Paul Maxin, previously Global Resourcing Director at Unilever, now talent acquisition consultant at MaxinTalent and advisor to the employee referral platform Real Links, gives us his insight into one of the primary reasons businesses struggle to make referrals work.  

Whilst referrals are much acclaimed as a great source of talent attraction and engagement, in fact, 82% of employers rated employee referrals as having the best return on investment, research shows that organizations rarely achieve more than 7% of total hires through referrals.

There are multiple variables affecting the success of referrals.  Lack of clear strategy; unmotivating rewards; manual and time-consuming processes; stigma of poor referrals.  

The list goes on, but in my experience, there’s one variable that if overlooked, will single-handedly impact the success of referrals in every organization regardless of size, and that is your internal marketing strategy.

With an internal marketing strategy, employees are treated as “internal customers” who must be convinced of a company’s vision and worth just as aggressively as “external customers.”

In this case, the goal of internal marketing is to align the value of a company’s referral scheme to the values of its employees, and communicate that shared value consistently over time in order to achieve long-term engagement and results.

These days internal marketing has moved on from desk drops and posters in the toilets (though don’t ignore those traditional offline techniques – they will still carry value once we can get back to the office).  The way we communicate has become more complicated.  

It’s important all businesses, regardless of size, take internal communication seriously when launching something as significant as a new piece of referral technology.  Take stock of all stakeholders; available communication channels; employer brand messaging; target audience behaviour and the overarching short, medium and long term goals of your referral scheme will help build a good foundation for creating your internal marketing and communications plan.


Planning internal marketing for employee referrals

There’s a lot to think about when embarking on this journey, but here are a few considerations you should look at as part of your planning process:

  • Key Stakeholders – Identify and engage with all stakeholders as soon as possible.  In particular, if you have an internal marketing and comms team, involve them at the beginning of the process.  Other stakeholders include the management team; referral champions in each department and HR or talent acquisition team members responsible for the delivery of this project.  They will all be critical to how your scheme is communicated  
  • Focus Groups – Talk to your workforce pre-launch to find out what motivates them (money, time-off, restaurant vouchers, etc.) and identify their preferred communication channels (Slack, email, webinar, Microsoft Teams, etc.) and bear in mind this may not be the same for every department.
  • Develop Messaging – Messaging should create a common understanding of the referral scheme goals and rewards and help employees understand what is expected of them.
  • Set Objectives – Set short, medium and long term goals for referrals success and align your internal marketing plan to these.
  • Select Communication Platforms and Formats – Vary the format of your referral scheme messaging to appeal to as wide an audience as possible.  Video, webinar, emails, podcasts, short guides.  How your workforce engages with different content formats will vary.


There are many other considerations when writing your plan but one thing to remember is the importance of consistency.  

Your message needs time to embed with your audience so be patient and continue to push these messages over time.  Don’t forget to regularly check in with employees to evaluate what’s working.  

However, if there’s one piece of advice I’d like you to take away — and this is especially true of enterprise organisations — it would be to engage your internal marketing or communications team as early in the process as possible.  

If you can, I’d advise including them as part of pre-sale discussions with your referral platform provider so they are made aware of the mutual benefit of the platform and have the opportunity to take an active role in the communication strategy which will take the pressure off HR and Talent Acquisition.

If you’d like more detail and a structure to help you plan your internal marketing strategy for employee referrals, I have written a whitepaper outlining a step-by-step process and lots of practical guidance.  Download here.

Paul Maxin

Paul Maxin is the founding director of Max Intalent. He is a Talent and Talent Acquisition leader who focuses on transformation, talent management and acquisition strategy, employment brand, recruitment policy and the framework for operational delivery. Paul has globally lead recruitment transition as part of HR transformation.