Incentivized Viral Advertising

A few weeks ago, one of my (remote) Facebook friends who has a PhD linked to a training program for data scientists.  As you know, I’m incredibly undecided about what my first post-PhD job will be, so I’m always kind of on the lookout for ideas for how to leverage my PhD.  I checked out the link and it actually sounded like a really great deal.


big dataThe training program is new this year and is a six-week course this summer in New York.  The boot camp is intended to take (near) PhDs and brush up their quantitative skills so that they are prepared to work as data scientists and can ease their transition to the private sector.  It’s sponsored by companies that employ data scientists (participants only pay for living expenses) and ends with a recruiting process with the sponsors.


The really interesting part of the website was that there was an incentive program for spreading the word.  The link I clicked on was a referral link.  If I applied to the program and was accepted, my friend would be paid a reward of $1,024.  If I shared the link and someone who used my link was accepted, I would get $1,024 and the friend whose link I clicked would get $512.  For each degree of separation from the accepted applicant, you are awarded half as much money (stopping at $1).


I was legitimately interested in this program, so I signed up to receive further information.  The confirmation email included my personal referral link.  So, naturally, I put it on Facebook.  Would I have put it on Facebook if I hadn’t read about the referral?  Without the incentive there was a 10% chance I would have shared, but having seen those incentives I definitely wanted to do it.  And I’ll admit it, I was kind of excited that I was the first person in my closer social circles to share the link (that I saw).  I know lots of PhDs-in-the-making who are undecided about their careers.  🙂


Since I first saw the program advertised on FB, a couple of my friends have shared their referral links there.  I’ve even received a few emails to listservs I’m on at my university from individual students letting others know about the program, which I thought was pretty bold!  One of my friends also personally emailed me to let me know about the program (forwarding someone’s else’s link).


I thought this referral bonus idea was terribly clever.  It totally worked on me (as far as sharing goes) and a bunch of my peers as well – and I thought I wasn’t susceptible to advertising!  I’m convinced that the word about this program spread far faster than it would have without those monetary incentives in place.  They’re spending $2,047 on recruiting each program participant – I wonder how much that compares to the cost of the program overall.  It’s probably pretty cheap for the hiring companies if they get the right person.  I also wonder if they’ll repeat this incentive program next year when people already have more awareness – maybe not.


The possibility of getting hundreds of dollars just by exposing the right person to your link –  that’s worth a share, isn’t it?  It was for me!  And I think the program got the word out about their first year very effectively and will have lots of applicants as a result.


I don’t know if you’ll believe me, but I didn’t write this post just to share my referral link – it really is mostly about the clever advertising scheme and I hope I am a beneficiary of it!  But hey, I don’t want to miss my chance if one of you is interested and qualified enough to attend The Data Incubator.  So if you’re want more information or to apply (or share your own link with your PhD friends), this is my referral link!  But I actually decided not to apply, myself.  :/


Have you ever seen such high rewards associated with recruitment programs available to non-employees?  Would/have you ever participated in referring someone and what role did the reward play?  What do you think of the boot camp idea?


photo from Free Digital Photos


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4 Responses to "Incentivized Viral Advertising"

  1. It is an interesting concept. I feel like that is the major gap in most PhD researchers… that tangible quality of knowing when to stop, and working in a different sector than their research.

    “Oh you’re a synthetic chemist and now you’re working at a drug company? Okay, that makes sense… go make us this.” Anything that is at least one step removed makes that transition much more confusing, for both the PhD graduate and the company hiring.

    I think those referrals are awesome incentive to spread the net, but sometimes I’m so sick of seeing the same things over and over again. For example, one of my friends is a Beachbody coach and makes good money at it (about $6,000 per month) but I’m so sick of all her pushing and promotions on FB that I took her out of my news feed. That being said, people do a lot more pushing for a lot less incentive than $1,000 (or some fraction of that).
    Alicia @ Financial Diffraction recently posted..Sometimes You Get What You Ask For.

    1. Emily says:

      I agree that it’s a great idea to help the transition out of the PhD. There is one little caveat that you can’t interview with non-sponsoring companies during their recruiting process, so I guess it remains to be seen how much arm-twisting there might be to join a sponsoring company.

      Thankfully at least in my circles the advertising did not blow up to the point of being annoying! I would hide a friend repeatedly promoting a product I don’t care about also.

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