Rethinking User Invites
The State of Invites in 2014
I get a few user invites every month to web apps that I’ll probably never use. This does not count app invites on Facebook, I’m referring more to the ones from companies trying to compete with LinkedIn or various content sharing apps. The invites are all the same and read something like:
I’m using Crazy Product Name and thought you would enjoy it, too. It only takes 30 seconds to sign up and see why so many users love it.
It doesn’t bother me that it’s not personalized, I’m most positive that I’ve spammed before as well. While mass spamming always yields some “results”, I highly doubt that it actually works and here’s why.
How Invites Actually Work
I’ll try a service or product for a couple of reasons. The first being I know the person recommending it intimately well and trust that their suggestion comes with good intentions and my best interests in mind. The second is if I’m actively searching for a solution to a problem and have requested suggestions.
Invite emails do not come into play in either one of those scenarios. Someone I’m friends with would never send me an email like that. They would send me a personal message and probably include some sort of link to the product or service they think will rock my world. If I’m actively searching for a solution, I’ll find a link to click on and again never end up with one of those emails.
Those emails are nothing short of spam, in my humble opinion.
But, But, Growth Hacking?!
If you have an app with viral appeal, don’t you want to make it easy for your users to share it with their friends? Yes, you do. But you also don’t want to become known as the spamming app. So where is the balance?
First, you need to understand that there at least two different types of invites that can go out. The first is when you’re inviting people to join you in a collaborative effort. So if you’re using a product like Zengine, Zula or Zoho, you can invite people to join you. This is very different than inviting people to try out the app independently of your own usage. The second type of invite is one that encourages people to sign up, but really has nothing to do with you. By asking you to sign up for Twitter, yes I’m growing my own network, but really I want you to become part of this system in which you and I will never interact. I have no issue with the former (we’re most likely co-workers in that situation), but the latter is what leads to spam.
Systems that encourage spamming try to make it sound like you will benefit from inviting others and at times go as far as to offer you some sort of point system. In the case of social or business networks you’ll be told to invite new people to grow your personal network. In the case of Facebook games, a user who invites others may actually gain points.
Although I’m not a fan of these methods, they must work somewhat otherwise I find it hard to believe that so many people would continue to use it. But just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.
A New Kind of Invite
What I plan on implementing in Rungs.me (if I ever have the time to build it) is an invite system that doesn’t send out invites. What I mean by that is, I want to encourage happy users to share the app with others (because growth hacking) but I also don’t want them to spam. So within the interface I will encourage them to share the app, but via a link. That’s right, instead of giving them a system that allows them to easily send out an invite link, they will need to copy and paste it into (gasp) a real conversation. The theory is that if I force users to share a link within an email or Facebook conversation then hopefully they’ll only share it with people with whom they have a real relationship or with people actively searching for a solution like Rungs. The theory is that I can still encourage growth but at the same time cut out spam.
There are two “exceptions” of sorts that I would like to point out. The first is DropBox, which is very famous for their growth-via-invite system. If you invite someone to DropBox, and they accept, you get more storage space and your friend gets an awesome new app to use. It’s still a little spammy, I’ll admit, but they did in theory try to create more of a win-win situation for their current and new users.
The second exception is InVision. After using the app for a while, I was encouraged begin inviting friends in to use the app. They gave me no incentive to do so other than that the invitees would receive premium usage for free for 3 months. That’s right, I was not going to gain anything other than the satisfaction of spreading the love. This means that invites are only going out to people who I think will actually benefit (no spam) from the app. Kudos, InVision.