10 Best Referral Programs That Went Viral & Helped In Exponential Growth

The word ‘referral’ is a word familiar to every corporate employee. Be it, employee, job or business referrals, it will not be wrong to say that referrals have contributed largely in building the foundation of the corporate world.

Referrals are a key ingredient for a healthy B2B sales pipeline and come in all shapes and sizes. In this article, we bring to you 10 best referral programs that went viral & helped in exponential growth. 

What is a Referral Program?

A referral program may be defined as an organized way of getting people in large numbers to make referrals to your business.

Referral strategy helps garner massive sales as your existing customers rave about your services in their network and help you bring in more business.

In layman terms, this strategy can be viewed as a word-of-mouth strategy, yet, is powerful! Why, it involves zero capital investment from your end, and can also get you unlimited business if done the right way.

Related: How building a strong community can help you increase word-of-mouth


Why are Referral Programs Important?

Referral programs are important because they play a vital role in the success of a company. It is human tendency to discuss both good and bad and give recommendations. When we find out about a sale at our favourite brands, on movie tickets or a good eating joint, we intuitively want to let our near and dear ones know about it.

As per a Nielsen study, 92% of the customers trust recommendations from people close to them. Referral marketing is built on the fact that it is in-built and almost biological and has no limits to the benefits it can bring to a business.

Even McKinsey backs this phenomenon and states that referrals influence up to 50% of the overall purchasing decisions and generate more than 2 times the leads generated by paid advertising.

Also, the USP of Referral Programs is that they are essentially FREE! Customers turning brand evangelists for you for free and bringing in business free of cost – can there be a better marketing strategy?


Characteristics of a Stellar Referral Program

The core benefit that can be offered by a good referral program is to keep customers constantly engaged in segments which are ‘happy moments.’ Happy moments are states of elation which make a customer recommend a service to his/her peers due to feeling exceptionally good about a received product or service.

This helps not only drive new referral sales but also solidifies customer retention and loyalty. Refer-a-friend is great at driving brand awareness as a Heinz report showed that companies with good referral programs experienced 86% more revenue growth than their counterparts.

Also, the best part is that crafting of a good referral program is quite easy and has 3 key components viz; structure, design and promotion. 

Since a referral program is not limited to a single interaction with the customer and should be authentic, one must determine the kind of incentives they will offer target customers, make up an easily comprehensible program structure and gauge the kind of interactions which are necessary to make the referral program a success. 

To make up a solid structure, you need to attain clarity in the following areas:

1) Finding out your best customers

You must outline a program which leverages the enthusiasm of your highest-paying and happy customers as like form follows function. A good customer segment will be most inclined to refer customers from another good segment. So, you must target your good customers so as to draw in more good customers.

2) Deciding on the most compelling incentive you can offer

Post a deep understanding of your existing customer base, you can decide upon a valuable and compelling incentive which is specifically matched to your star customers.

Double-sides rewards which benefit both the sender and the receiver will trigger user altruism. Heard of ‘Give your friends’ and get up to $100? Well, it is a persuasive way of showcasing mutual rewards.

3) Goalpost

This is what the receiving user must complete for the award to be given to the customer for its referral. It can very well be account activation, signups, in-built purchases or the likes. A goalpost is a closed-loop which must bring ROI for everyone.

For eg; Airbnb’s goalpost is achieved on the first booking made by the referred user. They could have leveraged friend signups or wish list additions, but the former encourages better engagement with the brand as one goes through an account registration, experiences the UX, browses and pays – voila! It provides the right marketing ROI and leads to sign-ups. Win-win.


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4) Simplified structure

If the referral program is too complex, users will face difficulty in connecting with the same. Simplicity is the key here as it is mandatory for customers to be able to use it efficiently and know how it works and what is in it for them. Ensure that the sign-ups are not tedious and there is instant gratification with rewards for spreading the word.

5) Expanding reach via social media

Social media is a great resource for reaching out to people, as one Facebook post or a tweet has the potential to reach unlimited people within a short frame of time. Also, incentivizing your bid on social media can also help boost your referral program like wildfire.

6) Capitalizing on influencers

Influencers namely bloggers and celebrities are undoubtedly very influential. Having an influencer close to your target market promote your cause will work wonders for your referral traffic and sales. You can go for local influencers also who might have access to larger audiences.

Related: 8 best influencer marketing platforms for a successful campaign

Startups have employed the aforementioned referral hacks which were actually huge successes. For example; mobile advertising giant InMobi was looking for engineer managers and when they did not achieve the desired results from traditional recruiting ways, they decided to give the referrer either a Royal Enfield bike or a trip to Bali if they referred an engineering manager who got hired.

Similarly, myHQ, another Indian startup from the coworking spaces industry, has this epic referral program wherein as a myHQ customer, you can refer it to someone through a referral code and both parties get to win INR 700 each! It clearly has one of the best referral programs among all startups.


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10 Best Referral Programs That Went Viral

Here are some of the best referrals programs launched by brands that went viral and helped in achieving exponential user growth.

1) Google For Work

Best Referral Programs - Google App for Work

The giant search engine also apparently has its own referral program wherein it rewards business customers for every new user who signs up for Google Apps for Work. Post onboarding, the customers are given a personal link to be shared with their respective networks.

For each Google App for Work account that gets activated, the person who made the referral gets a transaction of $7.5 in their bank account.

The motive and benefit behind this deal is the reward given to the advocate who will be tempted to make more referrals in the future. Also, the personalised links aid the users in easy promotion.

2) Uber

Uber Referral Program

Uber’s incentivized referral program is a massive success and is actually looked up to by marketers. What makes it chart the list for the best referral programs is the fact that it decided to incorporate referral marketing in their mobile model via their app, which is used by millions of people worldwide.

The referrals by Uber are based in the free ride’s concept and is also replicated by several other cab and ride-sharing apps.

3) Airbnb

AirBnB’s referrals are considered to be one of the best referral programs in the world. It offered a 2-way program to its users which rewarded both the referrer and the recipient with $25 credit. The program is still open and makes the referrer eligible for an additional $75 if the recipient hosts someone. 

4) Dropbox

Dropbox referral program

The referral programs of Dropbox are extremely popular and known as one of the best examples of growth hacking. Dropbox is a renowned online storage company which began a referral campaign by offering free 500 MB space to both the referred and advocate.

This program worked like magic for Dropbox and boosted its total signups up to 60%. Dropbox played on the need for more storage space by the customers and thus, gave it away as a referral award to customers garnering more of them successfully.


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5) EverNote

This note-taking app launched a referral program which awarded points to its customers every time they made referrals. These points can be redeemed for free access for the premium features of the software.

Besides, each time the referred lead of an existing customer upgrades to the EverNote Premium version, the advocate will receive extra points. The service now has several million users with a staggering 13 million users referred by other customers. 

The key highlight of referral marketing examples like EverNote is that their process of referral does not come to an end after the customer provides the contact information of their friend.

Giving away rewards whenever the referred person upgrades their product works as an incentive for them to refer again and their peers to keep upgrading as well. Clearly, this practice ensures it ranks among the best referral programs.

6) Tesla

Best Referral Programs - Tesla

Electric car company Tesla made changes to its referral program over the years to have a long hard look at their existing customer base which kept on growing. Their original model comprised of them offering 1000 dollars to refer a friend, but they changed the reward to better prizes like an exclusive battery.

The first person to refer 20 people in their region gets to win a free Model X or Model S. Other referral award included invitations to exclusive parties and the chance to buy limited edition products.

Such incentives are rare and make the referrer feel like a VIP which motivates him or her to refer again. Also, this referral program allows entry into newer markets in cost-efficient ways by providing regional contests and incentives.

7) PayPal

The referral program of PayPal was replicated by Dropbox which emerged as a successful campaign altogether. PayPal’s unique referral program involves using the means of IMs, blogs and emails for spreading the word of their referral campaign.

This move resulted in a daily average growth of 7-10% in the early 2000s. Clearly, people were unaware of such a concept back then and immediately joined the bandwagon, adding millions to PayPal’s customer base.

8) Amazon

Best Referral Programs - Amazon Prime Referral

Amazon’s referral program involved using header images in its post referral program, to evoke a reminder on the importance of friendship. The campaign’s content was finely-written with urging users to share their experiences in their network through Amazon Prime.

This referral program has a strong CTA (call-to-action) which is a key reason for it being a smashing success and one of the best referral programs to date.

9) iStock

This online, royalty-free stock photography provider had images, audio tracks and videos for online users. The referral program had unique take which allowed a customer to pick its own reward from 3 options namely commission, credit, and cash. This way their way to target a wide base of potential clients.

Commission – only if users successfully refer a friend who purchases a pack within 30 days, post which the advocate was given 20% on this sale.

Credit – For every new customer who purchased 30 credits within 3 days, 20 credits were provided by the company.

Cash – iStock offers 20 dollars in cash for every new customer who makes a purchase of 30 credits during a period of 30 days.

iStock boasts of a huge market with several users from across the globe. Giving the users an option to select from is one great way of offering multiple motivations for them to be tempted enough to refer and that is what makes the program a hit.

10) Nestaway

Nestaway Referral Program


India’s real estate works on word-of-mouth marketing & Nestaway India’s fastest growing ‘managed home network’ has managed to incentivize this by creating a very attractive referral program. Offering 1k cash/credit to the referrer & the referee, it also hosts quarterly contests like double your referral bonus, win a trip to Goa, Stay for free etc.

Quite a few of Nestaway’s tenants have stayed for free for months together by referring 300+ tenants & owners each. Check it out here.


So, what are you waiting for? With all this knowledge and potential, you must start building a referral program NOW!  We promise it will attract users to your product like a bear towards honey!

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