tag you're itThink back, way way back to the times when you played tag on the playground. For the young ones among us, tag was the game we played before all the kids had cell phones and only walked to PokemonGo gyms. On the off chance that anyone reading this doesn’t remember playing tag or can’t remember how it works, the game is pretty simple. One person who is “it” chases everyone else to try and tag them. If they get a hand on the person – that person is now “it” and they’re off to tag the next person.

While it’s pretty simple on the surface level, there were player dynamics. There were the people who would find hiding places, hoping that the person who was tagged “it” may never realize their hiding place and they’d stay safe from being tagged. There were the kids who would quickly identify the slowest or smallest kid and tag them. The kids who would turn around to tag the person who was most recently tagged. The ones who wouldn’t tag their friends but would have spies amongst the ranks who would rat out the people in hiding places. The list goes on.

While we, as kids, weren’t thinking about the dynamics and strategies of each child – we were learning a few marketing lessons, unbeknownst to us. We learned how to motivate action, how to inspire certain behaviors and, how to get out of the hot seat, of course. Slowly but surely as we grew up, we started to recognize these dynamics as an inevitability of life and interaction.

Marketing and Referrals

From the marketing lense, we realize the reason tag works is because there’s an endless stream of sharing and connectivity. We’re constantly looking for the next person, it’s easy to add new people to the mix and there are player dynamics. All elements of a great game and, in marketing or recruiting – a great referral program.

Referrals make sense, of course. Grow my business and I’ll reward you handsomely with some percentage of my earnings. It sounds a bit like a mob when I say it that way but in essence, they are – in fact – trying to create a mob. They need a network of advocates to sustain their business and new growth is much easier when you don’t have to nudge people through the top half of the funnel. People trust their friends. 94% of consumers trust referrals from people they know.

These leads come more qualified too, in both recruiting and marketing. In a buying scenario, they’re 4x more likely to convert, they stay longer and they’re more likely to share again, starting the cycle all over again. In recruiting, the numbers are just as impressive. These people are more likely to accept offers, to stay longer and to be happier overall. Win, win, win.

It makes sense that marketing and recruiting departments are constantly bombarding us with messages to refer a friend. In recruiting, we offer scaling rewards from a $10 gift card to $10,000 at some companies. So with the constant advertising and requests, why aren’t we all rushing to refer a friend? Why don’t people just jump on board when we throw money at them?

Not so fast. We want to protect our reputation even more. $10,000 isn’t worth losing a friend and their trust. Because when it comes to work, even more so than products, there’s a certain level of trust implied with a recommendation. And the question “will you refer” is asked before people build the infrastructure to make it easy while at the same time, playing to the egos and motivations of the end user. That’s part of what goes into companies with crappy referral programs –ego, of course. If getting someone a job or helping them accomplish a task doesn’t result in a thank you and some kind of reward, we’re less likely to do it.

Rewards and Referral Tech

tag funnyBut rewards aren’t everything when it comes to referrals. While there’s a whole group of people who can’t generate referrals because of a terrible company culture, there are also people who haven’t figured out how to inject marketing principals so it’s easy in the first place for people to refer and rewards are easily executed.

A great referral program and referral software mirrors a great marketing call to action – and uses a lot of the same models to keep it functioning. As more companies are looking to evaluate referral software, there are a few things that come to mind.

  • Check Yourself: One traditional referral model does not fit all. Consider what motivates most of your employees or, consider offering different levels of rewards. For example, Teamable found that executives and junior employees respond to different rewards. Senior employees/executives are more motivated by protecting their reputation and competition among other senior employees/executives whereas junior employees are more motivated by recognition and small rewards for actions that are in their control such as messaging people in their networks about open positions. Remember, junior employees have a lot less input into the ultimate hiring decision so making a reward contingent on a hire can be demotivating over time if the things that are out of their control (salary, hiring manager preferences, etc.) knock their referrals out late in the funnel. Equally de-motivating for both groups is never finding out what happened to their referral, or worse, having a referral ignored.
  • Get Specific: If you tell someone to think of the best baseball team of all time, there are a million follow up questions. A lot of what-if scenarios. But if we make it more specific, for example – who is the greatest baseball player of all time: Jackie Robinson or Babe Ruth, you can answer that question. You can because it’s specific. Because it triggers a flashback to muscle memory, not a vague question where you are trying to pick one decision point from a wide array of ideas and concepts your brain is processing. The same goes for referring a colleague. If I ask if you know any engineers, a few may come to mind. But if I ask who was the best engineer at Care.com, perhaps a more specific name comes to mind. You need software that suggests, not one that just hosts that infrastructure. Better yet, tap into employees’ digital memory – aka, their social connections and email address books – to help them recall the best talent they know.
  • Share, No Shit: The way you recommend people matters, too. Your software must embed social networks. That feels like common sense in a world where you’re more likely to first post on Facebook instead of calling your own mother but we all know common sense isn’t so common.
  • Amazon Level Easy: It has to be as easy as an Amazon purchase to contact those friends, too. It’s because we’re spoon feeding them the ideas they need to be effective and make the next choice.  Going to employees with specific people from their network and messaging content already written for them about specific jobs to send to those people can boost participation in programs from roughly 30% to 80% and the number of quality (meaning right fit for opening positions) referrals per employee by 100 – 500%. (Pro tip – don’t forget about networks like FB, Github for engineers, Twitter for marketers, etc as these represent strong connections that employees are likely to have influence over) Having a good tracking and recognition mechanism ensures participation continues over time too.

Tag, you’re it.

Katrina Kibben is the Managing Editor for RecruitingDaily. Follow her on Twitter @KatrinaKibben or connect with her on LinkedIn.

By Katrina Kibben

RecruitingDaily contributing writer and editor.  I am a storyteller. A tactical problem solver. A curious mind. A data nerd. With that unique filter, I work to craft messages that strategically improve the perceptions and experiences of our clients, the people they employ and the candidates they wish to attract. I methodically review and collect research and insights to offer solution-based recommendations that meet the one-off, and not so one-off, recruiting and employer branding problems of today's global employers.