9 Refer-a-Friend Campaign Best Practices: Ace Your Referral Program

Word-of-mouth marketing generates twice as many sales brought through paid advertising, making it the cheaper tactic to build your customer base.

Abdul Wahab

Abdul Wahab

· 13 min read
9 Refer-a-Friend Campaign Best Practices: Ace Your Referral Program

Unlike the monopolized markets of the 1950s when conglomerates controlled the public’s narrative, this age of information and connectivity has flipped the tables. People are free to form opinions about a brand or its products based on their personal experiences and feedback from friends.

The growing dependency on word of mouth is spurred by all valid reasons; distrust in traditional media, ever-higher advertisement costs, and the power of peer-to-peer connections.

One positive note about your company can change people’s perception in your favor, turning onlookers into actual customers. Word-of-mouth marketing generates twice as many sales brought through paid advertising, making it the cheaper tactic to build your customer base.

But to make every recommendation count as new leads, businesses should enact a proper referral marketing planincentivizing existing customers to refer new ones. Startups looking to make a name for themselves should be a step ahead. We have produced 9 impactful referral marketing best practices and examples to steer your brand.

Setting Up a Refer-a-Friend Program: Start from the Basics

What distinguishes a sought-after product from a fair-to-middling one is the marketing strategy that hypes it. Nearing the launch days, companies spend heavily on ads and referral program promotions to spread awareness about the upcoming offerings and encourage people to purchase.

But compared to a commercial ad, a friendly recommendation would have a much bigger impact on powering your sales funnel. Over 65% of new business comes through referrals, marking an 86% higher revenue growth rate for companies with active referral marketing campaigns.

If you’re looking to capitalize on word-of-mouth marketing to build hype for an upcoming launch or boost your overall conversion rate, better start with the basics. Understand what it means to set up and run a customer referral program before you start implementing smart tactics to power growth. Here’s a step-by-step guide to get you started:

  • Define your goals: A successful referral program can bring you all sorts of benefits including increased customer acquisition, boosted sales, or a loyal user base. Whatever you intend to achieve with the program will dictate its terms.
  • Identify the Target Audience: Find out who your ideal customers are by segmenting an audience based on their demographics, buying behaviors, and social connectivity. Knowing your prospects in advance can help you devise a strategy that meets their preferences.
  • Choose the Best Incentives: Offer something that your audience has a genuine interest in. Be it a standard discount, freebies, or access to exclusive features, the referral program rewards should be attractive enough to encourage them to become your brand advocates.
  • Select the Type of Referral Program: Word of mouth can be leveraged in a number of ways, each offering different benefits. Launch a referral program that suits your line of business and fulfills customers’ interests.
  • Implement a Referral Tracking System: integrate referral program software as your program attracts new participants and generates leads to monitor the progress and maintain transparency.

A well-structured referral program powered by a dynamic promotion strategy can do wonders for your business. Apart from propelling new customers to your platform, it also helps foster brand loyalty in existing ones. Research by Deloitte states that companies that run a referral program witness a 37% higher retention rate than their counterparts. But to reap its true potential, you must adopt a more proactive approach to marketing.

9 Customer Referral Program Best Practices in 2024

A referral marketing program, by definition, is pretty straightforward. You target loyal, influential people in your customer base and incentivize them to refer their friends and family to your brand. The strategy can earn you a handful of new leads, in theory at least, considering you have a competitive product and lucrative rewards in store.

But for a startup competing against big corporations, this cut-and-dried approach won’t get you long-lasting results. Take notice of how the leading companies have set up their referral schemes, structured the rewards, and advertised the program before compiling your own.

We narrowed down 9 referral program best practices along with notable business examples to give you an edge over others.

Locate and Know Your Target Audience

No matter what marketing campaign you’re focusing on, if it centers around customers taking action, then you must formalize a strategy that meets their interests.

Referral programs thrive on the word of mouth of customers. To encourage new referrals - and ultimately generate sales - it’s important to identify who the key participants in your program will be. Without knowing who your target audience is? What’s important to them? and What are their challenges and interests? you’re essentially shooting in the dark.

From refining the product design to selecting referral rewards, every facet of your marketing process depends on the type of audience you have. Clear audience demographics set the guidelines for your marketing and sales teams to craft brand messaging, select marketing channels, and allocate resources.

Customers who regularly engage with your brand and leave feedback are more likely to participate in your refer-a-friend program and get more referrals.

Companies often conduct mass surveys or one-on-one interviews to assess user experience and gather insight into their needs and likings. Segment key players based on their buying behavior and purchase history, and lure them to your side through special rewards.

Design Attractive Referral Incentive Structures

Loyal customers may endorse your products of their own will but to capture mass participation from the target audience, incentives make all the difference. Good referral incentives serve as the prime motivator for prospects to jump aboard even if your product is still in the development stages. Get it right and you may lure in the clientele of your rival brands and compel them to sell for you.

The premise is simple: offer something your customers love and is worth the time and effort they spend for customers to share your program. If you are offering something of value, people will only be inclined to purchase from but better even, motivated to bring you quality leads.

Broadway Bank offers dollar cashback as a referral reward.
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Even though most companies choose dollar credit as the referral reward, non-monetary incentives have a 24% higher success rate at motivating people - if you manage to hit the right cord.

Milestone bonuses, priority access, charitable donations, and exclusive merchandise are some popular referral rewards. It’s best to consider your niche, marketing budget, and audience preferences while finalizing the rewards but there are some other questions you need to answer as well.

Who Gets the Reward?

A referral program doesn’t have to be all-inclusive, especially if you’re just starting out. Figure out whether you should implement:

  • One-sided referral campaign: A unilateral approach wherein only the referrer - the person referring - receives the reward, or
  • Two-sided referral program: A bilateral incentive model in which both the referrer and referee (referred user) are rewarded for completing the desired action.
Olaplex features a double-sided referral reward structure.
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Startups with limited marketing budgets often stick with one-sided referral structures which significantly dampens the traffic inflow. Adopt a bilateral incentive model to attract the top brass - loyal enthusiasts with an online presence. One endorsement from them can earn you multiple new leads without breaking the bank.

When to Offer the Reward?

Directing a legitimate referral to the platform involves a series of steps, from signing up on the referral program page to sharing the referral code to attributing a new lead to your name. It’s your job to determine what action should actually trigger the rewards. Here are some impressive ideas you can implement:

  • Post-Purchase: Send a reward after your customer has made the purchase. Having used the product, they are naturally inclined and confident to share that experience with others.
  • Upon Successful Conversion: Share rewards when the referred customer completes a desired action, such as making their first purchase or signing up for a subscription.
  • On Milestone Completion: Incentives are a great way to celebrate customer milestones, like referring a certain number of leads, and reinforce a positive relationship with the brand.
Go Ahead Tours offers tiered rewards for every referral program milestone.
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Highlight and Promote Your Referral Program

Seeing the conversions taken off by the loyal user base, too many companies take referrals for granted. They either shy away from highlighting the new initiative or tuck it into sub-menus and service pages, which reduces the chances of engagement. If you’re taking the time and effort to set up a referral program, better show it off to the public.

Set up a dedicated landing page for your campaign, if not, feature it on your homepage where everyone can see. Don’t make your customers squander through your website to sign up for your program.

Alpha Food’s refer a friend landing page.
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The easier it is to find, the likelier your prospects are to take action and refer friends. Utilize the following methods to promote your program:

Email Marketing

Whether you need to introduce someone to your referral program or thank customers for their participation, email is a great way to get in touch with someone. It’s direct, personal, and customizable for any marketing campaign. For a referral program, email marketing can successfully kick off the promotions.

Brooklinen referral email
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Social Media Posts

People spend most of their time scrolling through social media feeds - a perfect opportunity to pitch your program. Use eye-catching imagery and compelling taglines to hook your audience before directing them to your referral page. Except for your time and creative skills, social posting is free. Keep posting frequently to improve engagement and build a following.

Verity Credit Union’s Facebook post about the refer-a-friend program.
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Blog Announcements

Although many consider it outdated, a blog is still the most influential medium to engage and educate subscribers on the finer details of your program. Leverage it to share behind-the-scenes sneak peeks, quotes from team members, and testimonials of existing referers. Adcooma published a blog post to demonstrate how their referral campaign works.

Blog post announcement by Adzooma.
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Remember, referral advertisement is an ongoing process - you cannot discontinue the promotions once the leads start coming in. Instead keep broadcasting it on all major platforms to maintain a constant stream of new customers.

Lay Out the Terms for Referral Marketing Campaign

Regardless of how integral consumer trust is for a business, you cannot depend on goodwill alone to foster healthy, long-term relationships. Since referral programs are inherently transactional - customers receive rewards in exchange for referring leads to a company - there should be a set of guidelines dictating the relationship.

By listing the terms for your program, you’re inherently letting your customers know;

  • How the program works?
  • Who is eligible to enter?
  • How to participate and refer?
  • What qualifies as a valid referral?
  • How to win and redeem rewards?

While it educates prospects about the campaign structure, stating the program terms upfront adds to your credibility as a business. It’s important to let people know how their information will be used, how they can stay updated with the progress, and what to expect by the end. Uber clearly projects the basics of the campaign to assist prospects waiting to join.

Uber’s refer-a-friend campaign structure explained.
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The more information you project about the campaign, the more at ease your customers feel when signing up. On the flip side, the information you receive will help you understand consumer behavior regarding your offers and develop insights to make the experience better.

Ask! At the Right Time in the Right Way

Hard pill to swallow, but vouching for your brand isn’t your customer’s prime agenda. In fact, with jampacked schedules and low attention spans, it could be the last thing on their minds. Instead of leaving it to your audience to share and refer a friend, approach them with the proposition.

Don’t be shy of asking customers to vouch for your brand, if they leave a positive response on your site. However, make sure not to make your pitch sound too salesy. Customers would reject it downright if it’s the first thing you ask them to do. Wait till the moment is right and subtly lay your proposition.

The best time to approach a customer is right after they engage with your brand, make a purchase, interact with customer support, or leave positive feedback.

Marketers call it “shopper’s high”—a timeframe in which customers feel the excitement and rush of the purchase. Wrap your proposal in a “Thank You” note or a follow-up email to leverage their positive sentiments.

BigDogCo. Sends a post-purchase email asking for a referral.
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Here are a few tips you can exercise while asking for a referral:

  • Ask when you've recently delivered value or when the person you're asking has expressed satisfaction with your product.
  • Before making your request, express gratitude for your current relationship or the positive experiences you've had with the person.
  • Weigh in on the mutual benefits it holds. Mention how a recommendation can benefit their friend or family member.
  • If you don't get an immediate response, follow up politely. People are busy, and a friendly reminder can be helpful.

Make Sharing Easy and Frictionless

A complex and jagged sharing mechanism can be a big turnoff, especially when you have won them over. People don’t have the time to scour your homepage to sign up nor the patience to keep refreshing the referral webpage to generate the referral link.

Focus on creating an uninterrupted referral experience right from registration and sending referral codes to scanning QR codes and reviewing reward status.

Today, most marketers integrate social sharing options within the referral email. This allows interested recipients to generate their code and share it with their friends without getting directed to the landing page.

Maude’s referral email listing top sharing options and link generator.
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A seamless sharing process improves your chances of tapping new customers outside your target audience demographics. Implement these strategies to boost the program participation rate:

  • Provide one-click sharing options featuring buttons for popular social media platforms, email, and messaging apps.
  • Pre-populate referral messages with compelling content so participants don’t have to spend time crafting one from scratch.
  • Many users engage with content on their mobile devices, so optimizing the experience for smartphones will allow customers to share referrals on the go.

Thank Your Customers: Make it Feel Like a Win

Even though lucrative rewards help you nail down new customers and leverage their advocacy, still you cannot outrule their inclination toward other brands. Presented a better reward or a more advanced product, your customers will take no time drifting onto other stores unless they develop a deeper affiliation with your company.

Loyalty isn’t bought, it’s earned. Miss no opportunity to thank customers for their advocacy for your brand. Send regular follow-up and thank-you emails to let them know you value their participation and expect their continued support. Expressing gratitude builds a stronger bond between your business and referring customers.

Grant VIP status to customers who bring you the most leads as a way to acknowledge their efforts and inspire others to follow suit. One of the reasons behind Dropbox’s remarkable success is its follow-up strategy.

A thank you message sent by Dropbox to the referrer.
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Implement Anti-Fraud Measures

No doubt, referral marketing holds immense potential for growth but it’s as much at risk of fraud. Like most online phishing scams, referral scams target businesses with collusion, fake referrals, and incentive abuse—any of which can downgrade your credibility. Seeing fraudsters get the best of your campaign erodes the trust of customers, leading to a lower participation rate.

Referral fraud can wreak havoc on your business, especially if it goes undetected. Better get the right structure and tools in place to detect and deal with any fraudulent activities early on. PayPal has developed strict regulations to counter fake referrals.

PayPal’s automated refer-a-friend campaign ensures easy reward attribution.
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Here are some effective ways to prevent referral fraud:

  • Monitor IP addresses behind every referral action. Unusual patterns, such as multiple referrals from the same IP address or device, may indicate fraudulent activity.
  • Leverage fraud detection tools and services that can help automate the process of identifying and flagging potentially fraudulent referrals.
  • Establish validation periods for referral actions whereby, a referral will only be considered valid when it completes a purchase or perform other desired action within a specific timeframe.
  • Integrate CAPTCHA or other human verification mechanisms during the referral process to ensure referrals are initiated by real individuals and not automated bots.

Maintain Transparency with Referral Software

Without timely insight into your campaign’s progress, any outcome you expect could be off by a long shot. Overseeing your referral program, identifying potential bottlenecks, and strategizing for improvement all while you’re releasing new marketing resources can be challenging.

The process gets impossible for human supervision as the program scales up and engages thousands of new leads. It’s inevitable to integrate an automated referral software that manages the campaign from start to end—generating unique referral links to attributing rewards to referrers.

Referral marketing software enables marketers to track the number of incoming leads, active conversions, and referrals made via those conversions, and distribute rewards based on successful referrals. At Prefinery, referral program automation is just a click away.

Closing Note

Word-of-mouth marketing has already proved its mettle in an age dominated by the internet and connectivity. If you are providing a great product or service followed by awesome customer service, chances are that customers are already talking about you within their social circles. But don't forget to share your program across email and social platforms.

Adopt these referral marketing best practices to your campaign to boost conversion rates, achieve record-breaking ROI, and improve customer retention rates. Feels overwhelming? Let Prefinery.com steer your referral campaign to success.


What are the key components of a successful refer-a-friend campaign?

A successful program is easy to share, participate in, and reap impressive rewards. It should support effective referral communication strategies, anti-fraud measures, and continuous optimization based on performance analytics. Remember, everything should be in line with the referral program for your business niche and the audience you’re targeting.

How to track and measure the progress of a referral program.

Implement a tracking system or a dedicated referral software that uses unique referral codes or links to check progress in real-time. Monitor key performance indicators (KPIs) such as the number of referrals, conversion rates, and customer acquisition costs to assess the credibility of your campaign.

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