What is the Modern Referral?

What is the Modern Referral?

Like a nice pair of blue jeans, a word-of-mouth recommendation never goes out of style. But nowadays, it comes with a few neat (and increasingly important) accessories: online reviews, testimonials and social mentions. Together, this set of four makes up the Modern Referral.  

It used to be that referrals were predominantly word of mouth. But as new platforms came around, referrals evolved. Facebook, Google and websites became way bigger things and so the definition of a referral expanded to take in this vast new landscape. 

Now we’re at the point where clients are just as likely to talk up your company online as they are face-to-face. This is what defines the Modern Referral.

The Modern Referral consists of online reviews, testimonials, social mentions and word-of-mouth recommendations.
These are the four elements that make up the Modern Referral.

Online reviews 

Online reviews are essential for getting discovered via organic and local Google searches. They help increase your ranking and build trust from the get-go, especially when users organize their search by review ranking

So that means you want lots and lots of 5-star reviews immediately, right? Wrong… ish.  

How consistently well-reviewed an agency is over time is essential to the Modern Referral. Too many reviews too quickly can hurt your ranking. Prospects need to trust reviews for them to be effective, meaning authenticity is key.

Reviews have a bigger impact when they’re consistent and posted over time. 

All this means you should be encouraging your best, most loyal customers to leave reviews, ideally through the Net Promoter Score® (NPS®) survey. 


While reviews help you get discovered online, testimonials on your website encourage prospects to call you. They’re the social proof you need to establish trust. They tell stories that people connect with and often mention the types of services you offer, so the reader gets a more detailed glimpse.  

Testimonials don’t just increase new business, they boost retention. The effort of writing a testimonial means the client is much less likely to leave, almost like putting out a political yard sign. Once it’s planted in the ground, you’re not turning back. As with reviews, the NPS survey can help you gather these essential pieces of feedback. 

Important: Testimonials and reviews are not the same. Read more about the difference here.

Social mentions 

A social mention is any time a testimonial or shout-out related to your company is posted to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. The goal is to reach the friends and family members of your clients who may be open to switching over to your company. What makes this type of referral so powerful is that people trust what their friends say.  

But don’t leave it solely to clients to post mentions. Make sure your agency has a social media page and use it to share client testimonials… in moderation. If you’re blasting testimonial after testimonial on Facebook, they lose their power really fast.  

Last up, be a conversation starter on social media. Getting lots of discussions going is a great way of displaying your knowledge and expertise—and shows you’re the real deal. 

People trust recommendations from their friends on social media over public reviews. 

Word of mouth  

And here we are at the granddaddy of them all: the word-of-mouth referral. But that doesn’t mean you should be going up to a client and saying, “give me a referral, please!” Directly asking for them just doesn’t work if you haven’t warmed the person first. It puts them on the spot, and they freeze.  

Instead, good word-of-mouth referrals don’t happen in your office. They take place after a client’s friend, peer or co-worker expresses a need to them. That’s usually on a casual phone call, over coffee, on a golf outing or during a special occasion.  

You’re not going to be there to control that kind of situation. Staying top of mind is the next best thing you can do. Carefully timed communications, that land when people are more likely to be around friends and family, are what’ll get you in that position (birthday cards, holiday greetings, etc.). Plus, use the NPS survey to figure out who’s the most likely to refer you to a friend and then send them just the right kind of encouraging message.  

Matthew breaks down the Modern Referral in less than 60 seconds.  

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