Using Referral Marketing for Events: 13 Best Practices

Standing out in a crowded field of event planning can be daunting. The truth is that traditional event marketing techniques, while still relevant, are not enough. 

If you depend on these techniques in your upcoming event, STOP. You are missing out on a potent tool to boost your sales: referral marketing

In a world where trust in peers and the popularity of social media are at an all-time high, getting others to recommend your event is a game-changer. For instance, referral marketing could increase attendance by at least 20% in online events. These referred attendees have a 2.5x better conversion rate and are likelier to refer your event to others.

With these facts in mind, you might want to think about throwing some referral marketing into your next event. It’s a pretty neat way to pull in a fresh crowd and make your current customers even happier. 

Worth a shot, right? That’s why we’ve prepared best practices you can consider to unlock a new level of audience and increase customer satisfaction. 

Understanding the Basics of Referral Marketing for Events

Referral marketing is a strategy that turns your customers into brand ambassadors by providing rewards and incentives. This referral program can be as simple as rewarding attendees for using a unique link that helps you track their referrals or as complex as a multi-tiered system where attendees earn rewards for their direct referrals and subsequent referrals they bring in.

Referrals convert better to sales and brand loyalty than traditional marketing. If you want concrete proof, check our post on the 50 Referral Marketing Statistics That Prove Its Power

Partnering referral marketing in events increases promotion through word of mouth and enhances trust and credibility as it leverages personal relationships. It also builds a community of people with similar interests, reduces marketing costs, creates pre-event hype, and increases the urgency to join your event. 

Check out our primer on referral marketing for the events industry for a more thorough explanation.

Best Practices in Referral Marketing for Events 

Yes, referral marketing works wonders. Numerous brands working in different industries have effectively utilized this.

At this point, you might be convinced that referral marketing can work wonders for your event. But the most critical question now is this: how can you make it work? 

To save you hours of reading and researching, we have compiled 13 best practices for referral marketing at events.

1. Identify Your Target Audience for Referral Campaigns

Not all marketing campaigns for events are one-size-fits-all, and your referral strategy is no different. After establishing your event’s goals, you must identify the referral campaign’s target audience

Remember, knowing your brand’s audience is crucial in crafting a campaign that resonates. 

Start by asking yourself:

  • Who has attended similar events, and what common characteristics do they share?
  • What interests or hobbies does your ideal attendee have that align with the theme or purpose of your event?
  • Which social media platforms or online communities does your target audience frequent?
  • What challenges or needs does your event address for the potential attendees?
  • How does your target audience prefer to receive communication or invitations (e.g., email, social media, direct mail)?
  • What incentives or rewards would motivate your audience to refer others to your event?

Your answers will help you craft a more tailored and effective referral marketing strategy that resonates with your ideal attendees. 

Here’s a quick checklist from WiredImpact:

Segment your audience and tailor your approach to each group’s preferences and your event or brand. A niche business conference may motivate referrals with exclusive networking opportunities, while a music festival could opt for free tickets or VIP upgrades. 

2. Leverage Urgency and Scarcity

Referral marketing can play a role in Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) psychology. By operating on the principles of urgency and scarcity, your audience may feel the fear of missing these opportunities, driving actions toward increasing referrals.

Implement time- and slot-limited campaigns. You may use phrases like “invitation-only,” “exclusive access pass,” or “VIP-only event” to appeal to the exclusivity of your offer. 

Meanwhile, adopt phrases like “early bird rewards,” “only 40 spots available,” and “limited seats” to instigate scarcity driving immediate referrals.

3. Offer Exclusive Rewards for Top Referrers

Let’s talk about going the extra mile by rolling out the red carpet for your top referrers. Imagine creating an exclusive club where the key to entry is their advocacy. 

This isn’t just about saying “thanks”; it’s about crafting an experience that makes them feel like VIPs in your event’s universe. By acknowledging their efforts with top-notch rewards, you’re not only showing your appreciation but also building an elite community. 

This sense of exclusivity doesn’t just up the ante for your current event—it sets a new benchmark for engagement in all your future endeavors.

Here are some ideas for exclusive rewards:

  • giving your most fervent supporters VIP access to your event,
  • backstage passes to mingle with the stars, 
  • one-on-one sessions with keynote speakers, and
  • high-value gifts that have everyone talking. 

One great example is Beyonce and Pepsi’s Super Bowl collaboration in 2013. Even while both are popular in their own right, they still saw it fit to hype up the event by asking fans to participate and encourage friends to do the same.

Participants were asked to purchase Pepsi products and upload photos or videos of themselves together with their friends. The more entries they sent, the higher their chances of winning in a raffle draw where 50 winners got exclusive access to rehearsals and even became part of the on-field dance team.

It was a hit!

But why stop there? Imagine unlocking doors to premium online courses or exclusive networking events post-event. 

These are the kinds of rewards that don’t just say “thank you” – they scream, “you’re invaluable to us!”

And here’s where it gets really exciting – introducing tiered rewards. 

It’s like telling your attendees, “The more friends you bring into our world, the cooler your experience gets.” This approach doesn’t just incentivize; it creates a ripple effect, turning your event into the epicenter of a vast network of engaged, excited participants.

4. Incorporate Social Proof

Ever noticed how a crowded restaurant tends to draw more people in? It’s like we’re hardwired to think, “If that many people are eating there, the food must be great!” 

This isn’t just about dining out; it’s a fundamental aspect of human behavior. We often look to others’ actions as a guide for our own, especially when we’re uncertain.

Think about it in your own life. Whether it’s choosing a movie based on reviews or buying a product with a lot of positive feedback, you’ve likely been influenced by the choices of others. It’s an instinct to feel more comfortable and confident in our decisions when others have paved the way.

This phenomenon is called social proof, and it’s powerful. When we see that others have taken action—whether trying a new restaurant, attending an event, or purchasing a product—we’re more inclined to do the same. It reassures us that we’re making a good decision.

You can use the same concept when using referral marketing for your event.

In designing your strategy, consider the six principles that drive people to share and engage in word-of-mouth communication, based on Jonah Berger’s book Contagious

  • Social Currency: People share things that make them look good.
  • Triggers: Environmental cues prompt people to talk about related things.
  • Emotion: Strong emotions drive sharing behavior.
  • Public: People mimic the behavior they see in public.
  • Practical Value: Valuable and practical information is more likely to be shared.
  • Stories: Narratives make messages more engaging and memorable.

But how do you make your voice heard in a world where everyone is shouting? How do you turn your event from a whisper in the wind into the talk of the town? It’s simpler than you think but requires breaking old habits.

  • Working with Influencers

First off, think about influencers and thought leaders not just as guests but as your partners in crime. These folks have already worked hard to build an audience that trusts them. 

By inviting them to share their journey—what they’re looking forward to at your event, what they discover while there—you’re not just amplifying your message. You’re embedding your event into a story that people are already following. 

It’s like getting an endorsement from your favorite author on the cover of a book you’re unsure about buying. Suddenly, you’re sold.

Even better, you can add this info to your referral landing pages. Telling potential referrers that this certain influencer is inviting other people to participate in your event can encourage them to do the same, making them feel like an influencer in their own right. That’s twice the benefit!

  • Real Testimonials

But let’s not stop there. Real stories and genuine endorsements—these are your secret weapons. Authenticity is a rare gem in a world of endless pitches and polished ads. 

When potential attendees hear directly from those who have experienced what you offer and emerged on the other side enthusiastic and transformed, that’s when the magic happens. It’s not just marketing; it’s evidence. It’s proof that the experience you’re promising isn’t just possible—it’s inevitable.

You can use audio and video testimonials and case studies from previous attendees as direct marketing materials. Interestingly, 87% of marketers also believe that video testimonials have a positive return on brand investments. 

Incentivize those who share their stories, testimonials, or reviews on different platforms. Remember, around 88% of people trust online reviews as much as their friends. It is also important to diversify where these messages are available, as consumers typically visit two sites or apps to check reviews before purchasing. 

While the image shown above is of an event promoted on Facebook, there is no reason for you not to use the same testimonials on your website. The more you can tell others about previous attendees’ positive experiences, the better.

  • Real-Time Showcase of Attendees in their Network

Now, for the pièce de résistance: real-time referral tracking. Imagine showing your audience, in real-time, how many of their peers are jumping on board. 

This isn’t just a number; it’s next-level social proofing, the most powerful marketing force known to humankind. It reassures the hesitant, inspires the interested, and creates a momentum almost impossible to resist.

You can do this through social media networks like Facebook and LinkedIn. On your own websites, you can incorporate ticket sale counters.

In essence, what we’re talking about here is transforming your marketing into a movement. It’s about making each participant not just a spectator but a storyteller in their own right, weaving their narratives into the larger tapestry of your event. 

And as these stories multiply, as the referrals start ticking up, you’re doing more than just filling seats. You’re building trust, community, and a sense of belonging around your brand.

Remember, in the connection economy, the most valuable currency is trust. And every step you take to build that trust is an investment in not just your event’s success but in its transformation into a landmark event that people will discuss for years to come.

  • Ask Customers to Share on their Social Media Accounts

This is a frequently overlooked opportunity—actually asking your customers to share the event on their social media. Many people are more than happy to spread the word about events they’re excited about, more so when they are incentivized. 

It’s a great way to reach new potential attendees. Plus, their followers trust their recommendations much more than any paid advertisement. Again—that’s social proof at work!

5. Make it Easy to Share 

Following on the point above about asking people to share on their social media profiles is making it easy for them to do so.

It isn’t enough that the information is valuable and practical; it must be shareable. So, make referring a simple process for your attendees.

Give your audience easy ways to share your event on multiple channels or platforms, including email, SMS, and social media. 

If you ensure that clear instructions are included when sharing, including pre-written messages that can be easily copied and pasted, then you make it easier for your referrers. 

You can also create branded hashtags for your event and encourage attendees to use them when posting on social media. This not only creates buzz around your event but also allows you to easily track and engage with posts related to your event.

Another good practice is to send an email where the customer’s unique referral link is already embedded in the body of the email—no need for them to generate it on the website. 

Additionally, it’s best if your event website has social media buttons in prominent locations so attendees can easily share information about your event with their networks. 

This will increase the likelihood of them spreading the word, making it easy for their networks to see and sign up. 

6. Customize Referral Incentives

Let’s face it: the world is awash in generic incentives. “Refer a friend and get 10% off!” we see plastered everywhere, from coffee shops to online platforms. 

But here’s the truth—these incentives are noise, not music. They blend into the background of our daily bombardment of offers and advertisements. If you want to turn your referral program from a whisper into a roar, it’s time to think differently.

Imagine you’re organizing a tech conference. Your attendees aren’t just there for the free coffee; they’re there because they live and breathe technology. They’re the early adopters, the ones who queue for the latest gadget release. 

So, why offer them a generic discount when you ask them to bring a friend? Why not offer them something that makes their pulse race? Exclusive access to beta software, for instance. Suddenly, you’re not just offering a discount but a golden ticket into the future.

But why stop there? In an era where customization is king, why not empower your advocates with choice? Imagine a menu of rewards: event merchandise for the collectors, free tickets for the social butterflies, and discounts on future events for the loyal attendees. 

By offering a spectrum of rewards, you’re acknowledging a fundamental truth: your audience is diverse, and their motivations are myriad.

This approach does more than just increase participation in your referral program; it transforms it. It turns your advocates into partners, expanding their agencies to choose how they engage with your event. More importantly, it elevates the perceived value of your incentives. 

After all, value is in the eye of the beholder.

Whatever strategy you choose shares the requirements: you must know your audience well, so your reward would be relevant to your audience. 

7. Implement Gamification Elements

Gamification injects fun, self-expression, and competition into the referral process, making it more engaging for participants. 

Gamification is not merely a tactic; it’s an art form that taps into the very core of human behavior—our innate desire to compete, achieve, and be recognized. 

Incorporating game-like elements, such as leaderboards, points, badges, and challenges, incentivizes participation and tapping into the innate human desire for recognition and achievement. 

You can award points for every successful referral and display a leaderboard on your event website or social media pages to show who has referred the most. 

You can also offer bonuses or levels for achieving certain milestones, like reaching 10 referrals daily or referring people from different countries, in case your brand crosses borders.  

Challenges can also encourage friendly competition between attendees or groups of attendees. 

For example, you can challenge them to refer a certain number of people within a specific timeframe, offer extra incentives for referring people from particular industries, or unlock specific incentives for the first group to hit the target number of referrals. 

Your imagination is the limit!  

Incorporating gamification into our approach does more than drive referrals; it taps into the human desire to grow and achieve. It’s not merely about the rewards at the end, but the journey there, the sense of progress and accomplishment. 

And when others see this journey—witnessed through leaderboards or badges—it validates the process and inspires participation. 

8. Use Personalized Content for Referral Messages

When you personalize your event’s messaging with dynamic content such as the referrer’s name, the specific event aspects they enjoyed, or personalized invitations, it grabs their attention compared to generic invites. 

You may also include their previous interaction with the brand or event in your message. This approach increases the likelihood of the message resonating with potential attendees.

More importantly, since your referrers are your partners, make them feel like insiders. Equip them with personalized tools and content to spread the word effectively to their friends. This will make them feel like part of your team, strengthening their connection to your event. 

Try providing them with editable written and video messages or graphics with unique referral links that they can share on their social media accounts. You may also send them updates on your event preparations, the benefits of joining, and prominent people they might be interested in who also reserved their spots at your events.  

9. Highlight Community Benefits

Events are not just about content but also about the community they create. Emphasize the sense of belonging and the opportunities to connect with peers and thought leaders to encourage referrals.  

For instance, your referrers may have the chance to join exclusive fireside chats and networking sessions or share experiences with like-minded individuals in workshops or concerts once they achieve particular referral milestones. When advocating for your event, ensure your target audience understands how their network can benefit. 

You may also infuse the psychology of scarcity, exclusivity, and fear of missing out (FOMO) to drive more sales. 

After all, who would want to be separate from a unique community and benefit from its connections? I’m sure your audience wouldn’t like that. So, incorporate and highlight that in your messaging.

10. Offer Early Access 

Offering early access or the ability to reserve premier seating can be a strong incentive, particularly for events like conferences, concerts, or even virtual ones.

For instance,  Web Summit 2024 offers a free ticket to your friend when you pre-register for the event. Registered customers are notified when the discounted price ticket sale is open.

This strategy can also create a sense of urgency for potential attendees as they see others securing prime spots by encouraging others to sign-up early. 

11. Offer Group or Bundle Pricing 

Step into a world where your event becomes the talk of the town, all thanks to the magic of group discounts. Imagine the buzz as one happy attendee shares an enchanting offer with their circle: ‘Join me and save a whopping 50% when we book as a party of five!’

Not only does this make the event more accessible to a broader audience, but it also fosters a sense of shared experience among attendees. These offers can be especially appealing for larger events like concerts, festivals, or conferences where attendees look forward to enjoying the experience with others. 

One example is Broadway Inbound, which offers a group discount for at least 10 people who will watch Hamilton.  Not only do they get to enjoy the show together, but they also save money in the process.

Group or bundle pricing can also be used as a marketing strategy for new events. Offering a discount for those who purchase a ticket for a well-known event bundled with a ticket to the new event can guarantee audience attendance.

Meanwhile, the Cannes Lions 2024 offers advanced access to discounted rates in exclusive accommodations in Cannes and with the assistance of a dedicated account manager for groups of 15 people. This is perfect when your event caters to other businesses that often bring groups of employees. 

Remember to communicate the details and benefits of group pricing when implementing it. Also, a system should be in place to avoid a mix-up between individual and group pricing options. 

12. Make Reward Redemption Easy

Once a participant earns a reward, make it easy for them to redeem it. Complicated or unclear redemption processes can lead to frustration or a decrease in the perceived value of the reward, negating the positive experience you want to generate.

Partnering with well-established referral marketing platforms automates processes and minimizes the need to monitor and process reward redemption. 

It will make it easy for referrers to redeem and make your work much easier and more efficient. We’re sure you wouldn’t want additional hassle on your D-day. 

13. Implement Effective Tracking, Measurement, and Optimization

Referral marketing is not a ‘set it and forget it’ approach. You must regularly review your campaign’s performance, gather feedback, and optimize the strategy. 

You need to know which tactics are working, which incentives are most effective, and which participants are your top ambassadors. 

Utilize a robust tracking system that clearly shows where your referrals are coming from and which have the most influence. This can range from simple tracking codes to sophisticated affiliate marketing software.

Additionally, be ready to adapt and iterate. A campaign is a living thing; as you gather data, use it to fine-tune your approach. 

Test different incentives, referral channels, and messaging to see what resonates most with your audience. Your learnings will benefit not just your current event but also future ones.

Selecting the right platform is crucial for executing a successful referral program for your events. Viral Loops emerges as a stellar choice in this realm, thanks to its versatility and comprehensive feature set tailored to enhance referral marketing campaigns. It simplifies the process of tracking referrals, managing rewards, and analyzing performance metrics. 

With Viral Loops, event organizers like you can create custom referral campaigns that resonate with your target audience, encouraging widespread participation. 

The platform’s ease of integration with existing marketing tools ensures a seamless experience, making it easier to turn your attendees into passionate ambassadors. Plus, it offers several templates that help eliminate the guesswork of launching your referral program, so what’s not to like?

The Future of Referral Marketing for Events

Referral marketing is transforming from a handy tool to a cornerstone in the world of event marketing, unlocking new levels of attendee acquisition success. 

Imagine harnessing the power of cutting-edge tracking and personalization to launch campaigns that don’t just reach your audience but resonate with them. This isn’t just about filling seats; it’s about creating a buzzing community eager to be part of your event’s story.

Regardless of the type of referral program you choose to implement and the style you prefer, our Universal Template offers an easy and efficient way to set up and manage your referral program. It is powerful and perfectly suited to just about any referral marketing strategy you dream up.

Embrace this opportunity to make your event the talk of the town. With a strategic approach, a touch of creativity, and Viral Loops by your side, your event could be the next landmark in the industry. 

Ready to create unforgettable experiences? Let’s make it happen together.

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