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All of us, at some point, have been on the receiving end of a referral campaign. While many in the association world know that this is a common practice, more often than not, these campaigns are not well-received and leave members feeling as though they’re being asked to do the work for an organization. 

So, how can you create a better member referral campaign? It starts by keeping one important thing in mind: If you would not want to receive the request, why would your members?

5 strategies for smarter member referral campaigns 

For associations, member referrals are an important tool that can help grow an organization. However, simply asking for connections and contacts can cause friction and sometimes frustration amongst your members. 

So what can you do to make it a better experience for everyone?

It starts by having a member referral strategy that uses different tactics your members will appreciate. 

1. Work to make it different

One of the first steps to avoiding falling into that “annoying” category is respecting the time and attention of your members. That means creating a campaign that simply isn’t asking for information. 

“You have to make it fun,” said Elisa Pratt during a conversation about her member-exclusive Sidecar course, “Who is your member of 2030?”. “You try to get it out of them and in different ways so it doesn't feel like you're turning them into recruiters because they don't want to be recruiters. So you just have to get creative with how you ask them and extract the referrals and the contact information.”

This can be as simple as adding an easy-to-use link on the site with pre-written copy that makes it convenient for your members to use, integrating share buttons into all aspects of your content and site and looking for convenient opportunities along the member journey. 

For example, if a member has recently finished a course or downloaded a guide or ebook, a smart follow up would be something along the lines of:

“Hi [Member], 

We see that you just [downloaded or completed] X [course, ebook, content, etc]. 

Great job! You’re well on your way to growing as a professional. 

We just wanted to take a moment to remind you that an important part of being a leader is empowering others. 

Know someone who would find value from X? 

Be sure to share this email and make learning a team effort!”

The point is to look for opportunities within the member journey and create a seamless way for members to connect and share with their network. 

It’s also important to note that the heavy lifting should fall on your staffers and not your members. “Referral programs are just that: referral programs,” continued Pratt. “Don’t turn (members) into your recruiters, don't turn them into your sales people. Just get the names and contact information from them, and then you do the work.”

2. Ask better questions

Of course, asking your members in a traditional way is still a great option. Instead of asking your members to take charge and recruit potential new members for you, just ask them to share the contact information of their coworkers or mentors. Not sure how to get that information? It just takes creative questions. 

For example, rather than asking “Who do you know that would like to be a member?,” you can ask them more indirect questions like these, which were suggested by Pratt: 

  • Who at your chapter do you work best with?
  • Who are you most inspired by in your industry?
  • Who is your mentor?
  • Who would you nominate for XYZ?
  • Who is your favorite XYZ in the industry?

Your association could even use this opportunity as a chance to learn more about your existing member base and form deeper connections. Asking a series of broader questions like the ones above leaves your existing members at ease and gives you the opportunity to connect with potential new members without making anyone uncomfortable or letting your members feel like they are doing all of the work. 

3. Experiment with gamification

One of the best strategies for driving engagement in any campaign is gamification. But how do you gamify member referrals?

For starters, create a “recruit a member drive.” There should likely be prizes along with a leaderboard that encourages participation. Organizations can also leverage their marketing efforts to help drive interaction. 

“Create an email and social media campaign that encourages members to spread the word about the benefits of membership and build excitement around your referral program,” says 

4. Use responses to boost content creation

Another reason your members may not be inclined to provide referrals is that they’re either not finding as much value in your membership or don’t see that value for their network. This is where member surveys can help. For starters, they gauge the level of interest in your recent content offerings and also areas where you can improve. Asking questions like:

  • What recent topics are of interest to you or your organization?
  • Are there issues you’re currently worried about?
  • Is there a project your organization is looking to start in the near future?

Finding out what your members and their organizations care about can help you create new resources that add value to your membership. The more you do for your members, the more inclined they’ll be to provide referrals organically. 

5. Always thank your members

Finally, a member referral campaign relies on the relationship between an organization and existing members. And if your members feel you are not appreciating their time and effort, then they will be less likely to cooperate. 

A simple way to accomplish this is with a thoughtful and timely “thank you” note. Whether that’s a personalized email or note or even a quick call, showing your appreciation can go a long way to proving you truly care. 

For associations that want to go a little further, rewards are always an option too. This can include: 

  • Discounts on memberships 
  • Premium content or event perks 
  • Merchandise – think pins, tumblers or notepads
  • Gift cards 

Member referrals aren’t impossible – they need to be reworked 

Everyone wants to know the newest and greatest opportunities to better our professional lives, so getting referrals shouldn’t be a difficult task. Yet, this is something many organizations struggle with, and it likely has to do with their strategy and relationship with members. 

By focusing on taking away any extra work, asking smarter questions and making referrals a fun process for your members, you can effectively boost member referral campaigns. The whole point is to be creative and never lose sight of the focus for organizations – providing value to their members. 

Ashley Neal
Post by Ashley Neal
October 28, 2020
Ashley is a marketing and communications professional with expertise in sales conversion, copywriting, and social media.