Word-of-Mouth and Referral Marketing Blog

Referral Marketing: Getting The Most Out Of Referral Programs

Referral Program Marketing Do's and Dont's


What are the do’s and don’ts of referral/invite programs? Some are great and perform fantastically, while others are poorly executed, spammy and upset customers. What’s the difference?

Originally posted as a Quora answer, by Dinesh Raju.

Building a good referral program takes a lot of work — a lot more work, in fact, than most people realize when they’re starting out!

In our experience, there are broadly 3 parts to keeping your advocates happy and not being seen as spam:

A. Establishing a great value proposition to begin with
B. Getting your messaging right
C. Making sure your referral system is structurally sound

Let’s dig into the details.

A. Establish a great value proposition before your referral program

Establish a great value proposition before your referral program
A technically perfect, functioning referral program will still fail if it’s not pegged to a great product that people care about.

Do make sure you’re selling a product or service that customers want.

Don’t embark on setting up a referral program before you’ve gotten this sorted out.

A great way to tell is by running NPS surveys. (more here: http://www.netpromoter.com/why-n…).

Find out why people buy your product and buy into your brand.

Then craft every aspect of your referral program around it. Do you sell t-shirts that help customers express their rugged individuality? Then make the referral reward a free ticket to Burning Man.

Align your program copy and incentives with the core value you’re providing so that the program delights advocates and gets them more of what they want.

Understand when advocates are most likely to share.

Are customers most likely to share when they’ve just checked out? Or is it when they’ve received and unpacked their shipped product?

Find out when your customers are most engaged and send them program notifications at this point. This reduces the chance that advocates get annoyed by your referral marketing messages.

B. Get your referral program’s messaging right

Referrals are supposed to be human, organic, natural. You never want to be spammy or annoying.

Respect marketing opt-out.

Make sure you check if customers want to be involved in your referral program in the first place. Ask them if they’d like to receive marketing messages and don’t send them program communication if they don’t want to be included.

Stay top of mind in a sensible way.

A study by Advisor Impact (http://www.advisorimpact.com/dow…) asked advocates what could be done to increase the number of referrals they made. The second most popular answer was to remind them that the business was looking for referrals.

Keeping your referral program top-of-mind is important, but do this in a sensible way. If you’re going to send reminder emails to advocates, either decrease the frequency of these message or stop them altogether if advocates aren’t engaging with your program.

Keep your branding consistent.

Design your referral program email and landing pages so that they’re consistent with the rest of your brand. Getting this look-and-feel wrong may leave advocates and their friends wondering if the referral program is really run by the business they want to refer.

Read next: How to get your referral messaging right

C. Ensure that your referral program is structurally sound

Ensure that your referral program is structurally sound
Time and time again we’ve encountered developers who thought they could quickly hack together a referral program, only to discover that it’s far more complicated than they had initially expected.

Make sure you’re detecting referrals correctly.

The last thing you want to do is have referral go undetected after advocates have done all the hard work in referring friends.

If you aren’t careful to check that referral tracking links and codes are working correctly, referrals may get lost and leave you with some angry advocates.

Keep shady advocates at bay.

Watch out for bad behavior by participants in your referral programs. You don’t want advocates to spam lists that they buy with referral links just to get a referral reward.

This goes against the spirit of a referral program which should be about advocates helping their friends. It also tarnishes the image of your brand.


If you’ve built a great product, you’ll already have customers who want to help you by telling their friends.

With a referral campaign, you have an opportunity to fulfill your customers’ natural desire. But this doesn’t just happen by accident and you’ll need to be deliberate about it.

These tips should give you good head start.

Learn more about optimizing your referral program, or check out some referral program examples.


Dinesh Raju

Dinesh is CEO and co-founder of ReferralCandy. During his time in Carnegie Mellon, he sweet-talked robots into playing soccer. He can occasionally be found taming the office Wifi network and exploring new frontiers on Spotify.

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