Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on December 21, 2017 and was updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness on July 23, 2019.
The difference between a good referral program and a great referral program is a thorough understanding of how your customers will interact with it. More importantly, you need to know how they want to interact with it! From the devices they’re use to how comfortable they are with different digital channels, how your members interact with your referral program is equal parts audience demographics and the products you sell.
Let’s go over the best channels to encourage online referral sharing.
1. Facebook is a must!
If there is one channel that every business should be encouraging referrals with it is Facebook. With 2 billion monthly users, the platform is popular across almost every demographic and is the most used social and communication platform in the world!
Besides just a large user base, referrals shared to Facebook have the benefit of being public and extremely visual. The average Facebook user has a social network of 338 people, which means a referral shared to Facebook is a large and lasting public endorsement of your brand. That is a lot of potential brand impressions from one share!
Facebook also has the benefit of being a very visual platform. If you craft a referral message that includes an image, it can go a long way in making sure the referral is seen and understood. This makes Facebook an amazing referral channel for any visual industry, including fashion, food, and lifestyle.
By choosing an image that immediately shows potential customers what you sell and includes your logo, you can create a highly effective Facebook referral message. You can easily do this by changing your site’s metadata, or in the customize section of a Smile.io referral program.
Tips for Facebook as a referral channel:
- Has the most amount of monthly users in the world
- Can reach an average of 338 people per share
- Is great for visual industries such as fashion
- Gets customers to make a lasting public commitment
2. Mobile Messengers allow frictionless sharing
Shopify has reported that almost 60% of checkouts on the platform are now happening on a mobile device. Clearly, shoppers are browsing and buying on mobile more than ever, which means they are also interacting with your referral program there as well.
When you enable your customers to share referral links on mobile messengers, you are allowing them to easily share in a way that is natural for the device they are browsing on. Not only that, but you make your program more visible by incorporating it into an app they’re already using all the time. This makes sharing a lot more desirable and convenient.
A Smile.io program allows you to easily enable mobile sharing when a customer is browsing your site on their phone. Whether they’re using WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, the appropriate app can be opened and sharing becomes as simple as selecting a contact to send to.
As mcommerce continues to grow, mobile text based communication has quickly become the preferred communication method of those under the age of 40. Whether you are specifically targeting that demographic or not, mobile sharing channels are a must for keeping your referral program relevant.
Tips for mobile messengers as a referral channel:
- Capitalize on the growing mobile commerce trend
- The easiest and most natural way to share on your phone
- Allow customers to share with friends in a one to one setting
- Are great if you have a 40 and under audience
3. Twitter boosts visibility by being public
While Twitter is not Facebook in terms of size (330,000 monthly Twitter users), it is still an amazing opportunity for boosting customer engagement through referrals.
Since Twitter is the original creator of the hashtag, that tool can be used to your referral program’s advantage. Simply add a branded hashtag to your default share message and generate a buzz around your tag every time a referral is shared.
Hashtags are also helpful because they allow you and potential customers to see how many times your referral links are being shared. The more times it’s shared, the more people will trust that what your members are recommending is what they’re looking for. After all, people like what others like — it’s called social proof!
Finally, like Facebook, Twitter is a very visual channel. Customizing a visual to accompany your links when they’re tweeted will go a long way to making this type of customer engagement even more beneficial for the success of your referral program. Again, this can be done by changing the page metadata, or in the sharing options section of your Smile.io program.
Tips for Twitter as a referral channel:
- Has the ability to trend on a hashtag
- Is great for visual industries like cosmetics
- Can include a preset message to be shared
- Is public to the entire Twitter platform
4. Email is still a powerful referral channe;
Email may not be as sexy as some of the other channels on this list, but it can still be super effective for the correct audience. Younger customers like millennials and generation Z do not like to use email as a way of sharing and connecting with friends, but baby boomers love it!
In fact, 92% of baby boomers click through to sites advertised to them through email, making it a powerful customer engagement tool for this cohort. That is much higher than any of the younger generations! With this in mind, enabling referral sharing through email is an easy decision if you have an older audience.
Even if you are not targeting boomers, email can be an effective referral channel for you. If you sell goods that are best not shared in a public setting, email referrals are a great marketing avenue because they allow your store to be shared in a more private and intimate matter. This is great for stores that sell things that are not dinner time topics like underwear, smoking accessories, or sex toys.
Regardless of whether you decide to enable email as a referral channel, it is important to include an email marketing component in your referral program. With this type of marketing in place, you’ll easily be able to boost customer engagement and encourage additional referrals.
Tips for email as a referral channel:
- Highly effective if targeting baby boomers
- Private and intimate — personalized one-to-one communication
- Is great for industries that are more private such as underwear
The right referral channels for you
The channels listed above are the referral channels we have seen be most popular and effective for more than 15,000 programs. Yes, there are other channels out there, but the reality is that they’re much more niche in their reach and effectiveness.
For the best referral results, give your customers both a public and private sharing option to best encourage them to take action. We strongly recommend Facebook and a mobile messenger as the two must have referral channels.