2 x Subscribers with a Mailchimp Newsletter Referral Program [Case Study: SIDE]

May 11, 2022

Feel free to watch the full video interview above (coming soon) or read the summary below.

Can you give me a quick overview of your business?

SIDE is a Seoul-based newsletter, community, and media for multipotentialites. We interview people who design their own lives and create content for those who have more than one interest or passion.

How did you come up with the idea?

For 10 years I specialized in digital marketing and content creation for many agencies and startups. But whenever someone asked me what my dream was, I got confused because I had a lot of interests and passions…(and still do!)

Just a few of Ashley's interests.

In 2017, I quit my job, took a gap year, and traveled all around the world. I met a bunch of cool people and became really interested in the digital nomad lifestyle and how they created their own jobs. I was inspired and started thinking about how I could get started on my own. 

In 2020, I started interviewing these people and built a blog sharing their stories. My goal was to gather people who felt like me in Korea and let them know that there was nothing wrong with them. I wanted to share what I learned from my experiences and those interviews and give them tips and inspiration on how to start their own side project. If you have a dream, you should just go for it! I did the same and started this newsletter :)

Why did you decide to run a referral program?

I believed that referral marketing would be the most cost-effective way to grow SIDE’s community. People with multiple passions have friends who are alike. I was confident about the quality of my content and thought that these stories would be something that my subscribers would want to share. I also saw that The Hustle and Morning Brew had built successful newsletter referral campaigns which contributed a lot to their growth.

What was the most important thing you were looking for in a newsletter referral campaign?

I was looking for a solution that can count how many subscribers one person can bring. SIDE gives out merchandise rewards based on referral points so I needed to be able to track that. We spend zero on paid marketing/advertising, and all our subscribers are from word-of-mouth referrals!

Why did you choose ReferralHero?

ReferralHero integrates with Mailchimp and I could easily implement the tool directly into the bottom of my newsletter emails without any coding knowledge (more on this below).

How did you first launch the campaign?

By the time I launched the newsletter, I already had a small following on my blog and Instagram because of the interviews I was doing. I announced that I was going to start a newsletter and to my surprise, 600 people signed up. When I emailed people for the first time, I introduced them to the referral program and gave them their unique referral URL. Within 7 days I doubled my subscribers to 1500! And that was just the start…

What was the user journey like for someone subscribing to your newsletter referral program?

1. We used the ReferralHero Widget as the primary signup method for our newsletter and placed it on multiple pages on our website. Here you can see it placed on our home page:

Here is the SIDE sign up form visible on the home page.

We ask people to fill out 4 different fields when they sign up:

  • Please provide us with your name :)
  • A brief introduction of your passion
  • How did you come to know this was your passion?
  • Email

2. As soon as someone signs up to the widget, they are shown the sharing screen as a popup:

Here is the ReferralHero sharing screen after someone signs up.

Translated text seen on the popup:

  • The person is asked to confirm their email address
  • Congratulates them on becoming a SIDE Member
  • Shows them the number of people they referred and their position
  • Prompts them to share their unique referral URL

3. ReferralHero sends the email confirmation to the person

4. After the person confirms their email, they are automatically added to ReferralHero and the user data (Name, email, form fields, unique referral link, # of referrals, position #, etc) is passed over to Mailchimp via the ReferralHero native integration.

5. Each time a newsletter is sent out, information about the referral program, what they can win, AND their unique referral URL is added at the bottom:

Example of how you can add ReferralHero into your newsletter email footer.

We personalize the reminder about the referral program and then add the person's unique referral link and referral score in an effort to motivate them to refer more people!

6. People share their stories and referral links on social media, inviting their friends to the community.

People sharing SIDE on facebook using their referral link.

7. A dedicated landing page was set up for inbound friends who have been referred. They are immediately prompted to sign up for the newsletter and they can also see all of the previous newsletters we have published.

The referral program landing page was automatically translated into English for better understanding :)

8. As friends sign up for our newsletter, they are also immediately shown their unique referral URL and prompted to invite more friends… and the whole cycle is repeated :)

9. As people accumulate points they can redeem them by visiting a checkout page on the website:

Page where people redeem their referral points!

10. They fill in the number of points they want to redeem and pay for shipping. After the person claims their points, we manually reduce their point total in the ReferralHero admin.

How much time did it take to plan and execute your Mailchimp referral campaign?

About two weeks.

What was your reward and how did you decide on this reward?

I created some clever slogans and illustrations that would resonate with people and printed them on SIDE stickers and T-shirts. Stickers are good because people like them, they are cheap, and easy to ship, which keeps costs down.

People are rewarded with stickers when they refer 5 friends!
People are rewarded with a T-shirt when they refer 30 friends!

How did you promote or drive traffic to your referral program?

Through my social media, blogs, and subscribers' word of mouth. That said since the referral program is integrated directly with all of the newsletter signup forms, anytime the newsletter is promoted, the referral program is also promoted.

What was the goal of your campaign and why?

Increase meaningful subscribers. We are focused on having real, authentic subscribers who welcome our content, and encouraging referrals is a great way to do it. As you can see the ratio of subscribers to referrals is very good and more and more people are joining every day:

Actual image of subscribers and referrals joining daily.

Can you measure any increase in revenue or growth?

Yes, 54% of our newsletter subscribers have been attributed to a referral and 4.4% of people have referred at least one person. Our newsletter list continues to grow every day with the referral program:

The newsletter has grown from 600 to 7,000+ subscribers in 6 months!

It was also interesting to know that ~5 people brought in 100+ subscribers, ~25 people brought in 10+ subscribers, and 100s of others have brought in 1 or 2 subscribers.

While not all subscribers are active, almost half the subscribers have been referred.

What is the most important aspect of running a successful referral program and why?

Delivering a message that subscribers can really relate to, and encouraging word of mouth by giving out incentives (in the form of tangible items or premium information).

What features did you like most about ReferralHero and why?

I like the Mailchimp plug-in. Very convenient and powerful in terms of how you can seamlessly pass ReferralHero data to Mailchimp and include it within your emails. We were also able to customize the language of the ReferralHero Widget / Emails so that all of our communication was in Korean.

What would you say to someone who is thinking about launching a referral program?

I think it’s the best way to grow subscribers organically, especially if you are looking for subscribers with specific traits. I highly recommend building a newsletter referral program with ReferralHero!


Sign up for ReferralHero now and learn how you can create a similar Mailchimp newsletter referral program.

Thanks to Ashley for speaking with me today. Visit SIDE to see the referral program in action or join her newsletter :)

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