When we talk about the process of referral, we focus around two kinds of people: advocates and friends. Advocates share their referral link with friends who click through to check out the brand or product.
Because there’s so much overlap between advocates and friends—where so many advocates started as referred friends and so many friends will become advocates—it’s easy to conflate the two. We think of advocates and friends as basically the same person and we design referral funnels accordingly.
But think that way, and you could be killing your conversion rate. Even though there’s significant cross-over between the two groups, advocates and friends exhibit dramatically different behaviors. One of the biggest, most important divergences in behavior is the break between desktop and mobile: for one retailer we studied, only 18% of advocates shared via mobile, but over 2x that, a whopping 39% of friends viewed the link on their mobile device.
That’s why, rather than thinking about the people involved in referral, you need to be thinking about the critical moments when those referrals happen. The majority of advocates share when they’re sitting at home in front of their desk, but friends are seeing those links on their phone while they’re standing in line at a coffee shop or when they’re riding the train home from work.
Understand that, and you can design the right referral experience for the right moment, and optimize for cross-channel activity to make sure you hit all the right notes you need to drive referral and conversion.
Referral Happens Cross-Device
We studied the referral funnel of one of our customers, an e-commerce retailer, and we paid specific attention to the devices that advocates and friends used at the critical moments of referral. What we learned surprised even us.
Only about 65% of referrals were shared and consumed on the same type of device. The rest were shared on one type of device and then experienced by the friend on another one. For example, advocates shared from their desks 82% of the time, but 28% of that 82%—or 35% of desktop advocate shares—were opened by friends on mobile.
That means that the user experience totally shifted in between sharing and referral. If you make assumptions about the friend’s experience based on the advocate’s, you’ll be wrong more than a third of the time, and that’ll cost you huge conversions and massive revenue. You have to design your referral funnel to work across all devices that advocates and friends are using.
To get at the critical moments that trigger referral, we need to dive deeper into the various marketing channels that referral programs tap into in order to make sense of these results. As we’ve seen, referral occurs across devices and platforms, but this also applies to the specific channels in which referral activity occurs.
- Email: Email remains the most common way advocates share with friends. Even though email is a fully cross-device means of communication—49% of emails are now opened on smartphones—the majority of people still send and compose emails from their desktops, which is why the majority of referral activity still occurs on desktop.
- Facebook: 47% of monthly active Facebook users now only access it on mobile. As mobile usage rises across social media channels, the number of shares viewed by friends from advocates on their phones is also on the rise. For referral, Facebook typically has a larger reach than other channels—when someone posts a referral link onto their Timeline, all their friends are potentially able to see it, and share it as well.
- Twitter: Meanwhile, Twitter users in the U.S. spend 86% of their time on the site from their phones. It’s no surprise given the short and sweet, easily digestible nature of the Twitter feed.
- Text message: SMS is a commonly forgotten channel of referral, but 75% of Americans admit to texting on the toilet. Referrals that happen through text messaging predominately occur mobile to mobile, as advocates send referral links and codes to their friends’ phones.
- Messaging Apps: Apps like Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp, Telegram, and WeChat are now bigger than social networks, and will continue to increase mobile-to-mobile sharing as a key part of your referral strategy.
The statistics clearly show mobile surging. But why does most referral activity still occur over desktop? It’s because the rapid rise of mobile is still a relatively recent occurrence. While it’s easy to digest information passively on your phone, taking specific actions, like sending a referral message to a friend, or making a purchase is still more easily achieved through your desktop.
The Rise of Mobile
If your referral program isn’t optimized for mobile, you could completely miss the opportunity to convert the nearly 40% of friends that check out your link via mobile. The rise of mobile is a huge opportunity for your brand to allow customers to spread the word as they’re walking on the street, or flipping through clothing racks at your store. As the overall 18% of mobile shares increases, the 11% figure for mobile-to-mobile sharing and 28% of desktop-to-mobile sharing will also surge.
Moving forward, mobile is an essential part of harnessing the full power of your Refer-a-Friend program, and transforming it into a part of the everyday experience of your brand. As mobile devices become smarter and even easier to use, facilitating mobile referral will become an even huger part of that.
Shopping vs. transacting
According to comScore, 60% of online shopping time happens on mobile, but we typically think that actual transactions like purchase and referral happen on desktop. You’re fumbling around with your wallet and your credit card, you have to type in your address and billing information, and you have to perform a multi-step process to make referral happen—all too much work to do on your phone.
According to our data, that’s a faulty assumption, and the impact is seen greatest on the friend side where shares actually turn into views and conversions.
Mobile usage is no longer limited just to the passive intake of information. Consumers becoming more and more productive on their smartphones, and use them to bank, pay bills, shop, and everything in between. For your referral program, the mobile opportunity isn’t just about increasing sales—it’s about presenting a seamless and unified experience of your brand across devices, and in-store.
Here’s a couple of strategies to increase mobile shares on the advocate side:
- Make your referral program easy to find. Advocates should be able to easily access your referral program on your mobile site, across strategically placed calls-to-action—without having to touch tiny links or zoom in and pan around to find them.
- Reduce friction for mobile sharing. Forcing advocates to type in their email addresses, and create logins in order to refer your brand adds unnecessary friction that impedes shares. Instead, make the mobile referral experience as smooth, easy-to-use, and beautiful as possible to get the referrals pouring in.
- Allow mobile users to personalize their shares (or not). We’ve seen that referrals with personalized message drive higher conversions. But include a pre-filled referral message as well to minimize the number of keystrokes the user has to type, so mobile users can easily share without having additional impediments.
To increase friend impressions and conversions:
- Create a responsive mobile experience. That way, the referral experience feels seamless, even when you’ve switched devices—so cross-device doesn’t feel like cross-device.
- Give the referred friend context. As mobile users pull out their phones, let them see a picture of the advocate referring them to you. Find other ways to make personalization automatic via information based on social context, for example. The referral message becomes more powerful when the friend can quickly associate it to a familiar face.
- Facilitate mobile payments. Integrate with Apple Pay and Android Pay, so potential customers aren’t frustrated trying to type their credit card information into their small smartphone screens.
The easier you make referral activity from mobile, the more powerfully referral becomes part of the everyday experience of your brand.
The Future is a Touch Screen
In just the last 4 years, we’ve already seen huge changes in the way mobile has permanently altered consumer behavior—Facebook created a $13 billion mobile ad business during this time. It’s easy to imagine a future where an advocate might snap a picture of a price tag with their phones, and auto-generate a share link to send to a friend, or receive referral invites based on their geolocation.
For now, we’re in a transition stage where most of computing still happens on the desktop. But the rise of mobile might ultimately kill cross-device sharing, and we’ll begin to pay more and more attention to different types of mobile devices—types of phones, watches, and tablets. To survive this transition and keep your referral funnel brimming, you need to focus on cross-device now, while developing a more mobile-oriented strategy looking to the future.