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Referral Key – Clogging The Arteries Of My Inbox With Spam

June 19, 2013 UPDATE: I just got off the phone with Chris Ott, one of the founders of Referral Key. I recognized his name on my caller ID and was bracing for a rough call. It is completely understandable that they are not fans of this post. He could not have been nicer. It’s been over two years since this blog post went up, and he reached out to let me know that they’ve made many changes to Referral Key. He wanted me to know that much hard work has gone into improving the service. I told him that, full disclosure, I was not a user of the service and would not have time to give it a rigorous test drive in order to verify his representations. However, I agreed that, if he had an updated story to tell, I’d let him tell it here. I look forward to receiving some new information from him on the improvements they’ve made. Once I get the info, I’ll be sure to post another update here.

Referral Key spam in my inbox

Post from May 2011 begins here:
As a Social Media Strategist, I often feel a slight tug on my shirt sleeve whenever a new service debuts. When Quora came out (and when Scoble jumped in hard), I felt a need to check it out. I mean, I do this stuff for a living. I had better know what’s going on in the space. Diaspora? It’s the next Facebook! Joined!

So when I started receiving (lots of) emails in my inbox from people asking me to join Referral Key, I thought it was the next big service that I was going to have to try. Turns out, it’s not a new service. I found a Hubspot case study and accompanying video from February 2009, where Hubspot (a company I love) talks about how they helped increase their site traffic and leads. I suppose it feels new to me because this is the first I’ve heard of it, and I’ve received over 100 invitations to join in the past few days. That sort of groundswell usually accompanies a hot new product.

The first time I got an email with the subject line “Are you taking on new clients?” Holy crap, I was excited! You bet I’m taking clients! (what a hook). Ten seconds later, I felt the shame of spam, deflated, and just a little pissed. After receiving 100 of these emails? No one likes spam.

Here is what the typical email looks like:

Subject: Are you taking on new clients?

If you’re taking on new clients, I’d like to include you in my private referral network to send you business leads through Referral Key. Please accept my invitation below. Thanks!

Person’s Name
Name of Their Company
City, State

The message itself is almost identical every time. Subject line, body, signature…. all the same. This deluge of messages has been nothing short of annoying.

Now, in almost every public speaking appearance I make, I get on my soapbox for at least a minute or two and tell the audience that they need to be nice. The rules of online are not that much different than offline. Mom taught us that there are things we think that we don’t say. You always have to be nice. When curating content online, it is vitally important to remember this.

So it is with a bit of trepidation that I report to you that I responded to 30 of these emails. I did so for research purposes. To each person, I asked only the following:

May I ask why you are sending this to me?

Maybe this wasn’t nice. My intention was not to make the sender feel bad for having spammed me, or to sound like or be a dick. I wanted to see how many people would respond, and I wanted to read those responses. I wanted to learn something about social media and personal branding.

Out of 30 emails I sent, I received seven responses. Maybe I would have received more had I phrased my question differently. This isn’t a scientific poll. Here is a sampling of the responses:

“When I signed up for referralkey via an invitation, the site went through my LinkedIn contacts, of which you are one of my first degree connections, and sent the invitation asking you to join. If you don’t want to participate, please feel free to ignore the request.”

“This is a new website, just starting up, where individuals and business can support each other in referrals and I thought 1st, it is a good idea and 2nd that you might like , at least, to be aware of it. If you are not interested, then no problem. Didn’t mean to offend you or cause you any undo concerns. Thanks for your response.”

“I didn’t. Somebody hacked my account.”

“Hi! Sorry, I thought it was a great service and wanted to extend the invitation to my linkedIN followers. It allows people to get in touch and has quite an amazing business model. Hope it helps you!”

“I thought you might like it. It’s free. Maybe it’s for you….maybe it’s not. Never hurts to look.”

“This is a new social media site that works with LinkedIn. I received a few invites this morning from my LinkedIn contacts so I did the same. I am still learning this new site but so far this morning I have found two great contacts that I will most likely be doing business with directly from this site. If you are interested in connecting with me there, please feel free to accept my invite. In no way did I mean to make you feel like you were getting spammed.”

“Sorry for the intrusion. Seems there was an error when they imported EVERYONE on my LinkedIn network, and included you in it. My sincere apologies…as this usually happens with a huge list…”

So these are 1st degree LinkedIn connections asking me to join a new service. We have some people calling the email to me an error. We have some people blaming it on a hack. Some are saying they were just trying to be helpful. A few people really took the time to try and explain Referral Key to me.

The problem? Referral Key has no idea how bad this avalanche of emails is making them look (click on the picture at the top of this blog post! That’s my email inbox). These messages, all identical, all with that hook of a subject line, are not good for their business. For better or worse, I now consider them to be a less-than-reputable company. But even worse, you, the Referral Key user, have no idea what joining a service like this is going to make you look like. In this case, it made these people look like the Spammy McSpammer MLM Sham Wow guy. I’ll bet most of these people aren’t actually like that, and the service is probably on the up and up, but that’s the impression they are leaving. Perhaps it’s Referral Key’s fault, as their system is the one generating these cookie cutter emails in mass volume.

However, as a businessperson with a personal brand, you need to be aware of your every move and do your best to calculate benefits and risks before joining the next social media platform du jour. Do not join a service unless you have a plan and a goal in mind for your participation and time spent. Do not join a Twitter automation service that sends annoying tweets from your account like “The following users unfollowed me today: @User1, @User2, @User3. Try it at” Don’t invite people to your mafia family on Facebook. Stop clicking on random links that people DM or Facebook message you – they are often virus traps and you’re spreading spam. And stop joining services that blast out marketing messages Uzi-style as does. The bad taste you are leaving in people’s mouths is not worth it.

5/25/11 POST ADDENDUM – per Chris Ott of Referral Key:

“The message is fully customizable and you can choose to uncheck anyone just like any other service.

I am not sure why some people have commented that they were unable to utilize this screen, but thank you Chris for bringing it to our attention.


  1. It’s a great concept but you can’t customize who you sent this message to. It grabs your entire Linked In contacts and blasts to everyone…not cool.

    • I have started seeing some slightly customized messages. But I’m still getting many with that same subject line

      • Chris Ott says:

        The message is fully customizable and you can choose to uncheck anyone just like any other service.

        • Chris, I have added your comment to the end of the blog post. Is there any other help desk info, contact info, anything you’d like added to the post so that readers can easily address their Referral Key needs?

        • Tony Gale says:

          It did not giv eme the option to check or uncheck contacts wit Facebook, I just got the message that the emails had been sent.

  2. just another chris says:

    Thanks — glad I ran across this before joining! Also, explains what’s been happening in my inbox over the last few days.

  3. Thanks!

  4. Best part is the options they give you if you click “un-subscribe” at the bottom of the email:

    Person’s Name has personally offered to send you referrals to help grow your business. Note: If you choose “unsubscribe” below, you will never be able to receive referrals from Person’s Name or any other professionals you know who uses Referral Key.

    (Never Mind) – I’m interested in networking with professionals who want to send me referrals.(Unsubscribe) – I never want to exchange referrals with professionals I know.

    • Pure cheek!

    • Thanks for this verbiage, Ethan.  “(Unsubscribe) – I never want to exchange referrals with professionals I know.” — interesting psychology, and pure crap!

      I never want to exchange referrals with professionals I know??  What a way to intimidate someone from NOT unsubscribing!  That’s the way I’m interpreting this “alternative” choice.

    • YIKES!

  5. I have been sucked into the vortex of the Referral Key saga. I usually am very cautious about these emails. However, the initial invitation generated from a long trusted colleague so I signed up. Sadly I followed the instructions on importing my LinkedIn Contacts little suspecting that this site hijacks the list before you can choose who you would like to invite to your circle. As it ‘imports’ your contacts it automatically sends out the invitation to everyone on it.! 

    This  smacks of duplicity and spam to me. Now my poor contacts are signing on and probably doing the same thing, hence the viral spamming down through the social strata. Nowhere on the Referral Key website does it explain the import process.  There is a video encouraging your importing your LInkedIn contact list – they merely needed to add two more sentences:  We will conveniently and automatically generate an invitation to everyone on your list as we import it; If your contact wishes to accept the invitation they will then become part of your network and you will see them in your contact list.

    I sent them a direct email about this process and am interested to see what they have to say about it.

    More than likely I will be opting out of this and can only humbly and shame-facedly apologize to my very valued LinkedIn Network

  6. Bravo.  I would consider myself a dinasaur in this social-media revolution,  If I’m most honest about this, the building of relationships that yield clients is what I love best.  So, when I received the first invitation I thought that the gal sending it was something – and then I received the second. Whoops.  I love what you said. I’ve only received two invitations and I’m already “turned off. I expect there will be many more.  I am beginning to believe that dinasaurs are unique and very valuable.

  7. Chris,

    Thank you so much! As someone who works int he social media field (specializing in LinkedIn) I just recently became aware of this too. I got my first invite on the 19th – before your wonderful article – and did a search to try and learn more about it before clicking on anything. All that I pulled up was their own site. I looked around and it never provided a true description and thorough understanding of what I was getting myself into if I joined, so I didn’t. I decided to wait and see what was going on and until there was more buzz about from people I know and trust.

    Since then, I’ve been getting a few more invites. Interestingly, Outlook sticks them in my Junk folder.

    They’ve obviously initiated some major push to get this going now even though it’s been around for a while. I wholeheartedly agree that the mass emailing of invites is going to hurt them instead of help them. They’ll get a bunch of people sign up who don’t know what they’re doing and never really come back and use the tool.  BUT, they won’t get the major influencers who are smart enough to test it out first before going there.

    By the way, I really wish you had the LinkedIn Share button. Since it’s tied to LinkedIn, that’s the main place I plan to share it!

  8. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for this very interesting blog about Referral Key and explains a few things for me. 

    I totally agree with this statement of yours:

    “Do not join a service unless you have a plan and a goal in mind for your participation and time spent.” –  my goal at the moment is to try and understand what it is all about and have a play with it, so that if asked I can explain what it is to others and whether it is worth spending time on.

  9. Chris Ott says:

    Thanks for the smear piece Rizzo. First, the Referral Key importation is like any other found on any other site. You can choose to check or uncheck anyone you’d like, customize the message, and ultimately choose not to send invites. It’s that simple end of story. 

    That’s standard practice in social media by now. We’ve worked ourselves to the bone for half a decade trying to get this site up and provide value to our members. Your obviously going to tick some people off if you go viral, but rather than smearing you should let your contacts know why you invited them. I am a social media guy and under the firm conviction that established leaders like Facebook and LinkedIn are not the only services worth churning blogs out about. I think there’s room for innovative sites like Referral Key. 

    No, it’s not 2004 and people aren’t new to email invitations so that works for us and against us but 99% of people like the service and we’re proud of that. 
    I make time for every customer with any concern; we have an open office policy, and a number to call, no other free site extends that type of service. Kathryn, I personally spoke with you and worked with you via email over the course of several days. 

    • Hi Chris, thank you for visiting my blog. It is not a spear piece. I say several times in the article that it is entirely possible that your company is reputable. I guess your role in visiting my blog COULD be to alter the public discourse on Referral Key.

      Several people have commented that they weren’t able to customize, or uncheck those to which the message was sent. Perhaps they just don’t know how to properly use the service.

      I am encouraged by the fact that you seem to be working with customers one on one (referencing your Kathryn note). That’s a good thing.

      To restate, as far as I can tell there is nothing wrong with the idea behind Referral Key. However, I am not the only person that has FELT spammed by your service. Whether it’s truly spam or not, my advice to you and Referral Key is to do your very, very best to not make people feel spammed. Good intentions or not, people remember how you make them feel much more than they remember what you did.

      If your advice to me is, “Look you got 100 emails from us in the span of a few days, deal with it, bloke…,” well I’m not sure that’s good advice.

      • Chris Ott says:

        “If your advice to me is, “Look you got 100 emails from us in the span of a few days, deal with it, bloke…,” well I’m not sure that’s good advice.” 

        That’s not my advice at all actually. We can’t tell people who they can and can’t network with, that would be unethical and goes against every social media code. You could have just clicked “unsubscribe” and not received an email ever again. 

        That’s generally how its done. 

        • Should I have needed to “subscribe” in order to have the option to “unsubscribe?”

        • If I were to book you into a hotel without your consent and then tell you it’s your responsibility to cancel the booking, would you accept my “that’s how it’s done” statement?

          I received invitations to join from two members of my LinkedIn network. I would have clicked the unsubscribe key but because (1) I never subscribed in the first place I thought (2) it may be a trick.So I googled Referral Key.

          Rizz is right that such a practice casts a poor light on your service. But what really made the decision for me is YOU. If this is the kind of “representation” I can expect from Referral Key, no thanks, I am not interested.

          My name is posted clearly here above. You subscribed me to your service. Now unsubscribe me.


        • Why should we have to unsubscribe??? We never subscribed!!! You really are a very bad representative of your company. You’re aggressive, dismissive of potential users’ complaints and concerns, you launch public assaults on bloggers and even seem to be attacking users whom you’ve helped in the past in a very petulant manner (see previous comment to one ‘Kathryn’).

          I’d like to point out as well, users in the UK cannot ring your number without incurring huge charges and there is no email address nor postal address on your site that I can find, just an online form which requests your email address. Now, call me idiotic but judging from the fact you’ve obtained my email from an unknown source, I’m not happy to then volunteer it to your company in a format like that which can easily be added to a database.

          I will not be signing up and I will be posting links to this blog to show people your company’s response to complaints.

    • Chris

      Now! About your service.
      Where is the delivery? Where are your great referral stories?
      All we’ve seen so far are standard-text emails. SPAM.
      You haven’t gone VIRAL. 
      You’re SPAMMING. (note use of apostrophe)
      Try proving some value to us and you won’t have to spend large parts of your time on forums like these defending yourself. (another apostrophe)

      BTW great use of the apostrophe on your part. You obviously believe “if in doubt leave it out”.

    • Kate Wheeler says:

      Hi Chris
      I didnt hesitate when I was invited, by a trusted contact and promptly sent the invite to all 4000 contacts on my Linked In, as I thought it a good networking opportunity for them, also. However, there is no way I have the time as a Company Director to sit and check all of the contacts. All my contacts, I assumed could benefit in someway from a business network. How wrong was I? I have had 8 clients come back to me to inform me that I have sent them Spam and to check Referral Key out. Which I did with then breathed a sigh of relief and penned my “misunderstanding apology e mail” to those who considered me a “spammer”
      I noticed that the assumptions came only at invite stage, so my question to Chris, is maybe the layout in the invitation email looks suspicious? Just a thought.

  10. Chris Ott says:


    I am not sure why you buried my last comment in the mix. (how can it not be the latest or last comment if I was the last to comment?). I am sure you are a smart and witty guy and have a skeptical eye which is cool and we’d probably get along but let’s be realistic, this is misleading  at this point, especially since I’ve told you the speculations about not being able to control importations are inaccurate. 

    Now you’ve got a few followers on Twitter saying “you can’t control who gets your invites etc..” that is just not true and its unethical. You’re talking to one of the people that designed it over the last 5 years and there’s no debate that you can uncheck and customize the message. It’s like any other site migration. If you’d like to see, give my office a call and we’ll walk through it. We can go over any part of the service you’d like.  

    More importantly, we do not want you to send out emails to people unless you want to referral network with them. We do not get any benefit from you emailing 10 thousand people if you don’t know them. Not only do 99.99999% of those people not accept, but it does nothing for the site. We’d rather you get 5 trusted colleagues if that’s what you prefer. But again, we can’t decide how small or large you want your network to be and can’t tell people how many colleagues they can and can’t invite; that’d be unethical.

    We receive oodles of great feedback and since I field about 500 visitor questions a day, I’m less concerned about this blog and more concerned about getting faster service for the site; people love it. I’d refer you to some of our articles in the Globe, Mashable, MIT, and etc but the site’s down as we ramp up for more traffic. We’ve formed strong relationships with large companies and received positive reviews in major media outlets, even if you don’t like the service for whatever reason, this blog portrays it as some malicious rag tag robot from India and that’s why it feels like a knee-jerk smear.

    I’d be more than happy to work with and develop an accurate portrayal. This will help your readers choose if Referral Key is right for them and make sure they are only inviting trusted contacts. That sounds like a positive use of both our times. Give my office a call any time. 

    I don’t want to put every piece we are in and since the news page is down I can’t get to all the good stuff but here’s an older Mashable article. As a social media guy, I figure you’d appreciate this one.

    • Chris, you made some fair points. However, I did not bury your blog comment. I use the Disqus comments system – I have no idea why it puts comments where it puts them. Your comments are visible to all, and will remain so unless we get vulgar or racist or something like that.

      I am not misleading anyone. I presented an opinion on how the deluge of Referral Key emails made me feel, and I can assure you and everyone that I am not being misleading on my feelings. Nowhere in my post did I say the outgoing emails were not customizable. Some of the 30 people I emailed told me that. If people are saying this was a problem for them, they’re either lying or idiots, I guess? They are probably not either.

      As a representative of Referral Key, you can (and should) have all of your facts straight, but if more than one person thinks your service reeks of spam, then I would posit the theory that we’re not the problem. Your service can shine, and rise above insignificant blog posts like this, but if people are saying they weren’t able to customize the outgoing message, or decrease the number of LinkedIn contacts the requests were going out to, then blog posts like this are not the problem. It could be a chance to troubleshoot and further refine the service or the education surrounding the use of it.

      I respect the 5 years you toiled on building Referral Key. I think the case you’re presenting (coverage from reputable outlets like Mashable, MIT, etc) is a nice counter to my post, and thanks to you, perhaps visitors to my blog will further understand and try your service.

      • Tony Gale says:

        When I used it with Facebook, it did NOT let me choose who to send it to. I just got a message that emails had been sent.Not cool

    • I disagree. You clearly love your product Chris but the fact is that people ARE receiving emails which they have not solicited and if there are enough people to fill these pages then it’s clearly not as simple as it seems. Most people are not csv literate and could not edit the file  as someone on here suggested.

      I’ve had an invite from someone who I’m not connected to on LinkedIn (nor via any other method). I have never been connected to her. She’s equally bemused by how my details got linked to hers.

      The article doesn’t pretend to convey expert knowledge of the process, just that the results of importing contacts produces far too many invites which reflects badly on your company and the supposed sender.

      LinkedIn has never sent emails on my behalf except at my express request (I select the person and press SEND – me – physically pressing SEND, not an automation).

      You also come across as very aggressive here. Making accusations about why comments aren’t where you believe they should be is hardly a good attitude to take with anyone, let alone when you want to do some damage limitation for your company image. Perhaps get yourself referred to a decent copywriter to help you figure out a more neutral/less defensive way of getting your point across.

  11. I just joined Referral Key yesterday, you probably got that annoying auto-bot message from me too since we’re first connections.

    I regret importing my list as I’ve spent the last 2 days trying to tell people that I feel bad that they’re mislead by the email that I didn’t know was being distributed.
    Referral Key’s layout is archaic and Chris Ott needs some severe customer service training. Had the invite not caused over 80 of my connections to sign up, I’d delete my account immediately.

    I wrote this blog while trying to sign up for the service and copy & pasted my email from Mr. Ott as well – As you can see – I had the similar experience to some of the people you emailed with. But according to Chris we’re all wrong about the emailing system.

  12. Hi Chris.

    Thanks for this article.

    I got the Referral Key invite from one of my trusted friends. And went in and it looked appealing. So signed up, and chose to add LinkedIn contacts there. You have other places like Gist where you can do this without bombard your network with a generic message.

    And I discovered it had sent out a generic message to everyone in my LinkedIn Network.

    On Facebook you are more aware of this, I often experience 3rd party apps that spread your info wider then you intended.

    Though I have not got any indicating that I spammed them yet, I apologize if any of my friends take it that way. Also has to mention that I got some positive responses. 

    But still which there had been better indictions there that you was about to send a generic info to everyone in your network. Under normal circumstances I would never sent out this kind of generic invite to everyone in my network. Yes they are part of my network, but they serve different purposes. And I know many require a more close relationship before they will start discuss a client relationship. 

    It is part of the learning experience sometimes to do mistakes. I don’t want to define it as a spam personally. As said my friend that originally sent me the invite I still consider to be a good and very trusted friend. 

    It is important also that we can learn from the process. And then move on.

    As I can see Referral Key has now also been down here most of the day as I write. Not sure what that means. We will see.

    Cheers.. Are   

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment. Each social media / networking platform is different, as are the users that populate them. I’m glad you’ve found some value with Referral Key, and I’m sure Chris Ott appreciates that, too.

      I have noticed the site is down. I assume it is unrelated.

  13. Chris,

    I don’t see this as a hit piece. You were fair in reporting how you experienced the service. In fact I think you showed some restraint in trying to give an impartial assessment..

    All social networks are not the same. LinkedIn is my professional network, my Facebook profile for friends and family, my Facebook page for my books, and I have different Twitter accounts for different audiences. I curate what goes to each.

    I have signed up for things like this in the past and regretted it. The good news is I was only connected to 50 people at the time. Now I’m more careful because I will be sending emails/updates to thousands of people so I need to watch what I am doing. On each platform there are some tacit expectations about what will be shared. 

    It’s about trust. Trusting your network and trusting the services we use. But we all make mistakes.

    As for the re-ordering of comments, I believe readers can vote comments up or down in Disqus.

  14. David Carter says:

    Chris:  Thanks for your review.  And, you cannot really find out more about Referral Key without accepting an invitation.  My email box is not as filled as your example, but the number of emails is growing.  Best.  David

    • Thanks for the visit David. I received a few more today. It looks to be true that you can “unsubscribe” – it’s at the bottom of every one of the emails. What I’m wondering is….. I don’t remember ever subscribing. It feels weird to have to unsubscribe to something I never subscribed to.

      To be clear, I have not gone through the unsubscription process. The continuing emails are not making me feel any worse about the whole issue. It’s like white noise now, I guess.

  15. Ambiense says:

    When I accessed my linked in connections it exported a .csv file. What is the problem with editing this before importing it to the referral key account? I did it by simply deleting each line which I didn’t want to go out and saving the file. I missed one contact and have apologised for a simple error

    • That sounds reasonable, Ambiense.

      Some users are reporting to me via email and comments here that it either wasn’t entirely clear how to remove certain people from the send queue, while others are saying that before they knew it, all LinkedIn contacts had been hit with the email. A representative from Referral Key posted here in the comments and said it’s plain and simple and definitely a feature of the site. My only concern is that people have reported difficulties. That means one of five things:

      1. They’re not educating themselves properly on the usage of the site
      2. They’re not trying hard enough to understand how to use the service, or not paying enough attention when they go through the signup process
      3. The service is overly difficult to use
      4. The how-to section (help section, whatever) is not intuitive or helpful enough
      5. The Referral Key people are lying.

      I have no idea which of those five it is, as I have not signed up for or tried the service. And I repeat, I am not even offering a theory as to which of those five is causing these issues. Don’t know, and it’s not really a concern. My blog is a take on what the resulting deluge of emails makes Referral Key look like in the eyes of consumers, and what that same deluge makes the senders of those emails look like.

  16. Ambiense says:

    Oh by the way I had more problems with linked in which sent invitations out when I exited the page without hitting the send button although I did uncheck the send to all box. Strange thing is it managed to send invites to contacts I had long ago deleted!

  17. I’ve been receiving a lot of these too and, like you, the first time I thought “wow, how exciting”!  I joined up and have sent a couple of requests to friends to link up but I’m not sure that there’s much benefit in the whole concept.  If you provide your clients with a fantastic service then they’ll be happy to refer you without having to be linked to you on a site somewhere.

    IMHO there are too many people out there jumping on the bandwagon trying to be the next Facebook… Personally, I can’t see this one lasting.

  18. Hambino171 says:

    wah wah….you people need to get over yourselves. if it’s not of value don’t join or if it’s not what you thought it was then end your membership. filter the junk email from your worlds most important mailbox and sha bang…you are back to your boring, salaried job lives…some of us need referrals to survive and it’s never a bad thing to get your name out there in another form. maybe try to see the positive in it rather than picking it apart looking for something to complain about

    • Thanks for stopping by Hambino171.

      Referrals are not a bad thing. Not at all! The more, the better. As previously stated, I don’t have any problem with the service itself (have not tried it myself). My commentary is on the amount of outgoing marketing email it’s generating, and how that’s making the service look in potential users’ eyes.

      If you like the service, you should definitely use it!

    • Cheryl Elman says:


      I am not salaried and I need business and referrals too, but ending a membership is not as easy as you have stated.  I used to play Farmville until I realized that all my contacts were getting updates and requests…even after I deleted the process.  My daughter still gets requests from Linked-in and keeps saying no, yet it sends them out, I don’t.  So hitting delete, does not necessarily wipe out the residual effects to your contacts.

      Thanks again Chris for your advice.

    • Hambino, the problem is that we can’t asses the value of these technological “networking tools” until we try them. If that’s the case, we must also then give away contact data, and endure the potential flood of messages urging us to join the social networks of others at random until such time you might stumble across one or two that might be of actual value. 

    • it comes from someone you know on linked in – not a stranger.

  19. Hambino171 says:

    so i post something and it gets removed…at least your blog isn’t full of one sided opinions skewed to make you look like you know what you are talking about…

  20. Comments are now automatically sorted by “newest first.” All I had to do is dial into Disqus and change the setting. Should have done that a long time ago…

  21. Cheryl Elman says:

    I am glad I was too busy to respond to the first few, but I am glad my instinct pervailed and I googled and found this article before responding.  Thank you and off to delete all those emails.

  22. Thanks for the article. I was wondering about the legitimacy of Referral Key and found you in doing a bit of online snooping around. I have received 2 “Invitations” in the past week and have personally replied to both. I haven’t decided yet whether or not Referral Key is for me – but I don’t really have the desire to sign up for one more thing on my plate right now. 

    • There must be something new out there in cyber space pushing this along. For a system that’s been around as long is this has apparently been in existence, for it to have been … dormant … for so long seems rather odd. 

      • I agree with you. A service that’s been around for a few years, suddenly blowing up…. I mean, normally that’s a good thing! In this case, the amount of emails coming out of nowhere… just guessing here, but maybe they just began offering the option of tapping one’s LinkedIn account for Referral Key connection requests

  23. Thanks for the really thoughtful reply. And you win the prize for longest Rizzo blog comment ever! Once I figure out what that prize is……

    Thanks again for visiting my blog.

  24. Jeff Bob says:

    Thank you for the article; I’m interested in your take on ReferralKey vs Linked in.  Other than the color, they seem very… similar.

  25. I just clicked on the ‘unsubscribe’ link, and was taken aback at the choices, especially the second one.  I also posted this comment under Ethan’s post of 1 week ago:” Thanks for this verbiage, Ethan.  “(Unsubscribe) – I never want to exchange referrals with professionals I know.” — interesting psychology, and pure crap!

    I never want to exchange referrals with professionals I know??  What a way to intimidate someone from NOT unsubscribing!  That’s the way I’m interpreting this “alternative” choice. ” Chris, thank you for your assessment of Referral Key.  Having received a 4th email in this week, I decided to ‘google’ around to find more info about it.

    • Same here Sue! I hit unsubscribe and when I saw the options, I was slightly offended. Who did they think they were? The verbiage was rude and arrogant for a company very few people have heard of until they get spammed by it. Here’s to hoping they understand “unsubscribe”.

  26. Thanks for helping me slug through this maze.  I had wondered about it myself.  You are posted on my Face Book page as an update to others. 

  27. Matt Whitcomb says:

    I’ve received invitations from 3 people so far. I thought it was strange to come out of the blue from multiple sources. Maybe there’s something big going down, and I’m on the first wave.
    I was frustrated when I went to the Referral Key site and saw limited choices to find out more about them. I clicked on Blog to get a feel for their ongoing commitment to their clients and prospects.
    I was disappointed to discover that the last blog entry was almost a year ago. Could I have reached a site that doesn’t provide new info?
    I clicked on News and was surprised to find the “latest” news was 10 months ago. And the one prior to that was over 2 years old.
    That’s as far as I went. My feeling is, that if a company is not current with their site and they’re obscure about what they are, I don’t really want to be part of their plan.
    Thanks for the fair and objective review you provided.

  28. Jreisner71 says:

    Thanks for your review. I received three identical invites from the same person which would be considered spam by me except for the fact that the person who sent it is a friend who originally introduced me to LinkedIn. I thought, hmm, maybe this is something real. The “are you taking on new clients” line made me gag though and the Referral Key blog is sadly outdated and seemingly abandoned – not good for any kind of site, but especially one that is touting itself as the next step in. 

    After scanning the comments here I was very surprised by the hostile reaction from Refferal Key Director of Social Media & Technology, Chris Ott. Obviously, he is very passionate about his business but just as you felt emails you received made Referral Key look bad, Mr. Ott’s response makes the company appear unprofessional. I can’t help but think he doesn’t understand the role of a company representative to respect customers and potential customers and to listen to legitimate complaints regarding their business, whether you agree with them or not. Mr. Ott jumped right down your throat thanking you for your “smear piece”. I think it’s pretty clear to the average reader that your article is both thoughtful and informative and reflects your own first impressions of the invitation experience.  

    My experience was similar: I was turned off by the language of the email as well as the multiple invites. I’m left wondering if everyone I ask to join will get a triplicate offer, making me look like an ass. After reading some of the other comments here I am concerned that Referral Key is too unpredictable to trust my contacts with. Furthermore, I don’t feel comfortable with a company that prefers to attack people instead of attacking problems.

    Mr. Ott would be wise to take your valuable post to heart and at least agree to look into the spam-like problem. Enough people here have commented on it to warrant a show of concern. The number one rule of a business that is built on trust should be to trust your customers.

  29. So good to see someone who’s also a skeptic. Glad I checked out your comments – got my first invitation yesterday. Think I’ll pass.

  30. I was invited to join the network Referral key. I duly
    did so because I knew the person from whom the invitation was indirectly sent.
    Since then I have received at least three emails from them containing the email
    addresses’ and contact phone numbers, names and businesses for hundreds of
    other Referral Key users. I know that they have also been sending my details
    out to other Referral Key users as well because I now persistently receive spam
    email from people named on the same lists.


    I have asked Referral Key repeatedly to remove my
    contact details from their database but they keep failing to do so. I have
    tried to de-register from their website but still the emails persist in coming.
    The more lists they send out; the more spam I receive.


    None of the above ‘marketing’ practices were
    highlighted at the time of registering. I was not made aware that all my
    contact details were going to be indiscriminately shared with other users.

    A terrible service.

  31. Anonymous says:

    This post is spot on.  At the risk of heading down a bad path after your reminder about “being nice”, I just have to add a few thoughts.

    I found your post because I just received another of those “spammy McSpam” emails from one of my LinkedIn contacts that I’ve had for a couple of years.

    My initial thought was: “why the sudden interest in referring business my way when over the last two years that we’ve been LinkedIn business contacts, you didn’t have anything to refer my way.  What’s changed?”

    The joining of yet another site that is supposed to work in this fashion – helping people to accept new clients will only be valuable if people choose to work on building relationships.

    Guess what?  If people have never taken the time to get to know another person’s business on LinkedIn, joining ReferralKey is not going to suddenly help them connect any better.  “Misleading” is about the only term I can come up with for the canned message that’s sent out.

    As a fellow strategist, I too get a little bit excited about new sites, but if the fundamentals aren’t there in terms of the user leveraging the platform, there’s no additional value because the platform is different or new.  Just my two cents.

    • That’s an incredible point. If they didn’t refer business to you as a fellow LinkedIn member, why start now with Referral Key? Perhaps there are some incentives to do so. Or perhaps people on Referral Key would be more apt to make referrals because, after all, that’s exactly what the service is about. But I’m with you – LinkedIn people moving over to Referral Key will not suddenly start referring business. I just don’t see it happening. Referral Key alone is probably not enough to get one to change one’s business behavior.

  32. We trust our linkedin contacts! At least I do — i am very careful with mine. How can a person SPAM their entire list of connections. I had no idea that would happen. I am seriously annoyed by referral key. … and by Linked in if that functionality is theirs.

  33. I’m glad to get this warning … I just started receiving these emails and I suppose it stems from somebody else that I am LinkedIn with.  Thanks for the heads up!

  34. thanks.  just started to get the emails.  Now my phone is clogged with the emails from the emails forwarded from my biz account.  I have not responded.  but i’d love to get off the recipient list.

  35. I just got one of these messages today, and Gmail told me it may not have been sent from her since it didn’t go through proper authentication techniques. I’m going to try to unsubscribe from the e-mails.

  36. Before I join any group I actually READ the Terms of Use and also the Privacy policy. I did not join Referral-Key because their Terms of Use and their Privacy policy appear to be  contradictory. On the one hand, under Privacy #5 it says “You may cancel your membership or participation as a referral associate at any time. If you cancel your Referral Key membership or participation as a referral associate, we will remove your name and other personally identifiable information from public viewing.”  

    However, under the Terms of Use it says “Ownership of Information…Content shared on the Site, may or may not be deleted by us when an account is terminated. You understand that removed content may persist on the live site or in backup copies.
    The Company retains an irrevocable, perpetual, worldwide, royalty-free right to duplicate, improve, distribute, publish, remove, retain, add, process, analyze, use and commercialize, in any way now known or in the future discovered, any Information you provide (other than private account information), directly or indirectly, on the Site, including but not limited to any user generated content, ideas, concepts, techniques or data, without any further consent, notice, and/or compensation to you or to any third parties.I DON’T TRUST THAT SITE and I don’t need it because I wouldn’t refer anyone to someone I don’t know. Simple as that. 

  37. I didn’t edit the subject line because it was catchy and that’s what caught my eye. I did however, take the time to edit the body somewhat and the signature for sure. Thank you for posting this article as it helps me get perspective of how I am being perceived by some on the receiving end.

  38. Ha, I just got one of these emails, worded exactly as above, and Googled the company to figure out what the heck this was.

    In my case I knew something was wrong instantly, since I’m a novelist and therefore do not take “clients.” At first I thought perhaps the emailer in question had me confused with a literary agent or something–which would have been amusing; I know of a few reviewers who’ve had people confuse them with agents or publishers–but no, sadly, nothing so interesting. Just blanket spam.

    Thanks for this.

  39. A Friend says:

    thanks for your input.

    I’d say that they are heading down the wrong road.  Taking someone’s linkedIn connections and (without permission) sending out what is designed to appear to be YOUR invitation (which it is not since you didn’t initiate it) to me is dishonest.  Terminate the relationship with them (is my advice).

  40. I love Social Media but, the question that begs answering is how many more accounts do we need.

    It is getting crazy and watered down. 

    What (personal) value will there be in social media when every one uses the auto posting apps. to keep abreast of there 20-50 SM accounts?

    Soon there will be little to no human interaction. :-(

    • There is always the danger that more time spent behind the computer means less time face-to-face. However, that’s your choice. That’s the choice we all have. I spent a great deal of time online, but I am constantly attending events, meeting people in person. The two go together; they need not be mutually exclusive.

  41. Tor-Bjorn says:

    These new services try (and often fail) to balance a very slim line between reaching as many people as possible, but not being too spammy.
    If I were to set up a similar service, I’d make sure to not hit the same target address more than once a week, or so. And, obviously address the message to be from the service, rather than from an unwitting user, who just forgot to uncheck a tiny box somehwere on the signup screen.

  42. Bob Turel says:

    This is TOTAL SPAM. Thanks to this idiotic SPAM service, my reputation is now shot with hundreds of my colleagues who are getting up to 7 SPAM-MAILS from this waste of internet space.
    Worse yet all phone calls go to coice mail and sending anything to gets undelivered!

    •  Yikes!

    • Karen Naef says:

      Since I got four separate email invites from you, Bob and a whole bunch more today from people I know (or barely know, or know not at all), I investigated to see what this was. I was happy to see that you investigated as well, unfortunately AFTER you emailed us all, and realized it was SPAM of a deletable nature.

      Maybe an explanation and apology email to your contacts would go a long way in restoring your reputation (which is certainly not shot because this one thing in my opinion). Maybe it will serve to re-establish some connections, and warn others to keep away from referralkey. It could a public service, if you will, of yet another spammy trap in this very confusing world of social media and cyber networking.

      Hope you are doing well! I look forward to seeing you face-to-face again at a real, live, networking meeting where people actually talk to each other and get to know each other and can give quality referrals to people they know and trust!  What a concept!

  43. Oops! I just got one, and accepted before investigating! Now will my LinkedIn connections be spammed? Yikes, and crap. 😉 My bad. Why don’t I stop and think first? 

    Another one for the lessons in life! Thanks for the post. :)

  44. Only the initial invite message to new contacts is customisable. Beyond that, you will not even be aware what emails go out to your contacts and what they say. The messages are not viewable anywhere on your profile and you will not get copies to your own email. Despicable.

    I feel like a right fool, having gone along with this – I guess I was assuming that networking sites have grown up by now, but NO. Thanks to vigilant contacts I’ve deleted my profile now to nip this madness in the butt. 

    I sincerely apologise for my naivety to anyone who got spammed by “me” :(

    • I’m still trying to determine what is customizable and what is not. You were able to alter an invite message, but then further messages went out? Many people here have complained about the inability to control what the service does with your LinkedIn contacts. Admitting that I’ve not used the service (don’t want to), I have no firsthand knowledge of the difficulties of using it.

  45. I already Spammed my Contacts !!!!, and then Read this !!!…. I got an invite from a linkedin user, and i thought that this is a new thing ..honestly it is cumbersome to un-check a few from a list of thousands… Guess..I will mail my linkedin contacts an apology for spamming :)

  46. Trista Perez says:

    Glad I read your article first! I was just about to set up a profile…had already created login and password, but something told me “better check this out more” and did a quick Google search.
    Account deleted!

  47. This is a good, thoughtful article. Thank you.

    I signed up this morning having received an invitation for a highly respected friend and business colleague. I decided NOT to follow the referral key instructions to export my linked-in contacts but only sent out some invitation manually. Hopefully this means that none of my linked-in contacts will be mailed. Can anyone reassure me?

  48. Algamalke says:

    Thanks a milli, I usually countercheck via goggling on any such invites for spam possibilities, luckily landed in your site before clicking the accept invite

  49. Just want to add to the conversation…  Networkers, in general, are used to these kinds of emails:  So and so wants to be your friend on Facebook… or I’d like to add you to my LinkedIn network…  Not sure why Referral Key would take any more of a hit for this than any of the other now successful sites.  They are customizable and if it looks spammy it is because of the lack of originality of the person sending it.  I signed up for this site and got a few emails asking what it was about and about 15 phone calls where people were saying they had referrals for me and this helped remind them or that they checked out the site and really liked the way it was set up and easy to use and a few just had questions about how the site would work for them.  Small businesses that really take advantage of services like LinkedIn and Referral Key can really generate new business this way.  Since joining I have received no spam whatsoever from being a part of it but have received great feedback from those who also signed up with me.  I really think they system deserves a chance to see if we can all use it to generate some new business through our connections…

  50. Thanks a lot. Like “Algamalke” I was very close to make a mistake… 

  51. Regulatorysolution says:

    I am so glad I checked this blog BEFORE accepting the questionable invitation.  I agree the Subject Line is enticing but as noted in other comments if these LinkedIn contacts haven’t referred business during the time you’ve been connected why would they (or their other connections) suddenly be able to do so now?

    I looked for other information on ReferralKey because their home page says virtually nothing.  the ‘About Us’ page read like a late night infomercial which just didn’t sit well.  And the contradictory information in the User Agreement was another clue.  Hell I won’t even let LinkedIn scan my email address book for additional connections.  If the person is in my email address book, aren’t we already connected?

    LinkedIn has been a great way to keep current on issues affecting my business/industry and helps to enhance my personal brand and visibility.  But, it has not been a new client generating machine.  ReferralKey appears to be one social network to avoid.  My initial read from the home page of the site really made me think the entire thing was about a social network that was going to entice users to offer gifts in exchange for referrals and therefore was really a marketing vehicle for Omaha Steaks, Harry & David and the like.  No thanks.

    Thanks for the coverage of this issue; I feel like I just dodged a messy bullet…..

  52. Thank you SO much for posting this … I’m glad I decided to check before accepting the invitation. It sure is enticing and worded correctly (ie meeting all social posting rules – polite, etc), seems harmless enough at the outset, and who isn’t looking for new leads/clients? Thanks again!

  53. Chris – I thank you and my in-box thanks you.

  54. Chris – I thank you and my in-box thanks you.

  55. Oh bugger I accepted! I dunno whether its worth giving it a try or not lol. I certainly don’t want to look like a spammer. Thank you for writing this post, glad I clicked here before setting up my profile etc. I’m going to have a look around, I feel another ranting blog post coming on lol

  56. I am glad I decided to research before adding my Profile.  Your writing was excellent and a eye opener to many things on the Internet.  I always question when someone not 10 miles from me is wanting to refer business in todays market. Thank you.. 

  57. Infowomanup says:

    There really is no difference between referral key and facebook /linked/ manta. Ironically, i would not have viewed this page if not for your mention of referral key. In this information era, and as a small business owner, you WANT traffic. You want buzz. You want referrals. I mean, thats what business is about. On that note, i would suggest that you keep your private life private and DO NOT ALLOW PERMISSION to your facebook account. Add you contacts MANUALLY and enjoy the free ride.

  58. Thanks Chris for taking the time to research this program and sharing your information.  I have been invited several times and always just deleted the email because it looked like spam.  Today I decided to find out what Referral Key is all about.

    Here’s the thing …. if Referral Key connects to your 1st degree Linkedin contacts, then why not spend time on your Linkedin account and send out ‘personal’ inmail to those profiles that look like they would be a good match as a referral source, cross promotion, joint ventures or even interested in a product you might have. 

    I recently sent out a personal inmail to the ‘new’ contacts (you can find in your connections area) sharing a little about me and asking them to get back with me if there was something mutual we could discuss or work together on.  Out of 44 inmails, I received 28 responses (all positive), 3 joint venture requests, 5 asked for me to guest post on their blog, developed 4 clients and recd sales of my video course (without asking them to do so!) 

    Anything that is automated I have learned to stay away from.  In today’s social media, our social sites are tools, and if you respect your audience you will see a tremendous return in the way of building your business for success.

  59. Thanks for posting this. I was wondering about this endless list of eMail messages myself… 

  60. Hey Chris,

    I can’t find Lynn Brown’s comment here, it must be a “cached” copy or something ..?  So I’ve copied it and will paste it here:  (Just cos I find it very useful and don’t want to pretend it’s all my idea … lol! )  Cheers, MzOodles

    Lynn Brown, Learnit2Earnit – Social Marketing and Blogging Strategies for online business success!CollapseThanks Chris for taking the time to research this program and sharing your information.  I have been invited several times and always just deleted the email because it looked like spam.  Today I decided to find out what Referral Key is all about.Here’s the thing …. if Referral Key connects to your 1st degree Linkedin contacts, then why not spend time on your Linkedin account and send out ‘personal’ inmail to those profiles that look like they would be a good match as a referral source, cross promotion, joint ventures or even interested in a product you might have.  I recently sent out a personal inmail to the ‘new’ contacts (you can find in your connections area) sharing a little about me and asking them to get back with me if there was something mutual we could discuss or work together on.  Out of 44 inmails, I received 28 responses (all positive), 3 joint venture requests, 5 asked for me to guest post on their blog, developed 4 clients and recd sales of my video course (without asking them to do so!)  Anything that is automated I have learned to stay away from.  In today’s social media, our social sites are tools, and if you respect your audience you will see a tremendous return in the way of building your business for success.

    • TYSM for your advice! Early in my LI career, I would contact connections to “get connected” in person. Most were willing. I’ve also sent out emails to my list with a targeted message. It does take work!

  61. I got the invitation today and i got excited as you did. Then I got another email with a video to teach me how to copy my Linkedin information and uploaded to their site. I refuse to do that because I did not want to share my Linkedin connection with others without their permission. I thought this is a spam to just get more emails and contact informations.

  62. Diarmuid says:

    Thank you for your very valuable information, I have been inundated by these mails on my own wee dog social networking site and have just kept deleting them. Glad I did, thank again.

  63. Ha! Thanks for this Chris! I just received an email  from a record company in Europe who I am associated with this morning, inviting me to Referral Key. They’re a big company, so i figured it was legit. Thankfully my Gmail warned me that there might be something amiss, so I Googled Referral Key and immediately stumbled upon your post. This does not sound like anything I want to be a part of at all.

  64. Anonymous says:

    I found this article because I just got my first email from someone on LinkedIn that I really don’t even know very well. I’m going to send her the link to this article. 

  65. Lazarus says:

     Thanks for sharing your experience. I just received an email from someone and I decided to check out the reviews first then I found this.

  66. Chris, thanks for the excellent post. A year later and it’s still on. (And I can’t believe Ott’s comments! Props to you for riding the higher ground.)
    Anyway, here’s my email to a LinkedIn connection who sent me this Referral Key garbage:
    [Trusted connection]:Regarding your Referral Key invite to me (among how many others? I never take action on non-personal, non-custom emails like this), see, e.g., I detest emails like this. I realize you just probably sent it out to your LinkedIn network. The Re: line is a GREAT hook. Everyone loves a possible windfall of work. And then you dig a little and the balloon gets popped. It’s spam and it’s hurting people’s LinkedIn rep (including yours).I intend to treat my LinkedIn network like gold. This sh*t is not gold.Cheers!

  67. Anonymous says:

    Wow. Almost just fell for the exact same okey-doke! Got a typical invite from a 1st-tier LinkedIn contact. At first I was excited at the come-on. Then I thought: “This ‘contact’ has not returned my calls in years–why would they give a **** about referring me business?” Thanks for the heads-up!

  68. Thanks for the more detailed explanation from someone in the Social Media field. I received the invite from a former headhunter I had worked with, and I was very happy, thinking it was a manual message from him.

    Then I joined, added my Linked In list, and suddenly I got numerous emails from my Linked In connections asking if this was legit or spam. Not quite mortified, but embarrassed. I wrote to several people apologizing and explaining that Referral Key sent out this email without first warning me that they would do so. (Maybe there was a warning, in some fine print, but I sure don’t recall seeing it.)

    This morning I got an email from a friend forwarding a NAG email from Referral Key saying, “Final reminder: Your invite from xxxxxx will expire soon.” Again I had to send an apology. I can only imagine how many of my contacts didn’t bother to confirm with me directly but instead just silently lowered their opinion of me.

    I’m going to quit Referral Key as soon as I finish this comment.

  69. That’s exactly why I always research things.  I had no idea what they were talking about, and now that I do, I have no interest in “Referral Key”.  I never asked to join anyway. 

  70. Not only may I have confused or pissed off my LinkedIn connections, but I’m pissed at Referral Key and myself for not studying it more closely.  I joined in order to respond to an invitation.  Then I followed instructions to import my LinkedIn connections, not realizing that would trigger an automatic invitation to them.  Not sure if REferral Key failed to let me know that would happen or just had it buried in the find print somewhere.  Anyway, does not make me want to use it, and I’ve already had to explain and apologize for the invitation and SPAM.

    • it’s quite frustrating, isn’t it?

      •  This is exactly what just happened to me. It’s been very embarrassing for me, and I’m extremely annoyed with these people, and I will be closing my account immediately.

        • I have been told (by the creator of Referral Key, down in the comments below somewhere) that we are fundamentally misunderstanding how to use the service. Supposedly there is a way to easily opt out of this, and yet, people to continue to arrive and my random little blog post, upset that they accidentally spammed their entire LinkedIn list. It never ends …

  71. Jlovecchio says:

     I joined in order to respond to an invitation.  Then I followed instructions to import my LinkedIn connections and FB connections. Just did this today at about 1:00 pm. How can I reverse and or delete my account? I assume its too late to stop the emails to all my connections?

  72. I watched the video and the moment it said I need to download and upload; I thought something was up. I won’t be continuing with the service. After all, you can connect Facebook  LinkedIn and Twitter without downloading a thing.

  73. Nikki Schuster says:

    Thank you for this, I have got several of these emails and like you, I was suspicious, they do seem like spam. 
    Their marketing is a bit too aggressive for me I am afraid.

  74. I am flipping out, I just hit the back button after having read this an manually unselected all but a handful of my contacts so I am hoping I am OK. I never hit the “add” button so I am OK, yes?

  75. Thanks for the post – confirmed what I thought would be the result if I foolishly accepted.  I had received an invite yesterday from a law school classmate that lives across the country and responded directly to him that I appreciated the offer but would decline – my practice is limited to U.S. patent prosecution, a fairly narrow niche compared to “Legal” services, and I doubt that anyone going to a tax lawyer across the country would be well served by being referred to me. 
    Today, even after a specific email to say not interested (in a diplomatic way), I received another form invite.  That’s when I checked online and found this and another post describing how rewards were available for referrals.  That brought a whole new set of concerns in the legal field.  At least the current form emails have an “Unsubscribe” button – I just hope it actually works and doesn’t simply confirm to them what my email is so they ( can spam me even more.

  76. Thanks for this post – I immediately canceled my account.

  77. Ditto… especially from my LinkedIn contacts. I am taking time to Build relationships and this is an easy “sour grape” to that process. Thanks for this insight and I would like to re-post this on my blog as well if I have your permission.
    I am definitely going to re-tweet and talk about this on Facebook.
    Thanks again.


  78. I got the email and the first thing I did is (as I always did since the early days of internet) Google the SH*T out of it, always been suspicious of anything that’s promising, I have even ignored Facebook invitations for months before understanding that all my friends and family were on it… and I read this post, I do not need more info! Thank you

  79. I didnt see the “Customise the message” option either. Have just had to email my whole LinkedIn contact list to apologise for the “misleading” email I stupidly sent from ReferralKey

  80. Alex Morse says:

    Can we Sue referral key? I cant figure out how to remove my profile, and they will not respond to any of my emails.

  81. If you go to your settings… Bottom… You can delete your account.

  82. Thank you Chris for your post on Referral Key. I just received an email inviting me to join. I wanted to be informed.
    -All the best,

  83. Nothing of value if free…everyone should know this. Thank you for the heads up on Referral Key. I had never heard of it before, and of course googled it. I own my own business and could not even imagine the potential damage to my reputation with my clients on LI.
    Thank you again.

  84. notaspammer says:

    Thank you. This site really ruined my day. I fall into the “I didn’t send this email category” and have been responding to angry spam accusations all day! Terrible!!’

  85. Signed up after accepting an invite from a colleague I trust but didn’t get far enough to import any contacts. I immediately deleted my account before anything goofy could occur. What a gas!

  86. MotherSpider says:

    You can use an invitation letter to never get another one. Simply click the “unsubscribe” at the bottom and you can opt out of any further emails from RK.

    • Angela Vullo says:

      Actually the “unsubscribe” button at the bottom of the letter is the same referral link within the email. Very spammy!

  87. Thanks, I appreciate your post. You were the first link I found on google. I was wondering what those referral key email were – I had assumed that it was a virus.

    • Likely not a virus, but as you can see from the comments below, there’s a great deal of confusion about the service. Many differing opinions about how it works, etc.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  88. Hello. I have just received my first ‘invitation’ for Referral Key which came to my personal email address and not to the one associated with my business. Immediately suspicious. What I really want to know though, is how does this measure up to what is happening with LinkedIn and their fake endorsements and ‘job skills’ updates? I cannot tell you how many “endorsements’ I have been notified about from folks with whom I have never done business. I also have been notified of the new “job skills” of friends, prompting me to call to congratulate them, only to find out that LinkedIn put those descriptions in. I thought, at one time, that LinkedIn was quite the well-heeled business networking site. Now, I have serious doubts.

    • LinkedIn is suffering from a deluge of not only fake endorsements and recommendations, but fake accounts. I receive connection requests from clearly phony accounts on an almost daily basis. LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter all have their work cut out for them, in my opinion.

  89. EXCELLENT blog and advice.. many thanks.

    • Thanks much Keith. Do take note that Chris from Referral Key reached out to me and said the service has been improved. As I told him, I cannot verify the facts (no time, etc), but he wants my readers to know that, according to him, they’ve improved the site.

      • I greatly appreciate your advise in this blog post. I was just spammed and when I compare my brief interaction to what I’ve read here, it doesn’t appear that much has improved. I also find the threatening tone in the unsubscribe response desperate and unprofessional.

        “Unsubscribe – I never want to exchange referrals with professionals I know.”

        As if Referral Key has control over how I conduct business. Very tacky.

  90. I think this makes Linkedin look like ****. More and more I don’t like LI. It used to be a good idea–now just another gimmick. This dam* emails went out to all my contacts after I received an invite from a physician contact. I then got several other invites from people who thought it was legitimate. I’m glad I’m not the only one who got conned. LI is just another cheap, pathetic site in which people can garner personal info on others. Though i canceled my account with RK, all my contacts received this stupid email. Hopefully, people will understand it’s similar to the Hotmail hack which solicited money for the “stuck in England” BS. I cherish the day LI and others get their heads out of the sand and put some effort into site security!

    • Dude (or m’lady, depending), I do still use LinkedIn and I appreciate the connections I’ve made there. But, I am seeing spam – fake account – proliferate. I get connection requests from so many caucasians from Malaysia with 30 or so connections. It’s very easy to discern the pattern. The weird photograph that looks like stock photography, the country (sooooooo many from Malaysia), the relatively young person with an 8 year stint at some randomly named organization. LinkedIn has some very serious work ahead of it.

  91. Now the emails say “I would like to throw business your way.”

    Makes me want to close LinkedIn. 100 emails two days until finally I was unable to unsubscribe and block all future emails from the service. Thank goodness for that option.

    • I have not received such a message yet. I rarely get them anymore.

    • Jon Butler says:

      I’ve received 20+ in the last two days, which has me rethinking my traditional “the more the merrier” stance on LinkedIn connections. This post might be more relevant than it was in 2011, and sales professionals in particular should heed its warning.

      • You are saying you have received 20+ emails from people on behalf of Referral Key, in the last two days?

        • Jon Butler says:

          I have a rule where I need to have to meet people face-to-face before connecting on LinkedIn, so I know who did it, and suspect my email address was shared as a prospect. To your point about fake LI profiles, though, it’s obvious that unscrupulous marketing/sales professionals are using the network for access to the inbox, and perhaps selling our information in targeted lists. LinkedIn definitely needs to shore this up, or its main service will be as spam-ridden as some of the older city-specific “professional groups” hosted on it.

  92. Slightly annoying. They don’t seem to have learned much over the past few years. I wasn’t even aware of the content of the email that was being sent on my behalf, and it doesn’t fit with what I thought I was doing.

    I remember being annoyed by these letters ages ago, and only recently took another look because of a perceived link with LinkedIn. It makes everyone look bad. Chris Ott needs to seriously re-think this concept or drop it.

    • Lewis, thank you for visiting my blog. I did not use the service back when I wrote this post, and to this day, I have not tried it. I did speak with Chris Ott on the phone, and he was quite nice (and this in the face of this blog post of mine). So I want to be up front with everyone and say that I can’t be sure if the service has improved over the years or not. Chris says that it has, and I hope he is right. I have invited him to present his side of the story on, either in a blog post or on a specially-created page, and I told him I’d link to that newly created page at the top of this blog post. I am hopeful you’ll get to hear that story from him.

      • Hi Rizzo. I think you have been vary fair. I also think that the improvements are just on the site functionality, and not on how people are contacted. I am presently sending out a slew of emails apologizing for the avalanche, often to people I barely know and have inadvertently offered to help with their businesses in the most inappropriate way. The system assumes, I think, that all my contacts are looking for me to help them. While I would love to help in many cases, the approach is entirely inappropriate in a world where everyone knows (and Chris Ott should know this) that building relationships is key – not a quick ‘I can send you more business’ – even if it were true.

  93. Laura A. Dillivan says:

    I joined ReferralKey this morning, after talking about it with someone who had sent me an invitation. I did so knowing that my LinkedIn contacts would be invited to join (you have to export your LinkedIn connections to Referral Key which is a very intentional action) however…even though I wrote a personalized message inviting people to join me and explaining why I thought it was worthwhile, the message my contacts received was the canned “spammy” sounding “Are you excepting new clients?” email. What the heck??? Where’s what I wrote? Why even make that an option if it isn’t going to be seen by anyone? I’ll be sending Chris Ott a note to find out the answers, you can be sure.

  94. Thank you Chris for this post. I just received an email asking me to join this service and I thought I would read about it before accepting. I won’t be doing it today thanks to your post.

  95. I had an awful, awful experience yesterday with ReferralKey and I really wish I’d done a search for reviews before I joined. I did not realize that my LinkedIn contacts would be invited DURING the import contacts process. As a result, they all got spammed. I spent most of yesterday writing apology notes to many and posting an apology on my LinkedIn feed. It’s a shame because the service could be useful. The process should be to import all connections, and then choose who to invite and when. Obviously ReferralKey’s customer acquisition tactics trump a customer’s desire to initiate contact with their valued connections. As a result, I immediately cancelled my account. My connections will follow suit, I’m sure.

  96. Just so you know, things haven’t much changed. I just today (8/17/2013) received an email from a LinkedIn contact. The subject line was my company name and the text said, “I’d like to send business your way. If you’re interested, simply add yourself to my network below.” Since I know her on LinkedIn, Facebook and from live events, I thought the wording odd. I wrote her on Facebook and she apologized profusely, saying “Actually, I did send it but it was very unintentional. Playing with it and the next thing I knew it went out to all my Linkedin contacts.”

    Bad form. Really bad form. I will not be joining this service, now or in any real or fictional future when they clean up their act. I don’t much care how nice the owner is. This is bad business practice and he has had plenty of time to fix it if he had any intention to.

    Just clicked on the Unsubscribe link. Their unsubscribe page warns that, if I unsubscribe, I won’t be able to receive referrals from anyone in referralkey ever again. My thought: Good.

  97. I actually just received one of these emails today with the same form as Geoff Hoff listed below. I will not be clicking the link. It just seemed really spammy and now I am very annoyed.

  98. Thank you for this post and the follow-up comments! I wanted to look into what Referral Key was all about before clicking on a link from a colleague and I am so glad I did! I will be unsubscribing now.

  99. Received my invite yesterday:

    Hi Chris,

    I’d like to send business your way.

    If you’re interested, simply add yourself to my network below.

    Thank You Chris and those who have commented.

    I too will not be joining ReferralKey.

  100. Wow. This has now finally made a lot of things clear. When I received the invitation it too was from a first contact and it made sense because of our business connection. I had didn’t equate referral key as grabbing my Linked In list but it sure did and it made my life miserable. I hate this company. It has wasted many hours of my time. I’m worried if I go to unsubscribe, they might grab my list again ;-( Could that be possible?

  101. lilredkevette says:

    I just received one of those invitations and became immediately suspicious because the message was so short and impersonal. I’m social so I want people to talk to me, not at me. I don’t like spam and I don’t dish it out. I could tell by the greeting something was wrong. I always apply two rules…#1 – when in doubt don’t & #2 – if it seems to good to be true it usually is.

    Thanks so much for posting this article and including the updates. I’ll check later for the update you spoke of from Referral Key CEO.

  102. I joined too, but after hitting send, assumed, that like most such processes (gmail, LI etc) that the next step would verify WHO I wanted to send the message to. That didn’t happen & I too was inundated from people asking if it was spam, or really me. That next quality control step is crucial. How does an automated system know who you want to send a blanket message of invitation to & assume you don’t want to customise it. Then you get reminders to follow up & it blocks you for 5hrs because the message seems the same, even though you customised it? Probably easier to opt out now. I really don;t see any benefits over LI or other high visibility systems. Too many to check & login to.

    • I have been assured there is a way to control what the message says and who the message goes to, but it never seems to work out that way for people. I still haven’t test-driven the service, so I cannot confirm or deny.

  103. Oh my goodness…I wish I had seen this before last night. How terribly embarrassing. I am very unhappy about this!!! I’ve received several emails, some linking to this article. My company DOES NOT SPAM. This hurts.

  104. I’ve received two messages this week from Referral Key. One of the senders said his Linked in account was hacked.

  105. Thank you for the heads up, Chris. I appreciate it. I received one of these emails and wanted to know what it was before clicking on the link.

  106. Julie Sharpe says:

    It’s not that the Linkedin account is hacked, it’s just that its not made clear that when you upload your linked in contacts, they will be instantly sent a message. It’s probably on their site somewhere in one of those places that if you are not the type to read all the fine print, you could make a stupid mistake, like I did. Fortunately for me though, there were several hundred emails that did not get processed. I’m not sure why, but I got an email from referralkey saying that they didn’t go through, with the ENTIRE LIST asking me to send again. I think not!!!

  107. John Detlefs says:

    A bit like the old “SEX” headline, this “I’ve got business to throw your way” subject line is a bad idea. I found this post after doing a quick search on referralkey as it felt a little dodgy.

    I’ve now safely unsubscribed!

  108. There is one good thing about the Referral Key site; I now have a CSV file on my hard drive containing all my Linked-in contacts. I didn’t finish the whole process so none of my contacts were spammed by Referral Key; thank goodness….

  109. Thanks so much for writing this post! I didn’t click the first time… and then got a “reminder” today to join someone’s Referral Key network. Very glad I checked into it first. It screams fishy! Thanks!

  110. Deborah Shadovitz says:

    Nov 11, 2013 it has NOT stopped taking from LinkedIn’s 1st degree connections. I just got one and wrote, via LinkedIn to the man who “invited me.”

    I wrote, in part:
    Did you actually mean to send me a message about Referral Key, Or did you join it and it auto-sent to all of your 1st degree LinkedIN connections as it is/was famous for doing?
    I strongly suspect the latter because we know one another as XYZ experts but my top position, ABCD, is what “you” wrote to me for.

    He quickly replied very nicely:
    Thanks for your message. I got spammed. Now, I have to clean up this mess. I apologize for the inconvenience. I will send out a message to everyone in my LinkedIN account to advise them, not to accept the invite or even join ReferralKey.

    My feeling is that referrals are what I have LinkedIn for. Why join something else? I always avoid generic invitations and detest apps/sites that hook into our connections in any way. (I am not signing in here via anything to reply. Glad I can post here as a guest. Thank you for this post.

  111. thanks for this very informative post…just got one of these, spammed via a friend who didn’t intend to…crazy stuff…

  112. James Horton says:

    Received a “spam” this week. Went looking and found your great post! Also made me realise that sender probably made a mistake when joining referral key…probably got duped into joining himself. Thanks

    • BinaryWatcher says:

      Same here…

      I just went back and looked, and the email body was cookie-cutter, and the subject was for a job position that I haven’t held in nearly a year…

  113. Found this very helpful. I have never heard of Referral Key and had five invites this morning. Thought I should do a little checking out first. Thanks for this!

  114. Just received an invite from a LI contact… Seems they are still actively spamming…

  115. Yves Schelpe says:

    Just, again, recieved an email, from a 2nd degree contact.
    Seems like the ball is still rolling.

  116. tory richards says:

    I just received my first email from them today. Decided to check them out. Your article was very helpful. Thanks!

  117. I just started using referral key, and if you are already networking in other social atmospheres then this is perfect. We exchange business cards, but can’t keep track of them all. When I login to referral key I get to see the list of clients or other business owners with an option to send them a referral, perfect, I give the info and done. As far as spam goes it gets caught in my spam filters

    • There is a nearly (completely?) identical post on (pasted below).
      I think one would have to be pretty passionate about referral key to go around posting the same comment on multiple blogs. Or, of course, an employee.

      Referral Key User says:

      February 22, 2014 at 9:53 pm

      I just started using referral key too, and if you are already networking in other social atmospheres then this is perfect. We exchange business cards, but can’t keep track of them all. When I login to referral key I get to see the list of clients or other business owners with an option to send them a referral, perfect, I give the info and done. As far as spam and advertising, to me its no different then weeding through your site here with all the adds on the right, but the spam gets caught in my spam filters

      • Just added RK to my SPAM list. Anything associated with Constant Contact gets an auto ‘thumbs down’. Since they seem to mine Linked In accounts, time to rethink being listed on there…

    • FYI all:

      Nearly the exact same exact comment left here:

  118. I don’t believe in referral key. I believe it is a scam to get your money.

  119. PhysicistVet says:

    This seems to be making the rounds again. I was flooded with them about a year ago (and added these to my spam filter), and today I found 24 of these messages sitting in my spam folder.

  120. I received an invitation mail from RK today and your article helped me to stay away from it and not becoming the “spam guy”. Thank you very much for the valuable information!

  121. Their unsubscribe response is unprofessional.

  122. Since this post, I think they have gotten better but I’d rather go with a straight referral such as

  123. Ed Anderson says:

    Chris Ott, I think you have a great concept because you drawing traffic. Although it isn’t extremely positive, you clearly have a strong concept that can be turned into a success story. Instead of being so defensive, try listening to your audience and get your network headed in the right direction. Look how much time these social media guru’s have spent with this blog over the last four years. Take the constructive criticism and learn instead of being so brash. Clearly you got something of value if people are willing to hand over their entire networks from LinkedIn. Hopefully it isn’t too late!!!

  124. I just got one today through email from a total stranger! I googled his name and his linked profil shows he is located in Boston with over 500 contacts (I am in Canada and rarely use Linkedin with little contacts) and we have no one in common. Very weird


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  4. […] it works. It really looks kind of spammy in a non web 2.0 way but they have a good concept. I read this blog post after doing a quick google search. I am not the only one that thinks its a bit spammy. I did send […]

  5. […] finding out. So the next step was my trusty friend Google, and I came across blogs like this one: Rizzotees on Referral Key . Still looking for the positive, I tried Youtube.  Louis Weinstein, the network founder, sounds […]

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