How to Partner with an Influencer for Viral Referral Marketing

It’s one thing to have a great product and another to get it in front of people. Without the right exposure, products don’t have a chance to grow and thrive.

Brands with a referral program increase their chances of experiencing exponential growth because they’re getting eyes on their products. And when you inject influencer marketing into your referral program, you kickstart your growth even more.

Referral programs + influencer marketing create a killer two-pronged approach:

  • Step one: use influencers to get in front of as many people as possible and get them excited about what you offer
  • Step two: take this excitement and get new customers to share your product with their network

Influencer referral marketing has the potential to give new products maximum exposure and growth.

But in order for this process to work, you have to know how to find the right influencers, how to manage the relationship, and how to incorporate your referral program. Here’s a look at how to get started and how to use influencer referral marketing.

Influencer marketing: how it works

For a long time, marketing and advertising budgets focused on TV and print sources as ways to connect with customers. Ads were general and didn’t do much to connect with customers on an individual basis.

As a way to be more personable, brands turned to celebrity endorsements to connect their brand with the people customers look up to and admire. Popular campaigns focused on sports gear, water, and beauty products.

But this approach lacked a real connection with customers and the ability to help brands understand the different types of people in their audience. You can have sports icons like Venus and Serena Williams promote drinking milk, but the reality is that the people seeing these ads represent a wide demographic.

Social media changed the marketing landscape to make it easier for customers and brands to connect with each other. Celebrity endorsements gave way to influencer marketing and branded content, which are great ways for new brands to find and engage with their customers. Brand awareness gets a boost because influencer marketing ensures products get exposure and gives brands the ability to target specific audiences.

But marketing doesn’t stop there. Influencer marketing works well with word of mouth and referral marketing. Think about it. The people who follow influencers have friends and family who have similar tastes and interests as them. This means that you can get in front of followers and their network of connections.

Now brands can customize their content to speak to specific customers to increase sales. This is important because the more customers can relate to a brand, the more likely they are to want to buy something.

The perfect match: how to find the right influencer

You can’t partner with just any influencer. There has to be a fit between the influencer’s audience and your product. For example, Ingrid Nilsen is a popular beauty vlogger and top YouTube influencer with almost 4 million followers. Her following offers a great opportunity for products to get noticed – but if your product isn’t geared towards millennial women, all of that exposure won’t help you.

There are a few points to consider when choosing influencers to partner with. Kristen Matthews, former director of digital marketing at GroupHigh – a public relations and marketing software provider – suggests thinking about context, reach and actionability. We suggest also adding in a fourth point – platform – so that you choose influencers who use the same platforms as your target audience.

These four points are interrelated and act like a cascade with each one flowing into the next as conditions are met. As you search for influencers, start at the top with context and work your way to the bottom, checking off each point as you go. If an influencer meets all of the points, chances are you’ll be a good match.

  • Context: This first step ensures that there’s a fit between a potential influencer and your product. It’s important that the influencer’s audience has a need for your product and will benefit from using it. For example, if you sell energy bars, you need an influencer who focuses on health and wellness.
  • Reach: Next, check to see how many followers potential influencers have. The best influencers for your product don’t have to have millions of followers; 10,000 to 100,000 followers is enough if they’re very engaged. Engagement is important because you want these followers to actively learn more about your product and eventually buy something.
  • Actionability: The next step is to assess how good influencers are at getting their followers to act and buy something. Ask yourself: when influencers share something, do their followers react and comment? As long as your product matches the interest of the influencer’s audience, action comes naturally.
  • Platform: The final step is to research which platforms potential influencers spend the most time on. It doesn’t matter if they’re on Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest, as long as these are places where your audience spends time.

This process used to mean searching social media to find potential influencers and then coming to a jointly beneficial agreement.

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Influencer marketing platforms have replaced the back and forth so it’s easier for new brands and influencers to connect.

Platforms like NeoReach, Revfluence and Open Influence also simplify the workflow, so brands can track how well their influencer relationships are performing.


This way, marketers spend less time finding influencers on social media and more time working together to create content. This also leaves marketers more time to analyze campaign data and make adjustments to maximize ROI.

Create a partnership that drives your influencer referral marketing campaign

Once you’ve partnered with influencers, they’re the perfect addition to referral programs because people trust recommendations from people they’re familiar with vs. brands themselves.

This insight shows the value of building influencer marketing into your referral program. This way:

  1. Your product gets noticed by people who may not have seen it otherwise
  2. You get a chance to show new customers the value your product offers
  3. You get exposure to your customers’ networks

Referral programs on their own have the power to boost your customer base at a low cost. All you have to do is know what types of offers matter the most to your target audience. Think about how much reach you can get when you add influencer marketing into the process.

There are a few ways to incorporate influencer marketing into your referral program. What matters is that you partner with the right influencers and share an offer that this audience cares about. Here are a few options to get started.

Get influencers to share your referral offer. With this option, your referral offer doesn’t change. The only difference is that in addition to you sharing it on your website and social media feeds, you get influencers to share it as well. Even if your influencers use multiple platforms, get them to focus their attention on the platforms where your audience spends the most time. This way you have a better chance of people following through.

Send monthly summaries to your influencers to thank them for their help and to keep them motivated to keep sharing:


Influencers get to see the results of their work and you help nurture the relationship.

Include influencers as part of the offer. Based on your current customers’ interests, offer them a chance to win a meet-and-greet with influencers they follow or relate to. In addition to referring friends and family to your product, your customers get entered to win the grand prize.


This helps you boost sales and referrals if the only way for new customers to get a chance to win is to buy something and then refer a friend. As long as your product is something new customers need and value, they’ll be willing to enter the competition.

Host a contest and use a branded hashtag. Use your influencer partnership to get customers to take part in a limited time challenge. For example, Special K partnered with influencers to get people to set and follow-through on their New Year’s resolutions. Special K created a branded hashtag – #FuelYourResolution – and got influencers to share branded content on Instagram.


You can take this idea one step further by incorporating your referral program. Instead of just bringing awareness to your product, get people to buy it and refer a friend to get extra savings. Your influencers give your product exposure and you use your referral program to give customers an incentive to take part in the challenge and save at the same time. Track the branded hashtag to see how well the campaign did and how many new referrals you got as a result.

Find advocates who are also influencers. Chances are, some of your customers are influencers. So instead of finding influencers who haven’t used your product, use your advocates to help influence their followers. These advocates are micro-influencers because they only have a few thousand followers, but their influence helps you grow.

Give your advocates the option to offer product discounts and incentives to their network.


The benefit here is that they’re sharing your product because they use it and genuinely enjoy it. Plus, they’re sharing your referral program with a larger audience than an average advocate.

Create an influencer referral program that works for you

The great thing about referral programs is that you can explore different types of offers until you find the one that resonates with customers. From there, layer on an influencer component to help get maximum exposure for your offer and product.

The focus here is to use the exposure to sell your product, so take your time choosing an influencer to work with. It’s important that there’s a fit between their audience and your product so that you have a better chance of growing your customer base.

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