Ever since LinkedIn, referral sites are popping up like mushrooms – but which ones are worth your time? LinkedIn was gold even back in its early days, and what made it work was that it was an original idea that quickly attracted real professionals. While often labeled as a social media site, LinkedIn is a lot more than standard social media. What sets LinkedIn apart is its design and functionality, which in turn attracts the right pool of people, and that in turn launched the site to its first tier status.
But there’s a tricky gray area when referral sites get treated like social media. It can either go really well or horribly wrong.
Take Yelp for example. Yelp is also a referral site, but one that does double duty as a business directory. Yelp took two great ideas (listings and reviews) and created an innovative platform. Yelp and LinkedIn are both stellar go-to sources where you should be harvesting referrals. You should be using Yelp for customer reviews, especially if you’re a retailer, and for colleague/vendor referrals.
BranchOut: Promises, Promises…
You’ve also probably heard of BranchOut. I mentioned it quite a while back when I talked about ways companies can attract quality recruits – and BranchOut is great for that. As I’ve mentioned, BranchOut allows job seekers to use their Facebook connections to locate friends’ companies that are currently hiring. Conversely, employers can also use the application to search for future employees.
However, when it comes to soliciting referrals, in my opinion BranchOut is not the premiere service. Yes, many signed on, but most people don’t know what BranchOut is nor do they know how to use it. I saw BranchOut spread like wildfire on Facebook, but after such quick growth it plummeted just as quickly. Months in, no one really remembers or uses it for referrals. The real decision makers remain on Linkedin, which they’ve worked hard to grow and understand – they’re not looking to start all over again with a new application.
Referrals with a Side of Spam
And then there’s Referral Key, which I first came across when a contact I hadn’t talked to in years, who had never referred business my way, contacted me to join. It had a very spammy feel and would I really want leads from people who don’t even know me and have never done business with me? Probably not.
Some people might say, “but a lead is a lead, and money is money.” I disagree. You don’t want to waste time with leads that are coming from sources who don’t understand your preferred client type, who don’t understand what you even do or how you do it. This easily leads to a bunch of ‘junk leads’ that require a lot of time spent just establishing communication – with little return.
Referral Key also lets you spam out invitation emails to everyone on your mailing list – which doesn’t exactly present you in a professional light to your contacts. I’ll pass on this one. The right referrals come from cultivated relationships, give and take, as well as sites that have taken the time to slowly peak to maturity.
When it comes to what’s new on the horizon, not every platform is disappointing…stay tuned for my review on Empire Avenue, a site that does for referrals what Darwin did for evolution.