind of coverage can work.

Techcrunch Google Referral Program

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Make it Easy to Find 

Launching your customer referral program is just the start. Assuming your launch went according to plan, you will see a healthy amount of interested visitors early on. The thing to remember is, referral programs don’t have to be short promotions, they can be forever marketing campaigns that generate lasting results.

The key to constant engagement is visibility.

4. Put it in your App

You want to put your referral program where your users are, inside your app. This may sound logical, but many companies hide their customer referral program under a seemingly endless number of menus and sub-menus because they are afraid to ask for a referral. Don’t worry about making it front and center. People who like your product will be grateful that you have a referral program.

Placing links in your header, footer, and top-level navigation menus will lead to much higher engagement rates. recently launched a customer referral program and placed the link to their program in the top-level account section. As a bonus, they used an intriguing call-to-action “Earn Free Stuff” which is likely to get almost anyone’s attention.


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5. Make it Mobile Accessible

With more and more users engaging with services primarily on their phones your referral program must work on mobile too. If you don’t have a native mobile app this could be as simple as ensuring your referral program is responsive for mobile browsing, or if you have a native app, making sure your referral program is useable from directly inside the app.

A great example of mobile integration is the Uber referral program. You can get to the referral program from multiple locations in the app and you can make referrals immediately from the app with no additional sign-on or authentication.


Uber In-App Referral Program

6. Include it on Invoices

Invoices aren’t typically a customer’s favorite part of their relationship with you. However, a well placed Call-to-Action can turn the not so pleasant experience of being billed into a positive one. This can be especially powerful if your incentive adjusts a customer’s bill.

7. Mention it in Support Emails

Support emails are an often overlooked marketing channel. When customers have a good experience with your support team, they might tell someone. When customers have a good experience with your support team and are told about your referral program, they are more likely to tell someone.

8. Make Referrals Part of On-Boarding

The best time to ask for a referral is within the first 60 days of a new customer’s life with you. For subscription services, this clock starts as soon as a customer starts to pay.

When a customer elects to pay for your service they are saying they believe in the value you are providing. They are likely happy with your product and are at their most active with your product. Sending a targeted on-boarding email with information about your referral program may be all you need to get them sharing with all of their friends.

Reduce Friction Wherever Possible 

Friction is the enemy of all conversion processes. Regardless of if you’re trying to get users to signup for a trial, or make a referral to a friend, you want to make as slippery of a slope as possible for your users to go down.

9. Use a Single Sign-on Solutions

Raising awareness of your referral program is an important part of a successful program. So, when a user finally wants to participate in your program don’t make it hard.

Some referral programs are “Bolt-On” and require users to create another account just for referrals, or enter redundant user information, or re-authenticate. By ensuring your referral program is single sign-on you will get more people into your program and thus get more people sharing and ultimately signing up for your service.

10. Let users share how they want

Automation is great but sometimes a user just wants to refer a friend without your automation process getting in the way.

Let users give a friend a code or directly share a link to maximize real-world word of mouth and quick sharing by text or messaging app.

You can think of prepared sharing mediums as tools to help users communicate, but if they want to do it differently don’t get in the way.

Share how they want

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11. No Authentication Required for Social Sharing

While the general trend is heading towards asking for as few permissions as possible, I still think this point is important.

If your referral program allows users to share on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter I strongly recommend you don’t get them to authorize an app. It can be tempting to ask for permission to see their friends, post to their wall, and all the rest. However, due to other companies abusing these privileges, simply asking for them may result in a substantial increase of referral program abandonment

12. Let Users Email from Their Inbox

Email converts amazingly well for both companies and end-users. The challenge is, almost nobody remembers email addresses. They’re all stored in your email client.

One approach to help users remember their friends’ email addresses is through email provider integration. However, getting users to authorize another app increases friction, not to mention this method of email marketing is coming increasingly under attack by lawmakers.

Instead of requesting a user to share all of their email contacts with your app, direct them to their personal inbox through deep links or mailto links and you will remove almost all of the friction, increase email deliverability, and drive conversion rates up.

13. Give Everyone a Reward

Two-sided referral programs are quickly becoming the only acceptable referral programs on the web. One-sided refer-a-friend programs like Groupon’s credit program have left a bad taste in people’s mouths.   Further, the studies show that double-sided referral programs are more likely to drive sharing for your brand, and

Keep participants coming back

Your customer referral program will likely have a healthy number of casual referrers. People who make one referral in their entire lifetime of using your product. However, if you pick your reward right, and keep the attention of your referrers, you can cultivate a community of super referrers.

Super referrers won’t stop recommending you to their friends. They will write blog posts, they will tweet, they will send emails, they will write their referral code on their business card. You want to keep these users referring forever.

14. Progress Notifications are Key

Wherever possible you want to congratulate referral program participants for their achievements. For example:

  • A friend started a trial,
  • A friend started paying,
  • A reward was earned,
  • A milestone was hit.

Also, every time you update a referrer about their success don’t forget to remind them to make another referral.

Progress Notifications

15. Select Repeatable Rewards

Another way to keep your super referrers engaged is to provide program incentives that users want to keep on earning. The last thing you want is for someone who would refer your company to 10 friends to not refer your company because they don’t see the point.

For example:

  • Stacking Discounts
  • Credit
  • Gift Cards
  • Charitable Donations

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