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I have been asked to design a referral feature on a site. The site is a non-profit that contains services for parents around children with learning disabilities. The referral aspect is for parents to recommend this site to other parents they may know that would be interested.

Adopting this behavior is something completely new for them and I was wondering if there are any best practices around this enhancement?

For example, should a user have a gmail window open with a pre-populated message, or should they just be able to input email addresses straight into the site?

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There could be non-personalized sharing or recommendation to particular person. Which is your way? –  Alexey Kolchenko Aug 21 '13 at 4:34
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Refer-a–Friend programs can be incredibly beneficial, but there can also be deliverability and even legal compliance issues. You don't want people to be able to just input an email address to recommend a friend visiting the site, as you can't guarantee users will make ethical use of it. The key issues are user and recipient consent, and content transparency.

Some recommendations from my point of view:

  • After the referral, set up a triggered email to the friend and use the referrer's name in the subject line to make the message (and the referral) straightforward. I've seen some advise that the commercial sender should 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.

  • Consider allowing referrers to include a personal message to explain why they are making this referral.

  • Provide a link for the friend to confirm in order to get onto your mailing list, and once they confirm interest, trigger a welcome message welcoming them into the community. If the friend does not confirm their interest, let them go.

  • Never use the recipients’ email address with subsequent marketing campaigns unless they provide their own consent.

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