Acquiring mobile users is increasingly becoming a challenge for businesses. But as the digital world moves towards mobile, businesses need to consistently make efforts to stay as well as grow in the market. And that doesn’t just include increasing marketing budgets.

The market today is not susceptible to value propositions being delivered via advertisements. What users need is a guarantee from someone like them, and that’s where referral marketing comes in.

“People trust recommendations from friends 7X more than traditional advertising.”

  – Nielsen, Global Trust In Advertising

In simpler words, referral marketing is a tactic that must be leveraged from even in the mobile app environment – especially when there are hundreds of apps getting introduced to the stores every other day. While many businesses have an in-app referral campaign running, there are very few that come close to being as successful as Dropbox, Uber or Airbnb. But in this article, we will look at the most effective measures to take in order to make the most out of the app referral program. 

1. Time it right

Let’s face it, if an app nudges you to send invites to your friends just as you’re starting to explore it, you decline the offer – no matter how good it is. Simply because you don’t even know yet what value the app has to offer! If you’re too pushy at this instance, you risk even losing the user for being too intrusive or sale-sy. So when is a good time to ‘ask’ for referrals? Here are a few strategies that always work:

  • Engagement first, favours second. While asking is always an important aspect of referral marketing, it is important that apps focus on engaging the users first. If you’re not a part of their break time, just how do you imagine being a part of their friend circle? Focus on using in-app elements that will not just help the user understand what your app has to offer, but also keeps him engaged for longer and nudges him to come back to it often.
  • Onboarding introductions. Here’s the thing about your app’s users – they may or may not even discover the feature of inviting their friends. Or it simply might not strike them to do so at any point in time. Including referrals and in-app purchases in the onboarding tutorial doesn’t just make them easier to be discovered but also increases the in-app conversions.

  • Incentivized purchases. When you engage a user actively with your app, it becomes obvious for him to explore all the features of it – even those that you have tucked away under your ‘pro plan’. But just how many of us are willing to make a purchase in an app? We’d rather look for free alternatives! That’s when you should incentivise the purchase – make it free for the user, but after he completes an action you desire. In this case, sending referrals to his circle.

2. Proactively promote the program

The only way to get your referral program discovered by app users is to proactively share it across various platforms. Be it online, in-app or offline promotions, every platform needs to be tapped into and made the most out of to attract maximum participants.

Here are a few tactics that must be part of your app referral program:

  • Push notifications to existing users
  • Promote it on your websites
  • Share it on your social profiles
  • Create custom messages for social sharing via the app
  • Create in-app prompts
  • Promote it via emails
  • Run an SMS campaign
  • Run mobile advertisements


3. Analyse the campaign results consistently

Digital and offline channels have all sorts of users. While some of them would be your target audience, the others would only participate for incentives – which might get you the numbers now, but in the long run, wouldn’t help sustain the growth.

Here are a few quality checks that you must run simultaneously alongside the app referral program:

  • Number of installs generated
  • Number of influencers engaged
  • Status of incentives offered
  • Fraud detection

Tip: try using GetSocial’s Analytics Dashboard to track user engagement, conversions, organic growth to optimize your growth channels for the referral campaign.

4. Remind users about your app referral program

Sometimes it takes a while for the mobile referral program to start in full swing and it is primarily because credibility takes some time to establish. Even though referral campaigns offer instant gratification along with valued incentives, some users need a bit of convincing to implement the actions associated with the program.

The only way to encourage these users to become a part of your referral campaign is to follow up with them and gently remind them of the offer. But remember, the number of times you notify them of the ongoing offer should be modest enough to not be considered as spam.

Here are a few ways to execute a follow up:

  • An email that reinforces the incentives offered and encourages them to take part in the referral campaign. Also, one that lets them know whenever a friend onboards.
  • A push notification every time a friend of theirs accepts the invite and joins the app.
  • An email or push notification regarding when the campaign is ending and how you’d love them to become a part of it.
  • Implement live chats and form a community so that users can find motivation in one another, and stay up-to-date with all the news related to the app.
  • Incorporate activity feeds to liven up your community.

GetSocial allows you to engage your app users in real-time conversations via chat features and to manage your community efficiently via an intuitive dashboard. It also enables you to incorporate activity feeds and social notifications to keep your community lively, motivated and participating in the app referral program.

5. Engage referred users right from the beginning

While referral marketing is one of the most effective ways for an app to grow, it is important to implement some post referral strategies to hook your new users straight after the app install. The sooner and longer you’re able to maintain the WOW factor, the greater are your in-app conversions from referral campaigns.

  • Personalised user onboarding. The very first experience with your app is what defines whether the user will see value in what you offer and engage him with it. This makes his onboarding important – introducing him to all the features of your app and how he can progress through different levels, makes sure he doesn’t miss out on anything important. 
  • Leverage from user’s relationships. A user just invited his friend to your app. Now assuming that this friend accepts the invite and installs your app, what happens to the relationship between the two of them? In a general scenario, a user would invite his friends to an app using social channels like Facebook, Twitter and other or messages using WhatsApp, Kik and other chat apps. But once this friend installs the app, they are treated as individual users. The relation that you acquired a user through gets lost almost immediately and that’s where you lose out on engaging them. 

    dead target zombies - user relationships

    The GetSocial Social Graph automatically generates a graph for all the referrals sent from your app. It connects your existing users with the friends they have invited, irrespective of the channel used. Knowing which user is related to the other, it enables app marketers to create gamification and boost group engagement to keep all the users active.

  • Keep the momentum going amongst users. Don’t just let your app referral program die out after acquiring a new user. To keep the momentum going, you need to promote your campaign to this new user as he explores your app. Encourage him to share your app or the levels he completes in it on social media, to let his circles know what he is trying. The best way to do is to introduce your referral program during the onboarding, nudge them with in-app popups or incentivise an in-app purchase in lieu of invites. It is important to create a viral loop of referrals to keep your app sustainably growing.  
  • Encourage app reviews. If your app referral program focuses on getting a user to invite his friends only, it is time to rethink – the number one way that mobile users discover apps are through search. That’s where app reviews and ratings come handy. Apps that are performing well on the app stores, automatically rank higher than the other – making your app the first choice in a specific category. So go ahead and encourage or incentivise app reviews by reminding your users to drop them during an active app session. 

increase app downloads

Wrapping Up

Referral marketing is one of the most powerful marketing tools which can bring you hundreds of app installs without spending a fortune on dubious user acquisition strategies. But to ensure its success, aim for making your users constantly engaged and eager to come back to your app over and over again. Spread the word about your app referral program by actively promoting it across your distribution channels. Track your referral campaigns’ progress and run key quality checks to help sustain its growth. Once your referral campaign starts acquiring new users, don’t forget to set up post referral strategies to keep the momentum going. 

Keep in mind that user acquisition is not limited to referral marketing only. To learn about other effective strategies that will improve your app user acquisition, check out our e-book.

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