I completely did away with ‘referral codes’ this morning.
When we launched Nation of Neighbors back in June we wanted to ensure that we didn’t have spammers signing up and sending out reports with our broadcast system. While they never succeeded sending out a spam report on our previous site (Watch Jefferson County), that was only because we were hyper vigilant and limited to a small geographic area. They tried all the time. Ron literally had a full time volunteer job deleting spam. Based on that experience, we built a number of spam control measures into Nation of Neighbors. One of those controls was the ‘referral code’ system.
Here’s how it worked: Rather than allowing prospective members to join immediately, prospective members instead requested a referral. If the prospective member lived within the boundaries of an existing group, the request was shown to existing members who could choose to send the prospective member an invitation. When the prospective member lived in a new area, the invitation was issued by an admin. This barrier to entry was supposed to limit ‘false’ registrations and help community leaders control who got to see and share information in their community (you can still elect to approve all group members in your group’s settings). After all, you know who really lives in your community. We don’t. In reality, our existing communities were already pretty well covered, so Ron and I ended up sending most of the invitations anyway.
Two months ago I changed our system over to ’self-invitation’. You entered your phone number or email address and received a code that you entered on the signup form. I believe that’s still excessive and redundant – 50% of the potential members who requested a referral never returned to sign up. Many of those potential members lived within existing community groups.
Why did we ever require referral codes? In my own words:
This small barrier to entry helps us maintain high quality membership and data. The referral system also helps us avoid ‘members’ who would sign up to post spam. The referral system also helps ensure that we can limit growth to a manageable level and focus on growth at the local level when new community groups are added.
Spam has not been a problem (we currently have 10 times more traffic than Watch Jefferson did without a single spam message to delete) and we have had no problem controlling traffic or ‘growth’. In fact, I wish we had that problem. I should have known better.
To everyone who took the time to fill out the extra forms – please accept my apologies. If there are other barriers to participation that we should know about, please let us know!