February 10, 2023

Spreading the good word about your newsletter.

Asking someone to share your newsletter is a great way to expand your audience.

Also, having someone share your newsletter is a great way to receive feedback. It’s a signal for you to know that the content is helpful, engaging, creating conversation.

If you have a newsletter you enjoy reading or found helpful this week, feel free to send us an email at with the newsletter and we may give them a shoutout next week!

Bonus points: Email that newsletter with a thumbs up, shout them out on Twitter or forward the email to a colleague!

⚙️ Referral programs as a tool to increase visibility to your newsletter

There are many methods to increase visibility to your newsletter.

One approach that is talked about often is: referral programs. And what usually follows a mention about newsletter referral programs are case studies around Morning Brew, The Skimm, The Hustle, etc. and the exponential growth their referral programs yielded them.

Now, before you start Googling? Binging? “How to start a referral program”, it’s important to note referral programs are not a foolproof way to grow your subscriber base.

They are a piece of the puzzle.

Referral programs are a strategy based on asking existing customers to refer or recommend your work // product // service to others.

The programs incentivize current customers with rewards as a way to encourage more referrals.

The rewards or prizes could be:

  • Physical. Like a sweatshirt or coffee mug.
  • Digital. eBook, a fun phone wallpaper // background.
  • Monetary. Offering payouts based on each referred subscriber, or a credit or discount.
  • This is less common with newsletters and more common with subscription software companies. For example, Dropbox and their famed growth through referrals.
  • This could be bucketed as more affiliate marketing.
  • Less tangible. 1:1 call or consultation, shoutout in your next newsletter, be on your podcast.

Referral programs create buzz about your newsletter. Not only are people talking about and sharing your newsletter, but you’re simultaneously expanding your audience and receiving feedback that your content is creating an impact on readers.

This might look like building out a referral program with prizes, but it could also look like organic word-of-mouth marketing, affiliate marketing or influencer marketing.

No need to limit yourself on what an idea of a referral program should look like.

🤔 How do referral programs work in newsletters?

The formula typically is: Share Newsletter → receive stuff. The more you share, the more stuff you get.

If you’re thinking about starting a referral program, let’s draft up what that could look like:

  1. Research and select a tool to build out the referral program.
  2. Validate if it works in your Email Service Provider (ESP). Sometimes you might need Zapier or another method to integrate with your ESP. Also, double check that the tool offers fraud detection, or a way to validate that you are receiving valid sign ups.  
  3. Decide the prizes to offer subscribers and based on what number of referrals.
  4. Keep track of the referrals.
  5. Deliver prizes based on the number of referrals timely.  
  6. Continue to monitor and evaluate.

…This can get complex quickly.

One of the biggest hurdles being: fulfillment.

As in, who is going to fulfill the orders that come from referrals? Who is going to send those coffee mugs?

Are you ready to start an entire dropshipping operation in the name of referrals?

Let’s take a moment to see if we can adjust the referral program to have lower stakes, setup time and cost.

🥾 Get started with a small and free step

Start by asking subscribers to share your newsletter by forwarding it to someone they think would enjoy it.

Yay! Someone forwarded your email! OoOoo, does the new reader have a way to sign up from the email that was forwarded to them?

Add a sign up link to your emails. This may be funky for a current subscriber to read, so if your Email Service Provider (ESP) offers this functionality or you have access to the code of your email, create email logic that only displays the sign up link for users that are not current subscribers.

Side quest: Try creating a workflow or email automation that sends an email to newsletter subscribers that have been subscribers for at least 90 days and have clicked in your newsletter in the last 30 days.

You could provide a link in the email that generates an email with a “maillto:EMAILADDRESS” hyperlink. To add more content, you may need access to the code of your email, or your ESP may also provide this functionality.

Example subject line: “Check out The Newsletter Newsletter”.

Example copy for the body of the email: “Hello! I’ve been reading The Newsletter Newsletter, it’s a free, weekly newsletter that is all about newsletters. It’s a great way to stay up-to-date on what’s going on in the newsletter space as well as deep dives and analysis. Sign up here: the UTM tracking parameters! This will attribute sign ups to this action.

➕ Let’s take another step:

Ask subscribers to email you with a review of your newsletter, and ask them if you can use that review in your marketing materials like the newsletter landing page, social media, etc.

This provides social proof that you can put on your newsletter landing page, social media, etc. to help get word out about your newsletter.

According to a ~2021 survey conducted by Ambassador who partnered with Nielsen’s Harris Poll Online to survey 2,000 Americans about referral and word-of-mouth marketing, people would like to be rewarded.

Thinking beyond physical goods or other items that might be a heavy lift, you can also think about digital offerings as incentives.

For example:

  • Access to the paid version of your newsletter or premium content.
  • An eBook or .PDF of content that has resonated with readers.
  • A special-edition newsletter only for VIP referrers.
  • Shoutout in your next newsletter.
  • Access to a Discord channel.

You might see Morning Brew’s referral program and think that is what a referral program is, or has to be. Think of ways to customize a referral program for your newsletter and what stage your newsletter is in right now.

Start with something like adding a signup link to your emails and asking subscribers to forward it to someone they think would enjoy it.

Taking an iterative approach can provide you with data to help you make informed decisions about what resonates with your readers. Throughout the process, you’ll learn different ways to increase visibility to your newsletter alongside testing out strategies like referral programs (and that might not look like an entire store with merchandise).

🧮 Define success and measure it

As always, what works for one newsletter does not always mean it will yield the same results for your newsletter.

Your readers are unique.

You could try some of the ideas above while setting some goals or milestones to inform you of next steps:

  • 10 email replies a month with a review about your newsletter.
  • Getting featured in >>INSERT NEWSLETTER<<.
  • 25 email forwards resulting in sign ups.

If you’re at the stage where you’re thinking about rolling out a referral program and what prizes you could offer referrers, it can be helpful to survey your most active users or long-time subscribers. Ask them directly and understand what might encourage them to share your content with others if they haven’t already.

For example, you might decide to offer an eBook or coffee mug as one of your prizes. After looking at the numbers and receiving some reader feedback, you might discover your audience isn’t interested in a coffee mug, but they’re interested in the Discord channel.

As you roll out strategies, continue to monitor so you can pick up on things that are working. And defining what “working” is or what success looks like.

🤝 Newsletter swaps and recommendations

Newsletter “swaps” or recommendations are similar to other methods of marketing like reaching out to an influencer, affiliate marketing or paid advertising in the sense that it’s key to be aligned with audiences.

A newsletter swap is when your newsletter and another newsletter decide to feature one another in your own newsletter. Your readers learn about another newsletter with content they might enjoy and vice versa.

You want to cross promote with a newsletter that has a similar or overlapping audience to ensure readers from both newsletters find value in the content along with an increased likelihood to sign up.

If you are going to do a newsletter swap, it can be helpful to provide the newsletter writer(s) with a couple of sentences about your newsletter along with a trackable link to measure results.

The Newsletter Newsletter

You can also ask them to do the same, so you are both able to attribute any sign ups to the swap.

It can also be helpful when the newsletter writer(s) puts the shoutout in their own words.

📧 Beehiiv, Substack, along with others offer recommendations

When signing up for a newsletter on Beehiiv or Substack, you might be displayed a page saying that the creator(s) of the newsletter you just signed up for recommends X, Y, Z newsletter, or here are some recommended reads based on the newsletter you just signed up.

It’s an automated way to cross promote and recommend another newsletter(s).

With recommendation tools built into Beehiiv and Substack, their platform takes care of keeping track of how many referrals or signups you’ve contributed for that newsletter.

The goal of swaps and recommendations is to increase awareness and maybe gain some engaged subscribers along the way. Again, another form of referral.

Side note: God of War Ragnarök is pretty awesome. Brok, one of the dwarves in the game, succinctly defines what we’re trying to say: “The nature of a thing’s more important than the form of thing,”

🔑 Key takeaways

  • Referral programs can come in many forms.
  • Measure and track performance of your efforts.
  • Tailor to your newsletter, and what stage you are at.

What do you think? Feel free to send us an email and we may feature some comments from readers in the next newsletter! If you're not signed up for our newsletter, sign up below!

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