Top 5 Referral Program Examples You Can Steal 

Dropbox referral program -cover image

When Steve Jobs quoted Picasso’s “Good artists copy; Great artists steal,” he meant, ‘get inspired by great work and implement some elements of it in what you do’ & not ‘blatantly steal/plagiarise.’ 

We mean the same thing when we say “referral program examples you can steal.”

It’s about not reinventing the wheel and implementing what works. Referral programs work ⁠— you know that if you read our previous blog or this Bees Mission case study. But there are endless ways to implement a referral program, aren’t there? You can give gift cards, coupons, free products, reward points, cash, a trip to Miami, and whatnot. 

What’s best and what’s not? That you can understand by reading about other companies’ successful referral programs.

Here are 5 of our favorite referral program examples to get inspired from: 

1. Airbnb

Airbnb referral example

The first phase of the Airbnb referral program was an unexpected success. They just created it and let it be; they never cared to promote it. In fact, many people working at Airbnb didn’t know such a program existed.

Soon Airbnb realized the referral program was bringing millions in revenue. That’s when they doubled down on creating a one-of-its-kind referral program. 

Airbnb created Referral 2.0 around a decade ago for the then increasingly-popular mobile users and, of course, web users. It allowed users to seamlessly import their Gmail contacts and send personalized emails to those contacts. In fact, and this is borderline illegal if you consider the talks around privacy these days, they also developed a program that tracked other contacts’ behavior to give existing users a list of contacts who are most likely to sign up with their referral link.  

Airbnb referral email copy

After building a considerably perfect referral program, they undid their previous mistake ⁠— they promoted the hell out of it. Of the many things they must have discovered during the whole Referral 2.0 journey, the most interesting one is the result they found after A/B testing the copy: Apparently, the altruistic message “give your friends $25 to travel” motivated more referrals than “invite your friends, get $25.”

Overall, this campaign drove 900% YOY growth for first-time bookings and 300% referral sign-ups.

Key takeaways:

  • Always have a referral program. It’s perhaps the most cost-effective & high-value marketing machine for your business.
  • Evaluate and better the program’s success by A/B testing.

Interesting fact: It took 5 full-time experts, 30,000 lines of code, and 3 months to develop Airbnb Referral 2.0. Today, you can have an even better referral program in less than a couple of minutes with Social Snowball (If you’re on Shopify). Sign up for a 10-day free trial

2. Dropbox

Dropbox referral program

Zooming from 100,000 users in September 2008 to 4,000,000 users in January 2010, Dropbox created a success story that’s talked about even today. Their clever yet simple referral program brought 35% of those users. It was a breakthrough, and hence it’s considered the epitome of referral marketing to this day.

The offering was quite simple: Invite a friend and get more free cloud storage. It permanently increased sign-ups by 60%.

Quite a story!

Key takeaways:

  • Think beyond monetary incentives. 
  • Offer product-based perks. Not only will it increase word-of-mouth, but it will also increase brand loyalty.

3. Paypal

Paypal referral program

Guess who also believed in “steal like an artist”? People over at Dropbox! Before Dropbox made a success story powered by its referral program, Paypal did it & inspired Dropbox to create a program that encourages users to use the product as an incentive.  

Of course, Paypal did it in their own way. They literally gave away free money (Side question: Do you think ‘Mr Beast’ also got inspired by this?). And it turned out to be a huge success! The Paypal Refer-A-Friend program boosted daily sign-ups by 7 to 10%, allowing them to cross the 100 million user mark in two years of launching.

Key Takeaways

  • Offer an incentive that keeps the user attached to your brand. E.g., Giving a site-wide coupon.

4. Uber

Uber free rides - Referral program

Uber’s product was revolutionary ⁠— It added a convenience layer to the way we transported. Indeed, people who used it in the initial days liked it; it was just a matter of getting more users before Uber became a mega-success. 

It is a mega-success for quite some time now; guess what has been one of the drivers behind the accelerated success? Their referral plan!

Uber got 12x ROI with their straightforward yet inciting referral program. They started with a $10 incentive (usable on rides) for both the referrer & the referee, and the program has been more or less the same throughout the years. 

Uber sharing rides
Source: Business2Community

Another reason it was an instant success is how easy it was (& is) to access their referral program. Among the essential options on the sidebar of their app is one for sharing & getting free rides. Straightforward!

Key Takeaways

  • Keep the button/link to the referral program at a frequently-accessed place. Plus, make it frictionless to share.

5. Robinhood

Robinhood pre-launch program

Robinhood’s current “Get a free stock” referral program works excellently. However, to be in a list of rare & inspiring referral program examples, some massive numbers must be involved.

Here’s one: 1 million warm leads pre-launch!

Robinhood started as a small startup with a great idea. When their product was almost perfect (for that time), they created a simple no-fluff pre-launch page & asked people their emails for early-access to their about-to-launch revolutionary product.

Once registered, people received a Thank You email with their number on the waiting list. Below that number was a message that roughly motivated people to refer a friend to get priority access. And so it began…the exponential growth (or, as we like to call it, snowball effect) of Robinhood userbase pre-launch.

Key Takeaways

  • Have a short, readable copy that explains the referral offer in seconds.
  • Gamify the process.
  • Use people’s fear of missing out (FOMO).

Final Words

Drawing inspiration from already successful ideas and analyzing why those ideas became successful is the quickest way to start from a solid & uplifted foundation. It’s true for everything, including when you are about to build a referral program.

Don’t reinvent the wheel. Implement what works. And if you are on Shopify, install Social Snowball to begin your referral program in a jiffy.

Start your 10-day free trial now!

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