Managing deliverability risks with refer-a-friend programs

Refer-a–Friend programs can be incredibly beneficial, but it is important to do it correctly or run the risk of causing deliverability issues (and possible legal compliance issues as well). The key issues to manage are user and recipient consent, content transparency, and with referral incentives.

    1. Referring users must feel comfortable during the process, which begins with consent practices. Never use the recipients’ email address with subsequent marketing campaigns unless they provide their own consent. For example, Victoria Secret offers referrers a clear statement that their friends’ email addresses will not be added to their email list during the referral.

In addition, it’s helpful to make the referred friend aware, upon receiving that message, that they are not being subscribed to any mailing by receiving this email. Such as with this example by Neiman Marcus.

  • If you want the recipient to be your friend too, then ensure transparency with your content. Here are some quick tips with managing content:
    • The friendly ‘from’ address can and should be the friend/referrer. It’s advised that the commercial sender is NOT included in the ‘from’ because the intent is still for the friend to be the referral, and otherwise it may appear to the recipient as an unsolicited commercial email and lead to a spam complaint.
    • Include some language in the email introduction about why the recipient is getting it and what information will and will not be collected.
    • Make sure the subject line is tied to the friend and not misleading. Successful campaigns such as the Saks Fifth Avenue example below put the friends name in the subject line leaving no confusion as to why the referee is receiving the mail.
  • Offering incentives is a great way to entice referrals ( Eg; through cash, coupons, discounts, awards or additional entries in a sweepstakes) However, in doing so, the sender must comply with the CAN-SPAM Act. In addition to including an opt-out option in the email the sender must run that referral friend’s email address against the senders’ suppression list to make sure the friend was not previously unsubscribed. Even if there is no incentive, it is still a best practice to apply prior suppressions and include an unsubscribe link in the email to help mitigate potential spam complaints.Since these RAF emails may be deploying off the same IPs as the senders’ bulk email messages, abuse complaints from RAF campaigns can lead to IP reputation issues at various ISPs and cause bulking/spam foldering issues in the future. Don’t give the ISPs any more reasons (abuse, spam traps, bad data, etc) to bulk or block mailings by skipping this step.

Following these points and best practices will not only help the senders IP reputation but can also lead to strong organic list growth and increased revenue.