Instant rewards – the power of simplicity

Here at InviteBox the question we ask ourselves daily is not what else we can add, but what else we can throw away. And no, this is not because we are trying to follow the trend and mimic one well-known company like everyone in the web business seems to be doing recently.

We do this because the very purpose of InviteBox is to remove every little bit of effort on the user’s path to recommending our client’s product to their friends. So less (interactions/distractions) is literally more (leads) in our case. This is why more often than not we would consider extra functionality a bug rather than a feature.

Same logic applies to the rewarding process. And in fact to a much greater extent. Consider a real life situation: Joe Buyer is getting a fish umbrella in your webshop. He spent an hour deciding between the pink and the purple one and finally made his choice and ready to checkout. That is just the right time to catch him off-guard and offer 10% off for telling 3 friends about this amazing store where even the most exquisite taste can be satisfied. But here’s the catch: Joe needs to wait till his friends click the link before he can have the discount. By that time the excitement may well wear off and he will realize that there are more vital spendings in line and he can’t afford the luxuries – not until he is promoted to management at least. Or, more likely, he just doesn’t let this get between him and his shiny new gadget (I sure wouldn’t!) and skips to the next step.

Just in case you haven’t guessed yet, this example is totally artificial. But the moral of the story is:

  • There’s a world of difference between motivation given by instant and referral rewards. If the user has to wait, the momentum is lost.
  • In many situations if a reward isn’t delivered immediately it simply doesn’t make sense. Think arcade game where the player can get an extra life after he’s busted for referring a friend.

This is why we were really surprised to learn that referral rewards (the ones that are granted for actual leads) are de-facto standard in the tell-a-friend software world. Instant rewards are not exactly a rocket science. In fact they are much simpler technically than referral rewards. So how come nobody offers them? We can only guess. One possibility is that this just follows the tradition of “real world” refer-a-friend campaigns, where there is no way to verify that a recommendation was given except the referral actually making a purchase. But we are on the Internet now, and there’s nothing easier because it’s InviteBox that sends the message so we just know for sure it was sent.

That brings us to the second possibility: we know it was sent, but was it received? In the traditional tell-a-friend form user manually enters their friends’ email addresses and somehow this seems to be considered a mandatory feature to this day. It means they can easily cheat the system by entering arbitrary addresses and there’s no way to check that except the recipient following the link. But do we really need that in 2010 anymore? Do people keep their friend’s emails written on sheets of paper or something? I don’t think so. InviteBox imports user’s existing contacts, so we can safely assume the message will be delivered. Yes, that means we don’t have the “manually enter email addresses” option. One sweet green checkmark less on our features page. Uh oh.

To make the story complete we should say that this system can be gamed too. But so is referral rewarding and affiliate programs – the key is the effort it takes to cheat vs. the effort it takes to use legitimately. (Do you know that most people who pirate software/music/movies do it only because it’s easier?)  This is why you should balance your instant reward carefully. Here’s a mental test you can use: imagine somebody have figured out they can cheat your tell-a-friend campaign and this news started spreading. Are you still benefiting from such viral promotion? If not,  your reward is probably too expensive.

All that said, referral rewards have their use too. If you can’t think of a lightweight instant reward or your use case is such that waiting isn’t a problem, they may work just fine for you. Referral rewards are supported by InviteBox and in fact you can even use them in conjunction with the instant ones: for instance give a quick gratification immediately and enroll them into a contest for a more valuable prize once the invited friends have visited your site. With some creativity, the possibilities are endless, really. Our job is to give you a tool that is flexible enough.