16th Nov 2020

5 Proven Tactics To Increase Engagement For Your App Referral Program

by Viral Patel, COO and co-founder at GetSocial,
a Keywords Game Science Studio

With the number of mobile game apps increasing by the day, it’s becoming more and more difficult for developers and marketers to acquire new customers.

And the struggle is not just for players’ attention. The cost of acquiring new users is skyrocketing.

These days you have to pay to play.

If you’re an app developer or marketer, let me describe a situation and see if it rings a bell with you.

When launching an app, typically you would set up an ad to first promote what the app does. Then you would retarget users who show interest to nurture them into installing the app — usually with mixed results. Sound familiar?

That’s because today it is only after a few tries that a user gets convinced an app is worth their time — even if it is free. This is where an app referral program can come into play, shortening your acquisition cycle.

According to Nielsen, people trust recommendations from friends 7x more than traditional advertising.

And a referral program is a systematic way of getting people to make referrals to your business. Referral programs reward existing customers for sharing word-of-mouth and incentivise new users to try out your brand, increasing long-term revenue, whether for products or services.

So when their friends recommend an app, these new users become more likely to install it in the first go. This brings down your user acquisition costs and, at the same time, boosts the engagement rate on the app.

In fact, referral programs are one of the top viral marketing tactics. But how do you get more users to participate for your app?

Well, here we’ve broken it down into five simple tips to increase user engagement on your app referral program.

Let’s jump right in.

1. Time your app referral program promotion right

If you want to increase user engagement on your referral program, you need to ask for referrals at the right time. This only goes to say that promoting your app to users who have already experienced what your app offers can lead to higher engagement.

For example, it doesn’t make sense to tell a user about your referral program when they’ve just downloaded your app. They’re just starting to get acquainted with the game.

They aren’t even aware of all the features. So when they’ve not even experienced your game to the fullest, what do they tell their friends about it?

Instead, wait for the user to complete a level or two in the game. Once they’re completely privy of the game and you’re sure they’re having a good time, sneak in a quick request to invite friends over. You can also use gamification to nudge these invites.

2. Request a referral at a highlight moment

Happy users are more inclined to participate in your app referral program. If a user is happy using the app or is having fun in the game, they’re more likely to want their friends and family to join in.

Simply put, users are more likely to participate in your app referral program when they are actively engaged with it or when they experience a highlight moment.

Let’s take an example here. Remember the frenzy around Candy Crush?

Whenever a player completed a new level, they shared it on social media and even invited their friends to join the game to unlock the next.

That’s the highlight moment you’re looking for — it’s when the user feels like sharing a piece of good news with their network would lead to more value for them.

You may have also seen apps like Fitbit using this psychology. They nudge their active users to share their accomplishments with friends and invite them to the app to join them on their fitness journey.

3. Keep your active referrers motivated

Once you increase user engagement on your app referral program, you need to keep it up. It is important to encourage participants to continually get them to send more invites. They shouldn’t feel like they get nothing in return for the ‘effort’ they make.

Offer your users in-app rewards, coins they can redeem for purchases or access to an exclusive level in the game. All in turn of the install they bring in. This keeps them motivated to send more invites and at the same time gives them another reason to remain engaged with the app.

Here it is also important that you keep these users up-to-date with their progress. Let them know how many of their friends accepted an invite, what they have won so far and how to use the rewards to win the level they’re on. You can also use this opportunity to promote your in-app purchases.

Pro tip: Also let them share their wins. This can motivate their friends to also participate in the app referral program.

4. Promote your program with a multi-channel strategy

The only way to ensure that your app referral program is noticed is to promote it where your users are. That’s where you need to include at least the following channels in your strategy:

  • In-app notifications: Remind active users of your referral program by sending an in-app message. Make sure your message remains crisp and clear about why they should participate.
  • Emails and newsletters: Emails are still a great way to engage subscribers and users on a 1:1 basis. If you’re sending out a weekly campaign, make sure to include a small section about your app referral program.
  • It might not be the primary call-to-action in the email, but it serves as an effective reminder.
  • Social media channels: Most of your app users are active on at least two social media platforms. Make the most of their behaviour by including app referral program promotion posts in your social media calendar. It could be a weekly post that shows them different rewards to be won and how they can participate.
  • Website promotion: If you have a landing page or a website for your app, make sure you include a little section about your referral program. This is where you can dive deep into explaining how it works, what rewards the user can win and when, and also layout the terms and conditions for the participation.

And, most importantly…

5. Make it easy for users to invite friends

If your app referral program is hard to participate in, you’re going to see an increase in user engagement. You need to make inviting friends a part and parcel of the user’s in-app journey. It should come to them intuitively, instead of feeling they’re forced to complete an action.

With solutions like GetSocial, you can make inviting friends really easy for users.

The video below demonstrate’s how Ubisoft’s Face Up uses Smart Invites to increase user engagement on their app referral program.

The Smart Invites allow users to invite friends through social platforms like Facebook, Twitter, etc and also chat apps like WhatsApp, Kik, Facebook Messenger and more. Since the invites are fully automated, it offers users a frictionless experience — no copy-paste of referral codes required!


There is no one-size-fits-all approach to a successful app referral program. What might work for one app, may not be applicable to your gaming app.

The best way to know what works for your app is to test different changes to your referral program. It could be the moment at which you ask them to send invites or simply the incentives you’re offering.

See how the changes impact the performance of your program and how users engage with the app.

Visit our Game Science page to discover how you can empower mobile app marketing and product teams with growth tools to maximize user acquisition.

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