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What are the best options out there for a tell-a-friend app for a promotional website? (Something more than a simple social sharing tool, but less involved than a full on referral rewards or affiliate program.) What are some good examples of sites implementing a tell-a-friend function?

  • JG

    Jay Gibb

    over 6 years ago #

    Since the question in your title is already pretty well covered in this thread, I’ll take a stab at one of your secondary questions from the body.

    Because of our contact importer, we’re in the luxurious position of being able to observe thousands of referral programs (including tell-a-friend forms), so we make it a habit to keep an eye on what’s working so that we can share insights with clients who are looking for advice.

    The universal truths of referral programs and tell-a-friend forms are as follows:

    1) Be awesome. Nobody wants to share mediocre stuff.

    2) If you’re not giving your user an incentive to share, they probably won’t. It’s not enough to just have good content or be a cool site. If you can give something to both parties (referral and referrer) then you’ll get great results.

    3) Tell them what you’re going to do, then do it, then tell them what you did. We see tell-a-friend form abandonment rates above 50% for sites that do a poor job of setting expectations for the authentication (OAuth usually) that the user is about to go through.

    4) Start the process at a point where the user is engaged and motivated. Put it on a ‘thank you page’ after a checkout or after submitting a comment/review/etc. Put it in an email receipt or some other transactional email that most of your users open and care about. Don’t just stick it in the header or sidebar and hope people will look for it.

    5) When the referral follows through (clicks, buys, etc.) make sure you send some positive feedback to the referrer. This has a compounding effect of making the referrer share again and again.

    6) (Shameless plug) Don’t make your users type anything, especially things they have to go look up like their friends’ email addresses. Just give them a way to select recipients from their contacts and hit “Send”. Your conversion rate will go down with every friction point you insert into the form.

    FWIW, my favorite recent example of a company that’s doing everything right is zulily.com.

    • KK

      Kevin Kinell

      over 5 years ago #

      Do you by chance know which service zulily is using?

    • KE

      Kelley Eidem

      about 4 years ago #

      Those are great points. Thank you.

      Could you give us the names or a hint of which companies do the things you've outlined.

      My cycle is simple. The prospect gets a free book offer. The link provides the Prologue. If they like the Prologue and want to go further they can use "Tell-A-Friend" and get the complete book for free. What happens is that eventually the prospect often orders a paid version and they want to tell even more friends.

      I don't need the complexity of a shopping cart, just the ability of the prospect to access their email book and social media.

    • WW

      William Wickey

      over 6 years ago #

      Thanks Jay.

      #6 is key. Removing friction points. Making it as easy as possible for users to refer a friend in as few steps as possible.

  • DR

    Dinesh Raju

    over 6 years ago #

    Hey William,

    I've found this to be the most comprehensive list of referral apps online: http://www.quora.com/What-third-party-services-can-I-use-to-set-up-and-manage-programs-to-incentivize-my-customers-to-tweet-or-share-information-about-my-company-on-Facebook

    This GH thread points to good examples of sites implementing referral solutions: http://growthhackers.com/an-epic-list-of-47-referral-programs/

    Hope those help!

    (Disclosure: My company, referralcandy.com, is mentioned in both those links.)

  • TD

    Timo Dechau

    over 6 years ago #

    I was in touch with http://www.referralsaasquatch.com/ - I really liked their approach to make it simple to set up a referral program. Couldn't test it because they haven't offered an integration with our payment provider at that time.

  • TW

    Tommy Walker

    over 6 years ago #

    I am a big fan of http://friendbuy.com

    • TM

      Tony Mariotti

      over 6 years ago #

      Hey Tommy, thanks for the shout out.

      William - This is an interesting question. Thought I’d chime in.

      It sounds like you are looking for a lightweight solution. Fair enough. In service to your question, and to help sort this out for the broader GrowthHackers community, here are a few thoughts.

      Plenty of ink has been spilled on the subject of viral traction by way of social sharing, tell-a-friend and referral marketing. Seems like there has been 1,000 blog posts about Dropbox alone. And I see these terms co-mingled quite a bit. They are not the same. Nor is every business who can take advantage of referral mechanisms Dropbox.

      It might be worthwhile to break down some of your options and discuss the differences among them.

      The list below, for the most part, is ordered by complexity, effectiveness and (oddly enough) chronologically. When you think about the chronology or history of viral solutions, this makes sense; marketers demand better results from social distribution and the software solutions evolved from ‘free and easy’ to ‘paid-for and more effective.’

      So here’s the rundown:

      Social Sharing (AddThis / ShareThis)

      These two companies grew during the nascent social marketing revolution and continue to thrive as an easy-to-deploy solution for the masses. They are free, lightweight and somewhat customizable plugins that allow your site visitors to share into social networks and email.

      They are “OK” for bloggers using WordPress and so on. I see their plugins on e-commerce sites as well, but they are insufficient in terms of a few key features:

      1) They don’t track referred revenue
      2) They are not optimize-able
      3) Data leakage – your visitor data is not yours (more below)

      Pros: Free, cheap and easy.

      Cons: Not effective (especially if you are in e-commerce). You can’t influence sharing performance (A/B testing, optimization and reporting). The worst offence here is that they sell your data. You know that visitor you paid $1.00 per click on Google Ads? (Just kidding, no one pays $1.00 for a click but I’ll use that monetary figure for demonstration purposes.) Well, they re-sell your visitor cookies for a few pennies ($2.50 CPM) to Fortune 500 advertisers.

      Tell a friend (AirSeed / CloudSponge)

      Disclosure: My company, Friendbuy, includes CloudSponge functionality in our referral widgets for address book importing.

      Airseed is a new entrant to the market so I can’t say much about their service. I don’t want to diss them but I can only honestly speak to CloudSponge’s capabilities and reliability. Airseed looks promising.

      CloudSponge is the progenitor of Tell a Friend software - productizing the ability for users to import contacts from their address books among multiple webmail providers and enabling users to send email invitations.

      CloudSponge gained traction by giving webmasters (the original GrowthHackers) a turnkey solution emulating the kind of ‘invitation’ growth tactics achieved by the early pioneers of virality (Reid Hoffman / Michael Birch). Disclosure: I’m a former Bebo employee so I’m obviously including Birch here. He was extremely good at generating a positive viral co-efficient. Enough so that he was featured in the book “Viral Loop” and had a pretty epic exit to AOL. ‘Nuff said. And anyone who knows the history Hoffman’s early ventures and later, large-scale successes…well let’s just say we bow down to this guy.

      Back to the point…

      Tell A Friend works best when your product is collaborative or freemium. Think Yammer or Dropbox, respectively. The experience of Dropbox and Yammer are made better, for an individual end user, when they invite friends.

      If you’re actually SELLING something TODAY -- as opposed to freemium/collaborative software where profit is harvested much later in the cycle -- you’ll want to take a closer look at referral software (below). Or to put it another way, the reason Dollar Shave Club has a referral program – as opposed to a Tell a Friend plugin – is that shaving isn’t improved by collaboration nor is it free. At least that last time I checked.

      Pros: Low cost (AirSeed is in free beta as I write this and CloudSponge is rather reasonably priced) customizable, effective, well-suited for collaborative and freemium products, scalable and so on.

      Cons: These are invitation systems. Perfect if you want to build a community like Yelp. Imperfect if you are in ecommerce and want to drive sales.

      Referral Program Software (Friendbuy / Extole / Curebit / Ambassador)

      Disclosure: I work for Friendbuy.

      I’m including our competitors in the mix in order to make this answer serve the wider interest of the GrowthHackers community. There are a myriad of solutions out there, even more companies than listed above. Each promises to deliver customer referrals. However, the competitors listed above are the real deal. Quite frankly, if you’re not evaluating one the four solutions above, you’re wasting you time. So I am leaking my opinion in here a little…but to the benefit of the better competitors in the market.

      So customer referral software does a few things really well. It encourages sharing by dangling an incentive, or carrot, in front of a user which strongly encourages them to refer friends. There’s the promise of a reward. And this has a material impact on sharing rates. Big time. Orders-of-magnitude.

      In the vast majority referral program schemes the sharer’s friends also receive an offer to buy from you, typically a first-time customer discount.

      This is known as the “two-sided” incentive structure. And it works. Extremely well.

      How well? The average CPA for a referral program is well under $10. Compare that to PPC ($40 CPA or more on average for e-commerce) and you can see why the popularity referral programs grows. If you’re interested in more referral program benchmarks, I’d encourage you to check out this post: http://www.friendbuy.com/blog/referral-marketing-benchmarks-revealed/

      Pros: Converts a sale, as opposed to an invitation system where a conversion is typically a sign up to a collaborative or freemium service. Optimize-able. Includes referral revenue reporting. Plenty of data to chew on.

      Cons: Deployment requires your involvement to set up. Not free.

      I highly respect Jeff Epstein at Ambassador. He’s a hard-working entrepreneur and has built something special. I know he frequents GrowthHackers.com. I’d encourage his comments and insight, too. I’m sure he can add value to this thread.


      To summarize, pick a tool/platform/method that suits your needs. If you are trying to generate lift on revenue – which it sounds like you’re trying to achieve -- as opposed to simple sharing which may/may not generate awareness of your brand, you’d do best to use a referral platform. Personally, I'm data-driven and not terribly fond of awareness, which seems rather ephemeral. So there's more strong personal opinion leaking into this reply. Sorry.

      As far as effort required, you pretty much get out of it what you put into it. That's true of any marketing tactic. While a lightweight solution or plugin may be cheap and easy, you may be a terribly disappointed in the results.

      • WW

        William Wickey

        over 6 years ago #

        Thanks Tony! I really appreciate such a comprehensive response.

        I think you hit the nail on the head when you made the distinction between selling something today versus a product or service where you are intending to capitalize later in the cycle.

        For ecommerce, a more comprehensive referral software seems like the way to go. The benchmarks in the that FriendBuy post are helpful. (And, impressive.) http://www.friendbuy.com/blog/referral-marketing-benchmarks-revealed/

        In your opinion, is there ever any use or functionality for referal software when your product is being sold by a 3rd party. Say, for example, you are selling a book on Amazon or a documentary on Vimeo. Would using referral software on your website or blog ever make sense for getting your current fans/customers to spread the word?

        Thanks again.

        • TM

          Tony Mariotti

          over 6 years ago #

          Hey William, glad you found my answer useful.

          Your next question can be broken down into two parts.

          I haven't seen examples of folks using referral software when a product is sold by a third party. That's because you'd need access to the purchase confirmation page of that third party (to track conversions). I'm pretty sure Amazon isn't going to let people install third party JavaScript in their cart. :-) Not sure about Vimeo. If the third part offers UTM tracking, you could at least see Friendbuy as the referral source.

          In terms of fans driving awareness, Dollar Shave Club used our platform on their blog during colon cancer awareness month. DSC got their fans to share/tweet/email the live-stream Mike's (founder/CEO), colonoscopy. Very clever. It was a hit.

        • VV

          Visakan Veerasamy

          over 6 years ago #

          "Say, for example, you are selling a book on Amazon or a documentary on Vimeo. Would using referral software on your website or blog ever make sense for getting your current fans/customers to spread the word?"

          The short answer is No.

          You're much better off, say, reaching out to bloggers and influential members in your target audience. You're better off writing a blog, doing some content marketing in the space that the book/documentary occupies. Have you done all of that yet?

      • SB

        Seth Baum

        over 6 years ago #

        I'm storing your answer @tonymariotti, perfect summary and then you went above and beyond in pointing out the optimal use cases for the various tools. Just a word of thanks man for the effort - helps me out on a topic I had been meaning to explore and you saved me precious hours!

      • JW

        Julian Weisser

        over 6 years ago #

        Tony, thanks for such a thoughtful response!

        I signed up for Friendbuy two days ago to test out with Gene Guru and your comments here (and the link to the blog post) really resonated.

        I'll be sure to let you know what we think - completely agree that the lightweight solution might not be good for long-term wins!

        • TM

          Tony Mariotti

          over 6 years ago #

          Hi, Julian. Thanks for kicking the tires on Friendbuy. Yes, please do let me know your thoughts.

  • MB

    Morgan Brown

    over 6 years ago #

    I'm a fan of Curebit, now Talkable. They're a YC company. https://www.talkable.com/

  • JS

    Jordan Skole

    over 6 years ago #

    I'd like to make sure Ambassador (https://getambassador.com/) is included in the discussion as well. We power referral programs from SMBs to Fortune 500. T-Mobile even trusts us to power their program (http://bit.ly/t-mobile-referrals).

    Full disclosure, I work there.

  • VV

    Visakan Veerasamy

    over 6 years ago #

    "More than a simple social sharing tool, but less involved than a full on referral rewards or affiliate program"

    . I'd like to hear more about this in detail. I'm guessing by "simple social sharing tool" you're talking about on-site "SHARE NOW!" type buttons? What would you like that's better than that, specifically?

    Also, what kind of promotional site is it, exactly? More details will help!

  • TO

    Tim Osterbuhr

    over 6 years ago #

    Hey William,

    I hope I don't break the rules by advertising. But I think we offer the right solution for you (https://referral.airseed.com/). Our Friend Import is a simple widget and not a bloated affiliate program. Would be happy to chat more and set you up with an account my email is tim@airseed.com

  • JD

    Jason Dea

    over 6 years ago #

    Late to the game (well the discussion anyway) We've just launched a new referral marketing app for Shopify called Forewards


    Our goal was to create the easiest to use tool on the market to help our clients get to the value of a engaging customer referral program in less than a minute.

    Check us out. We'll be forever grateful :)

  • AH

    Abdulrahman Hariri

    over 6 years ago #

    For those of us who don't want to use an external service, anyone has recommendations on best plugins to do this on Wordpress?

    I am thinking of using ListEruption or the List Builder from AppSumo. Another option I thought about is just to make the main incentive available to my members but then add a share gate to unlock a second incentive (basically encouraging them to share by telling them that they will get something if they share too).


  • RN

    Ross Nichols

    over 5 years ago #

    Great post and comments guys. I'm looking for a service that allows users to invite contacts from their mobile address book, rather than emails or social links. I've had a look through most of the above services and can't seem to find this feature. Can anyone confirm whether or not this is possible with some of the above? Also, does anyone have experiences of this service https://www.appvirality.com ?

  • TG

    Tariehk Geter

    over 4 years ago #

    ​Bias Ahead. Warning!!!

    I'm the co-founder of OSIAffiliate.com and I think our app is a great solution for someone looking for a tell-a-friend app [Yes, I'm biased but you were warned :) ].

    Our tool can actually do both referral tracking and affiliate tracking. For referral tracking, you can embed our social share widget to your website. This makes it easy for any customer to quickly share and promote your business. Using the social share widget, customers can promote in Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and email. This widget can be embedded anywhere on your website you want to have the tell-a-friend feature.

    For affiliate tracking, you can provide unique affiliate links for your partners and marketers to promote you. They can use their links anywhere. Blogs, websites, social, mobile, etc.

    All in all, I think our app is a great solution for word of mouth marketing. Check us out or email me if you want to schedule a walkthrough.

    :) :) :)

  • MS

    Miguel Soares

    over 4 years ago #

    Does anyone knows a referral SaaS for B2B, i mean when we dont have a ecommerce website, but only a product presentation website.

  • JO

    John Osman

    over 3 years ago #

    I am an Affiliate/Referral Partner for CardTapp - let me know what you think, as I believe CardTapp is exactly what you are looking for.

  • RE

    Rune Ellingsen

    over 2 years ago #

    Hey - Had to register just to post this... If you have not used UpViral, then it is a more cost effective solution than most of the suggestions in here. Great post though. But you should check it out. ( Not affiliate, just used it.) All the best

  • MM

    Megan Mosley

    about 2 years ago #

    Truth is there are quite a few great tools out there. I suggest seeing which ones offer a demo or free trial. By testing a couple of them out, you can see which best suits your needs.

    I will say, and this is a biased opinion. My favorite is Referral Rock (I work there!).

    We wrote this list of different referral software options (https://referralrock.com/blog/an-epic-list-of-customer-referral-marketing-programs/). Hope it helps!

  • DG

    Deepak Gupta

    almost 2 years ago #

    You can try Invitereferrals.com for best campaign setup support and having affordable price

  • ZH

    Zubair hussain khan

    about 1 year ago #

    Hi Friend,

    I think you are searching for a Referral Marketing Plugin, just like Refer a Friend for WooCommerce or Referral System for WooCommerce.

    Actually Refer a Friend plugin for WooCommerce (https://wpgens.com/downloads/refer-a-friend-for-woocommerce-premium/) allows you to offer coupons to both your customers and the people they refer. When a customer makes a referral, the referred customer is sent a coupon. If the new customer visits the website and makes a purchase, the original customer is also awarded a coupon.

    The plugin does all the tracking so you don’t have to play with the data and analytics. You can just install the plugin and let it do all the hard work and magic of referral marketing for you.

    Besides the usual function that creates coupons for referrals, the plugin, Referral System for WooCommerce (https://woocommerce.com/products/referral-system-for-woocommerce/) has additional functionality that will give an edge to your referral marketing program. The plugin integrates with the WooCommerce Points and Rewards Extension and allows you to offer points instead of coupons. If you already have a points and rewards system installed on your website, having this plugin can really step up your game.

    You can do a lot of things with this plugin like:

    Set up the points to currency conversion rate.
    Give your customers the opportunity to earn points for different actions like creating an account, making a purchase or even writing a review.
    Control point settings like point expiry dates and maximum number of points.

  • MK

    Michal Kouril

    about 1 year ago #

    You can try https://postaffiliatepro.com/ for 14 days for free. A free setup by PAP's team is available for everyone.

  • LK

    Liz Kliko

    4 months ago #

    I have been using Scaleo ( https://www.scaleo.io ) for about half a year now and this is a great referral platform. Could be used as just a simple "refer a friend" add-on for a business, or as a stand alone affiliate network with your own affiliates and offers/products. They also offer a 14 days free trial without even asking for credit card/paypal details. I have tried several scripts before, and Scaleo has by far the best looking interface, highly customizable and it's actually "white hat" so you can change colors and logo. Definitely give them a try.