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7 Strategies to Incentivize App Referrals

The power of word-of-mouth cannot be overstated. Mobile app referrals harness the trust and credibility inherent in personal recommendations, often resulting in higher conversion rates and more loyal users compared to traditional acquisition methods.

Unlike paid ads or organic search, referrals come from a trusted source — friends, family, and colleagues — making them a highly effective way to drive app traffic. A well-executed referral program not only attracts new users but also encourages existing users to engage more deeply with your app, planting the seeds for long-term retention and growth.

These seven app referral strategies are designed for you to create a unique and undeniably engaging experience for your users.

1. Offer Rewards for Both Referrer and Referred

Creating a win-win scenario within the realm of mobile marketers isn’t exactly easy, so you must pounce on every chance to do so when the opportunity arises. By rewarding both parties in the referral process, you tap into the psychology of reciprocity, where users feel more inclined to refer friends because they know their friends will benefit as well.

This dual incentive structure also helps to reduce the friction that might otherwise prevent users from making referrals. No one likes being treated as your unpaid advertising intern — give them something in return! As a bonus, your referred users — having received a reward — are more likely to engage with and remain active with your app.

To implement this strategy strategically, start by identifying valuable rewards for your user base, such as in-app currency, discounts, or premium features. Ensure that the rewards are compelling enough to motivate users to make referrals and sustainable for your business. For maximum engagement, communicate the referral program clearly across multiple channels, including in-app notifications, email campaigns, and social media.

Take a look at how the sports betting app, Betmate, uses OneSignal Journeys to create a cross-channel referral flow featuring push notifications and emails, rewarding both the referrer and the new user.

Read Betmate’s full case study to learn how they managed to achieve a 600% increase in monthly active users (MAU) using OneSignal.

2. Create a Tiered Reward System

Momentum is the backbone of long-term app retention and implementing a multi-level reward structure that increases incentives as users refer more people is a perfect way to foster this.

By offering escalating rewards for achieving higher referral milestones, users are encouraged to continuously participate in your program rather than stopping after a single referral. This creates a sense of progression and achievement, similar to levels in a game, which motivates ongoing referrals. Moreover, tiered rewards can foster a sense of competition among users, driving them to outperform their peers and reach the next reward level.

To create a successful tiered reward system, start by defining clear and attainable milestones that users can work towards. Each tier should offer increasingly valuable rewards, ensuring that the effort required to reach higher levels is balanced by the attractiveness of the incentives. For example, a music streaming app might offer a free month of premium service for the first referral, an exclusive playlist for the third referral, and a concert ticket for the fifth referral.

Go the extra mile with these tips for promoting a tiered reward system:

  • Referral Progress Bars: Display visible progress bars within your app to remind users how close they are to achieving the next tier reward.

  • Email Campaigns: Regularly update users on their referral progress and upcoming rewards through personalized email campaigns.

  • Social Media Engagement: Share user success stories and testimonials on social media platforms to create buzz and encourage participation.

  • In-App Notifications: Use in-app messages and pop-ups to inform users of their current tier and the benefits of reaching the next level.

  • Seasonal Campaigns: Align tiered reward promotions with holidays or special events to capitalize on increased user activity and interest during these times.

3. Leverage In-App Gamification

We touched on elements of this briefly in the above strategy, but it goes deeper. Leveraging in-app gamification is an effective strategy because it taps into users' intrinsic motivations for achievement, competition, and fun. By incorporating game-like elements to your app, regardless of your industry, you can transform the process of referring friends into a perpetually rewarding experience. Additionally, gamification fosters a sense of community and social interaction among users, further enhancing their connection to your app.

To strategically implement gamification, start by identifying game mechanics that align with your app's user experience and goals. Introduce elements such as points for each referral, badges for reaching specific referral milestones, and leaderboards to showcase top referrers. Design challenges or missions that encourage users to refer a certain number of friends within a specified timeframe. For example, a language learning app could offer points for each friend referred, with badges awarded for every five referrals and a leaderboard displaying the top referrers each month.

Ensure these elements are prominently featured within your app and complementary messaging channels to keep users informed and motivated.

  • Push notifications provide timely and direct reminders about referral opportunities and achievements, prompting users to take immediate action.

  • In-app messages offer contextual and interactive prompts within your app, keeping users engaged by highlighting their progress, upcoming challenges, and available rewards.

  • Email campaigns can deliver more detailed information, celebrate milestones, and offer personalized encouragement, ensuring that users stay informed and motivated even when they are not actively using your app.

By combining these channels, you can maintain a consistent and engaging communication flow that keeps users excited about the gamified referral program and continuously motivated to participate.

Did you know that using more than one messaging channel to engage users increases average engagement by 35.8%?

4. Collaborate with Influencers and Brand Ambassadors

Building trust with users is a key engagement driver, but one that often takes time. A great way to expedite this process is through influencer partnerships. Collaborating with brand ambassadors leverages the existing trust, reach, and influence these individuals have with their followers, providing your referral program with a credible and far-reaching endorsement.

Influencers can authentically promote your app and referral program to their engaged audiences, which often results in higher conversion rates compared to traditional advertising. Start by identifying influencers and brand ambassadors whose values and audience align with your app. Engage them with personalized invitations to join your referral program, offering them exclusive benefits or rewards in return for their promotion. Provide them with unique referral links, creative assets, and clear guidelines to ensure their promotions are consistent and compelling.

To maintain the relationship with your ambassadors, it’s a good idea to  collaborate on content creation such as videos, social media posts, and blog articles that highlight the benefits of your app and the referral program. Don’t forget to track the performance of these collaborations to refine your approach and maximize their impact!

5. Implement Time-Limited Referral Campaigns

This strategy hinges on creating a sense of urgency, motivating users to act quickly to take advantage of a limited-time referral offer. This urgency can significantly boost referral activity as users are driven by the fear of missing out. To implement these campaigns, define clear and attractive incentives that are available only for a short period, such as:

  • Exclusive Discounts: Offer a significant discount, such as 50% off a premium subscription, available only to users who refer a friend within the next week.

  • Limited-Edition Rewards: Provide access to exclusive in-app items or features, like a unique avatar or special game levels, that are only available to users who participate in the referral campaign during a specific timeframe.

  • Double Referral Bonuses: Temporarily double the rewards for each successful referral, such as offering $10 instead of the usual $5 for each new user referred during the campaign period.

  • Entry into a Sweepstakes: Give users who make referrals a chance to win a high-value prize, such as a smartphone or a gift card, with entries only valid for referrals made within the campaign window.

  • Early Access to New Features: Offer early access to upcoming app features or beta programs exclusively to users who refer friends during the campaign period, incentivizing early participation and fostering a sense of exclusivity.

Communicate your campaign details through push notifications and SMS to ensure maximum reach and visibility. Push notifications are ideal for instant alerts, prompting immediate action.

SMS is an excellent channel for communicating time-limited referral campaigns due to its immediacy and high open rates. Text messages are typically read within minutes of being received, making it an effective way to quickly reach users with urgent information. Additionally, SMS provides a direct and personal touch, which can increase the likelihood of users taking immediate action. By leveraging these channels, you can create a coordinated and compelling call to action that drives rapid participation in your referral program.

Bonus tip: Use in-app or in-email countdown timers and progress trackers to remind users of the campaign's duration and their referral goals.

One of the best ways to encourage app engagement is by removing friction wherever possible. Providing personalized referral links allows users to easily share your app with their network in a way that is trackable and user-specific, enhancing both the referrer's and the referred user's experience.

You should be generating unique referral links for each user, making them accessible through your app, email, and social media. Ensure that the process for sharing these links is seamless, and consider adding personalized messages or social sharing buttons to further facilitate distribution.

Notifications that use personalized content have a 344% higher engagement rate than notifications that don't.

7. Offer Exclusive In-App Content for Referrals

Exclusivity breeds loyalty, and by offering exclusive in-app content for referrals, you provide a unique reward that can only be accessed through your referral program. This kind of content not only serves as a powerful incentive but also enhances the user experience, increasing engagement and retention.

Bike resale app, Sprocket, offers a free sale listing as a reward for their simple but effective referral program, using push notifications to alert recipients of the good news.

To implement this strategically, identify content or features that would be highly valuable to your users and make them accessible only to those who refer new users. Promote these exclusive offerings through in-app notifications, email, and social media to ensure users are aware of the benefits.

Here are some exclusive content ideas, broken down by app category, to help you get inspired:

Mobile Games

  • Special Access Levels or Missions: Unlock challenging game levels or special missions only available through referrals.

  • Exclusive Characters or Skins: Provide unique avatars, characters, or skins that can only be obtained by referring friends.

  • Bonus In-Game Currency: Offer special in-game currency or limited items that enhance gameplay for users who participate in the referral program.

Fintech

  • Reduced Fees or Higher Interest Rates: Provide lower transaction fees or higher interest rates on savings for users who refer new customers.

  • Exclusive Financial Tools: Offer access to premium financial planning tools or investment insights not available to regular users.

  • Personalized Financial Advice: Give access to one-on-one financial advice sessions or personalized financial reports for referring users.

Travel

  • Exclusive Discounts on Bookings: Offer special discounts on flights, hotels, or vacation packages available only to those who refer friends.

  • VIP Lounge Access: Provide access to airport lounges or exclusive travel lounges for users who participate in the referral program.

  • Priority Booking: Allow referring users to book popular destinations or tours before they are available to the general public.

Entertainment

  • Early Access to New Releases: Give access to new movies, shows, or music releases before they are available to others.

  • Exclusive Content: Offer special behind-the-scenes footage, interviews, or bonus content accessible only through referrals.

  • VIP Event Invitations: Provide invitations to exclusive events, such as movie premieres or private concerts, for users who refer new members.

Food Service

  • Special Menu Items: Offer unique or limited-time menu items only available to users who refer friends.

  • Discounts or Freebies: Provide discounts or free items (like appetizers or desserts) for successful referrals.

  • Exclusive Cooking Classes: Give access to virtual or in-person cooking classes with renowned chefs, only available through referrals.

Health & Wellness

  • Premium Content Access: Offer access to premium workout plans, meditation sessions, or wellness courses for referring users.

  • Personalized Coaching Sessions: Provide one-on-one coaching or personal training sessions exclusively for users who refer new members.

  • Exclusive Wellness Products: Offer unique wellness products, such as supplements or fitness gear, that are only available to referral program participants.

OneSignal — Making Every Message Unique

OneSignal was built by app developers who knew there had to be a better way to reach their users than with generic, one-off alerts. Ever since, we’ve been bringing innovative, omnichannel engagement methods to a growing family of brands — currently, OneSignal powers messaging for one in every five apps.

Read our full story or create a free account to experience our hyper-personalized approach to mobile messaging for yourself!

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