Louis Nicholls8 min readPartner postsAugust 10, 2020

How to grow your email audience faster with word-of-mouth

How to grow your email audience faster with word-of-mouth

One of the hardest challenges you’ll face as a newsletter creator is growing your email list.

While there are loads of growth strategies and marketing channels to choose from, each with pros and cons, you only have so much time and money to grow your email list. 

At the end of the day, it’s a balancing act, which is why successful newsletter creators are always on the lookout for quick wins. Enter, word-of-mouth marketing. 

What is word-of-mouth (WOM)?

We’ve all experienced word-of-mouth marketing. It’s when people recommend or share their opinion about a product or service. 

For example, one of your existing email subscribers tells their friends how much they like your newsletter, and then those friends go ahead and subscribe to your email list as well. It’s straightforward and super effective.

And, it turns out that word-of-mouth is a uniquely effective growth lever. 


Because it sits in that sweet spot of being low-effort, low-cost, and scalable.

word of mouth marketing low effort green

After all, you don’t have to pay Facebook or Google the price of a cup of coffee every time someone shares your newsletter with their friend. And they can do it while you’re sound asleep.

Oh, another great thing about these referred subscribers—they open more emails and they’re more likely  They tend to have higher engagement rates. to buy something once they’re on the list.

Word-of-mouth is an affordable, low-effort way to get more, highly-engaged subscribers onto your email list.

What’s not to love?!

Well, there’s always a catch with something that sounds too good to be true.  For most email creators, word-of-mouth sharing simply doesn’t happen often enough to make a difference to your audience growth.

Luckily, you can find ways to keep the momentum and turn word-of-mouth into one of your top growth channels pretty quickly!


Here's how successful email creators are harnessing the power of word-of-mouth growth.

1. Make it easy to share

It’s kinda obvious when you think about it…

If you want word-of-mouth growth to happen more often, then you need to make it easy for your subscribers to share!

Just take a look at what the team behind The Forem did:

They achieved a 3x increase in the number of subscribers who share on Twitter...

All by including a pre-populated sharing link in their emails!

word of mouth marketing referral email example

The key here was to highlight a few, popular channel options their audience was already sharing on. 

And they pre-populated the links with a friendly message. To make it that little bit easier for the subscribers to share.

2. Ask people to share (at the right time)

Sure, some of your subscribers will come up with the idea to share your content with their friends all on their own.

But, if you want it to happen more often, you should give them a nudge asking them to share.

For best results, you want to ask often and you want to ask when you’ve just provided the subscriber with value.

For example, if you’re using MailerLite’s embedded survey feature to ask for feedback on your newsletter content, you could create an automation to immediately send a “please share” email to any subscriber who responds to the survey saying they’re enjoying it.

3. Reward people for sharing

You’ve asked your subscribers to share. You made it easy for them to spread the word. You’re off to a great start!

But, if you really want to harness word-of-mouth as a growth tactic, you’ll need to incentivize your subscribers to share more often. 


Create a referral program to reward them when they refer new subscribers.

Email referral programs are the secret sauce driving growth for some of the fastest-growing newsletters and email lists out there. See how Morning Brew motivates their subscribers.

word of mouth email marketing rewards morning brew

At least 30% of Morning Brew’s subscribers come from referrals. And acquiring these subscribers via referrals costs them just $0.30 on average, which is more than 10x cheaper than the $3-5 CPA they pay for acquiring new subscribers from Facebook ads!

word of mouth email marketing

Now, not everyone has the right audience to set up a fancy referral program. Like Morning Brew, with their multiple reward tiers and physical rewards.

But pretty much every email creator can grow their list at least 10% faster with a referral program...

By repurposing a reward you already have lying around, and using it to drive referrals.

Take NYT-bestselling author James Clear, for example. He rewards his newsletter subscribers with access to a secret monthly newsletter. All they have to do is refer to three people.

And this kind of referral reward is super easy to set up. You can combine SparkLoop and MailerLite’s Interest Groups feature.

word of mouth email marketing secret newsletter example

Do you run online courses, have an info product, or a paid community?

Then it's easy and quick to incentivize referrals by repurposing old content. 

What if revenue is a bigger concern than audience growth?

Then you can offer discounts and trial memberships as rewards. So you grow faster while also increasing conversion rates.

Dan at Trapital did exactly this by offering a free trial month to his paid membership in return for referrals.

And, not only did his audience grow over 10% faster, but he nearly doubled his conversion rate of paying members!

membership word of mouth marketing example

4. Keep things fresh

Do you send your subscribers regular emails? 

Then there’s a chance your long-term subscribers will start to skip over the ‘request to share’ or referral section in your email content.


Because they’ve seen it ten times before.

To keep your subscribers sharing and word-of-mouth growth high, you need to shake things up:

  • Change your “please share” copy slightly
  • If your share section is normally at the bottom of your email, move it to the middle (or the top)
  • If you have a referral program, try switching up the rewards to grab attention

Madison Mellish, the creator of Your Weekly Whine, has a clever way to add FOMO and increases word-of-mouth growth for her newsletter.

Instead of a fixed reward for referring new subscribers, Madison runs a time-limited giveaway.

“Refer one new subscriber this week, and be entered into a draw to win a private wine tasting class!”

This encourages her existing subscribers to take action and share now.

And it resulted in 70% faster subscriber growth!

Not bad for something which takes just a few seconds to set up if you’re using SparkLoop and MailerLite together.

word of mouth marketing letter email example

5. Track who is sharing internally

Is your email audience in a specific industry? Or is your content based on a specific topic? 

Then it’s likely some of your subscribers are ‘high-potential sharers’.

Maybe they work at a large company where lots of their colleagues should also be subscribing to your newsletter.

Or perhaps they are ‘influencer’ subscribers with a large online following of people who are just like your audience.

Either way, you need to identify these 'high-potential sharers' ASAP. You can find these subscribers by tracking their shares and then reaching out to them. 

Andrew Kamphey, creator of the Influence Weekly newsletter, does exactly this to great effect. He uses SparkLoop to track which of his existing subscribers have referred a lot of new people to his email list.

Then, he sends them an email asking them (nicely) to share with their work colleagues/social followers who would be interested as well.

This often results in hundreds of new subscribers. All from a single email.

You can get all the details of how Andrew’s referral program boosted his newsletter growth by 50%, here.

tracking word of mouth email marketing example signature

Final thoughts

Let’s be real here.

For most email creators, word-of-mouth by itself won’t be enough to grow your list fast. You’ll still need to try other growth tactics such as content marketing or paid advertising.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take advantage of the low-hanging-fruit and optimize your word-of-mouth growth. After all, pretty much any email list can grow faster by following the tips above.

Why not get started by combining MailerLite and SparkLoop to get your word-of-mouth program up and running today!

Louis Nicholls

Louis is a newsletter author, course creator, and cofounder of SparkLoop where he spends most of his time helping email creators get more subscribers with a referral program. He'd love for you to say hi on Twitter.