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Lead Generation

ReferralKey – budding online referral network with a twist


New service ReferralKey is gaining traction in the professional world by offering rewards in exchange for referrals through a simple sign up process. You’ve probably already gotten emails with the subject line “Are you taking on new clients?” from people suggesting you for the ReferralKey program.

When a colleague locates someone who can use your service, they click “Send Referral” which then emails you the lead and if you sign up with the service and agree to referral gifts, the colleague is rewarded for sending you the referral.

It is a simple concept and even offers a Pro version wherein you don’t have to know the lead source, and given that real estate professionals understand the referral concept better than most, we suspected that it would be a huge portion of users, so we asked Christopher Ott, Director of Social Media and Technology at ReferralKey who told us, “Yes, Realtors, believe it or not, are Referral Key’s biggest demographic, and although Referral Key is used by many different types of professionals, Realtors seem to love it best.”

Behind the scenes at ReferralKey

We interviewed Ott about ReferralKey’s history, features and team; here is what we learned in their own words:

Referral Key was born out of the time-tested idea that referrals from trusted colleagues are the best way to grow your business. Our founder and CEO Lewis A. Weinstein is a serial entrepreneur and has started many successful businesses. The secret to his success is maintaining a trusted network and doing right by people. This simple idea has driven our company since the beginning.

Back in 2006 at the onset of the social media boom, Lewis saw an opportunity to take referral networking online. Referral networking is something every successful professional was doing informally offline since antiquity but Lewis had an epiphany that the emerging online social technology could be paired with a classic and proven growth strategy.

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In 2007 Lewis launched Referral Key and brought me on board because of my reputation as a leader within the emerging social media sphere and my ability to help Referral Key stay ahead of the technological curve by listening to members and offering innovations that no other site can.

As the years have progressed we’ve consulted top level academics from places such as Harvard and MIT, polled tens of thousands of business owners, spoken with thousands of professionals, shared our ideas in many media outlets, imparted advice to Fortune 500 leaders, and pushed the product in a direction to constantly up the ante and add more and more value to our members.

One “ah ha” moment we had was when we realized we could bring accountability to networking online. While many “gurus” were retrofitting other big social media sites and promoting them as “referral networks”, we knew the sales results didn’t match the hype due to a lack of accountability within member networks. We’ve boosted accountability in two revolutionary ways. First, instead of promoting building up a massive network of strangers, Referral Key is a place where you primarily invite people you already know to join your network. We never opened the flood gates and inviting people you already know and trust to your network is the first thing you do when you sign up. Reputation is everything on Referral Key, and it isn’t about passing around your nephews resume; it’s about doing right by customers and “wowing” the colleagues that refer you new business.

Second, we introduced “referral rewards”. Anyone can sit around on a social media site and say “I want sales”, but often the simple act of saying “thank you” with a gift, is all it takes to boost your visibility amongst the people you know. There’s so much noise out there, and we all want new business, but you have to give referrals and say “thank you” if you want to stand out.

Realtors love our site and are our single biggest vertical for many reason. First, we all know that just a few referrals can make a big difference for a Realtor so it makes sense for Realtors to use Referral Key. Second, I find Realtors to be very sociable and adventurous people. They’ve been big fans since the beginning and while other professionals are often skeptical and need a lot of encouragement to try something new, Realtors are always willing to discover better ways of doing things and they don’t keep us a secret either.

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The American Genius is news, insights, tools, and inspiration for business owners and professionals. AG condenses information on technology, business, social media, startups, economics and more, so you don’t have to.



  1. Joe Loomer

    May 24, 2011 at 3:49 am

    At the risk of making an "I don't think this internet thing is catching on" statement – I don't see this going anywhere (remember "stik") unless it branches well out of the real estate industry.

    Navy Chief, Navy Pride

  2. Wayne Harriman

    May 24, 2011 at 6:56 am

    Odd that we're just getting emails now (LOTS of emails) asking us to join, since they launched in 2007. I'd never heard of them until this month! And, I'm undecided as to whether this will be a valuable source of referrals.

  3. Chris

    May 24, 2011 at 11:42 am

    Honest and insightful write up Lani.

    Joe, our site isn't anything like "Stik", and we do service many verticals although real estate is a personal fav and realtors tend to find the site very useful.

    Wayne, the reason you are getting emails now is because we meticulously grew the site very slowly. We focused on maintaining trusted networks while other networks flared up and fizzled. Through the hard work of influential people like this blogger, we've had the opportunity to add value to even more people, and get some hard-earned exposure.

  4. Laura

    May 24, 2011 at 6:46 pm

    I'm in realty, the site is awesome!

  5. social media news

    May 27, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    I’ve been big fans since the beginning and while other professionals are often skeptical and need a lot of encouragement to try something new.

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    May 25, 2012 at 9:44 am

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