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Do Forward-to-a-Friend Referrals Work?

The forward-to-a-Friend gimmick is a failed attempt by e-mail service providers to incorporate viral marketing tools into their applications. Because 100% of the most commonly used e-mail clients have a forward e-mail feature, people use that instead. The only thing we e-mail service providers can do to save face is to hope that the feature reminds people to use their forward button.

A recent survey to online market­ers by the Email Experience Council asked, “What is your most successful list-building tactic?” Only 6% chose “Viral: empowering subscribers to share my e-mails via forward-to-a-friend,” 9% chose “Acquisition: growing by renting lists,” and 84% chose “Organic: capital­izing on sign-up opportunities across all of my channels.”

These statistics prove that the forward-to-a-friend process is inad­equate, and a more formalized referral program is needed for success. A good program is automated, timely and usually starts where the original opt-in process ends. Once a Web site user has gone through the motions of opt­ing in, it is a perfect opportunity to ask for a referral. Ask the referrer not only for an e-mail address, but also a full name. When soliciting the referee to opt-in, always personalize the message and, most importantly, reference the referrer — this gives you instant cred­ibility and will produce a much higher conversion rate.

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