Best Practice · Last modified July 15, 2009

If I enjoy an experience enough, I may want to share it with you, and if you're not already connected to the place where I'm enjoying my experience, I'm going to need to invite you in by sending you an invitation.

(a.k.a., Send Invitation.)

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When to Use This Pattern

  • Use when the user experience is enhanced by having a network of connections.
  • Use when growth of the service is dependent on friends of friends.
  • Use when you want to supplement traditional user acquisition with user based referrals.
  • Use when a user has participated in the site enough to have formed an opinion of the value, to then recommend it to a friend.
  • Don't use right after registration when the user hasn't actually used the site. When presenting the option to invite others, do so after enough interaction with your site that the user actually has something to refer.
  • [does the above point become invalid when the use of the site is actually dependent on bringing a network of people with you into the site?]

What's the Solution?

  • Use an in-context email form.
  • Provide the user with messaging that showcases the benefits of joining the service.
  • Make the pre-filled content editable and allow the user the ability to personalize the invitation.
  • Allow the user to invite others via access to their address books.
  • Provide a mechanism that allows the user to send a copy of the message to themselves.
  • Provide a mechanism to bring contacts and email addresses over from other social services. Use a standard accepted technology like OAuth and OpenID rather than the password anti-pattern (see page #).
  • Don't force a user to invite others to the site before they have had a chance to try out the features.
  • Don't spam a user's address book or contact list from other sites.

Why Use This Pattern?

Allowing users to invite their friends to your site is part of the viral nature of a social site. Providing tools and system interactions that allow your users to be good netizens will enhance the overall experience and your site's reputation in the long run.

Special Cases

If the use of the site and its features is heavily dependent on a group of people interacting, the need to allow a user to bring their friends along, through invitations or bulk registering will override the recommendation of encouraging use before inviting friends.