There are a lot of things that go into making a successful product, but you can boil it down to two steps above all else:

  • Understand some group of users
  • Serve them what they want

Sure, this is easier said than done but it's kind of comforting that it's so straightforward. If you do these two things right, you're in business. If you do them really well, then people will start talking. This post focuses on how to leverage your user base for growth once that happens. In other words, this is how I'm thinking about user advocacy and referral programs.

Here Be Dragons

If I was too cryptic in my introduction, let me be more clear. If you aren't observing organic user advocacy, that is, if user's aren't already recommending your product to others, then it's probably not the right bet at this stage.

Spend your time and effort on product to get to a place where the offering worth talking about. Until you get there, you probably shouldn't be executing on any of the advice that follows.

Types of User Advocacy

There are two ways that users can advocate for your product: One-to-one and one-to-many. Like most of my breakdowns, this is over-simplistic and not truly categorical, but the dichotomy should be helpful for building a mental framework:

  • One-to-one: This is a direct ask from one of your existing users to a prospective user. Most frequently, we see companies double down on this behavior with referral programs. That means giving users a shareable code and some reward for bringing others onto the platform.
  • One-to-many: Instead of bringing others directly onto the platform, users might advocate for your product in public. This requires people to put themselves "out there" and attach their brand to your companies brand in some way. There are tons of creative ways to decrease friction here including testimonials, user generated content, ambassador programs, and social posting to name a few.

The right approach for you, like most things, depends on the nature of your product. Note that in one-to-one advocacy, volume will be lower but the effectiveness should be much higher. In one-to-many advocacy, the opposite holds true. Some companies like Notion hit on both of these strategies while others pick one and double down.

Variables to Consider

Once you decide on general direction, it's time to talk execution. I like breaking down user advocacy techniques into three parts:

  • Trigger: When do you present the opportunity for user advocacy? For an eCommerce referral program, it might be right after your purchase. For software product video reviews, it might be after some level of user engagement. Ultimately, the best trigger is where motivation to advocate is the strongest. Often that's the moment where the value you provide was just realized by the user.
  • Incentives: This is probably the first thing that comes to mind. "What's in it for me?" is a big part of the equation for increasing motivation to advocate. Some examples are cash, product credits, swag, status, or even new features. The list goes on. Bonus points if your reward leads to more engagement (e.g. free meal on Doordash or $50 on Draftkings) or you can make it double-sided to incentivize the referee as well.
  • Audience: In most cases, it doesn't make sense to target every user for advocacy. Narrowing down your target audience will allow you to offer better incentives and achieve more efficient conversion. Think about what indicates the willingness to advocate and then filter on those attributes.

Running Experiments

Investing in user advocacy might seem like a one-off thing, but it takes a decent amount of time and dedication to get it right. Avoid the trap of "just doing user advocacy" for your product. Set a time limit and goals to hit that indicate need for further investment.

In closing, I'll share my favorite examples of user advocacy for growth to spark some inspiration. While you should consider first principles, user advocacy also isn't an unsolved problem. Plenty of other companies have gotten this right. It's a tried and true strategy, so don't reinvent the wheel right off the bat. Look at what similar products are doing to establish a toolkit, and then ask yourself, "What would work best for us?"

Hope this article was helpful for kicking off a user advocacy strategy. I'm thinking about this frequently at Hugo and I imagine I'll have more thoughts in the future, so stay tuned for more there.

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