With search engine optimization and hyper competitiveness for top search result positions, it’s not always as easy to find what you’re looking for. Often the top results don’t necessarily mean the best answer for you. Advice websites like Reddit and Quora can help, but we still value recommendations from trusted sources.

A good referral program utilizes the trust people have with their friends and colleagues to direct them to a particular product or service. It does so by combining a personal recommendation with the right technology to encourage making the recommendation in the first place. This means providing incentives and rewards.

Incentives, rewards and engaging user experience are the basis for gaming. For many games, the incentive is having fun and the reward is a shower of multi-colored jewels and a sense of accomplishment (real or otherwise). When it comes to your referral program, you can make these incentives and rewards much more desirable and, ultimately, tangible.


Getting Started with a gamified referral program 

In 2013, Charlie Brooker presented the program How Video Games Changed the World, charting the history of video games and their impact on society. Number one on his list was Twitter. While this may be a surprise to some, the point Brooker was making was that gamification has become a part of our lives without us even realizing it.

Getting likes and comments on social media is as much of a game as anything. Making your product or service known to a greater audience requires tapping into this desire for us to seek rewards and progress. Like most games, we need a reason for playing.

You need to make your referral program engaging and fun, but you need to start off on the right foot. Providing an incentive just for getting started will pique interest and providing it for free will engender trust in what you have to offer. This is seen with many of the games you are able to play on your devices. You may have to pay for in-game purchases to make it easier or reach the next level, but a lot of the games will be free to play at the beginning. This way you can see if it’s something the player wants to invest in. A similar approach will work for your product or service.

A good example of how a good referral program can make all the difference is Amazon Prime. Their referral program not only allows you credit, in the form of Amazon vouchers to be redeemed from purchases, but the person who gets referred receives the same. It has been one of the most successful referral programs in recent times.


How to Play

Like with Amazon Prime, once you have a user’s attention, you need to work out how to implement your strategy. Making it easy to use is imperative. If someone is using your service, said user will need an account. This will hold their information, provide a transaction history and be a point of contact for any help. With apps, it can even be the point of sale.

Incorporate your referral program gamification strategy into this account. Don’t make a referral something which will put the user out. It needs to be simple and streamlined, so provide an intuitive platform. Make it obvious what a user will get out of it with bold headlines and even pictures or infographics of how your program works.

If you have a new referral offer, make an alert on your app. If you’re not using an app, ensure you have the right landing page to make the referral easy. Provide a convenient guide to take the user through each step and don’t complicate things. Like their video game equivalent, if the gameplay is too difficult, the user might switch off and try something else.

Instant feedback or reward when making the referral will make the user want to keep playing. In Super Mario Bros, when Mario completes a level, you get to jump on a flagpole. You receive points and one of the most satisfying sounds in gaming history. When a user makes a referral, you need a similar reward. It could be as simple as a congratulatory email or you could even have your own animation. Just make sure the reward fits the benefit you as a business receive.


Gamified Referral Program

Get Creative

Like the best games, creativity is paramount. Once you have the referral program instated, the user needs to keep going otherwise the gaming aspect will get tired, fast. If your referral program is going to be a full and integrated experience, they’ll need to reach the next level.

This means providing rewards which encourage making more referrals. Increase the quality of rewards the more a user refers. This can be tricky, depending on your product or service. You may not be able to afford giveaways and competitions like some of the big players. This is when something like Evernote provides a great example.

Evernote referrals work in a points based system. For your first 3 referrals you receive 10 points. After this, when any friend you refer purchases a premium account, you get a further 5 points. This means beyond the initial 3. These points are then fed back into the program by providing new features and benefits to spend them on.

How your referral program can use gamification is to chart their progress, just as you would in a video game. You can use a progress meter to keep the user “in the game”, reminding a user how the referrals have benefited them so far and how new referrals will benefit them in the future.


Social Media

Going back to Mr. Brooker and his thoughts on Twitter, this is really how gamification can make your referral program sing. Using social media to promote customer loyalty is important. But once you have someone using your product or service, social media can become part of the game too.

Social media provides an open market place for you to promote your business. Consumers are already there and they want new products and services. This is especially the case with Twitter, so make sharing your product worthwhile. Provide a hashtag competition where you select a winner for the most clicks on an individual share. Make your referral part of your advertising on social media.

This can even be by providing actual games through social media. “Choice” pictures where users have to choose between two aspects of something related to your product or service engage users on social media. A similar example is when M&Ms used a simple Where’s Waldo type picture to promote themselves on social media. It boosted their reach with 25,000 likes and 6,000 shares.


Getting social media users engaged is the start. Once you have implemented gamification with your referral program, you need to find ways to keep them loyal.


Do you want to learn more about gamified referral programs for your company? Set up a call with our loyalty experts here!



Johnny Reyes
PM & UX/UI Specialist
Product management

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