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A Study in Going Viral





YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, Skype, Digg, Flickr, Ning… all phenominally successful ventures that have achieved rapid growth in large part due to their ability to “go viral”.

While viral marketing sounds fairly simple — get each of your users to invite and bring other users to your site or app., anyone who’s ever focused on driving viral growth knows it’s part art, part intuition and a whole lot of science. Their are a myriad of factors that will affect a site or application’s viral rate, things like the inherent viral value proposition, UI, interactive workflow, messaging and positioning, tactical feature implementation… The difference between success and failure often depends on your ability to find just the right combination of ingredients.

The Power of Viral Rates – an Example

Just how important and powerful can viral marketing be in driving the growth of your consumer oriented Internet venture ? Most know it can pay big dividends, but many have never actually looked closely at the numbers.

Lets look at a simple theoretical example that demonstrates user growth and true viral trending when different viral rates are achieved:

Qtr-to-Qtr User Base Growth, Driven by Viral & Non-Viral User Acquisition


(Click Image to see enlarged view of graph)

The chart above shows you what your total user base would be quarter-by-quarter if you added 3000 new users a quarter through non-viral marketing activities (PR, advertising, etc.) and a had a viral rate* of .75 (model #1), 1.00 (model #2) or 1.25 (model #3).

Qtr-to-Qtr True Viral Growth Trending


(Click Image to see enlarged view of graph)

The chart above shows the # of new users you would add every quarter via viral effect ONLY, if you simply had 3000 initial users, didn’t acquire any more users through non-viral marketing activity (PR, advertising, etc.) and had a viral rate* of .75 (model #1), 1.00 (model #2) or 1.25 (model #3).

As you’ll notice in both charts, small increases in viral rate can have a BIG impact on your user growth. Viral rates under one (<1) create regressive viral growth (your true viral user growth slows down quarter-by-quarter), viral rates equal to one (=1) create static viral growth (your true viral user growth remains constant quarter-by-quarter) and viral rates over one (>1) create exponential viral growth (your true viral user growth speeds up quarter by quarter).

Viral rate used above represents the avg. # of new users who sign-up (register) as result of invitations by an existing user. The charts (calculations) above assume each invited user (invitee) who signs up, does so in the quarter after the invitor signed up.

Explore How Different Viral Rates Effect the Growth of Your User Base

See how small increases in your viral rates can have a big impact on your user base.

Finding the Secret Formula to Go Viral – Tools, Tactics & Considerations

To hep uncover what makes an Internet site or application go viral, and/or ways to optimize viral growth we studied and analyzed many of the leading online ventures demonstrating strong viral activity. Here are some general findings on the common components, techniques and tactics that many of the most viral ventures leveraged…

  • Inherent or Strong Viral Value Proposition – The first thing we noticed with all the sites that had powerful viral growth was that each had a VERY strong inherently viral nature to begin with. For example, sharing photos or videos is a common, natural or “inherent”, action associated with posting pictures or videos. Inviting others to join a community that you have an interest in is an inherent action associated with creating or joining that community. The sites and applications that had the strongest viral rates seemed to share an inherent viral nature in relation to the core service provided. Does your site offer a strong, natural (inherent) value proposition to leverage viral?
  • Optimizing UI, and page workflow for viral activity when users registered and logged into their account
  • Automating email list importing, email invitation messaging / delivery, and scanning contact lists against existing databases
  • Automating re-sending of invitations when those invited hadn’t registered after a specified period of time or hadn’t taken specific actions.
  • Automating invitations to rate or collaborate on content you posted (versus inviting to join)
  • Automating Widget, RSS and Bookmarking
  • Using viral invitation incentives, contests & revenue sharing
  • Leveraging micro groups and channels within the master community
  • Encouraging personal email footer adoption
  • Automating viral activity through regular ongoing email reporting
  • Leveraging 3rd party, pics, videos & content outside of your sites user generated content to help drive viral
  • Leveraging existing 3rd party application user bases
  • Launching viral advertising campaigns (this is different than making your app. viral)
  • Targeting initial push toward highly viral demographic groups
  • Forcing invitations vs. not forcing invitations in the registration/sign-up process
  • Driving viral with “Invite Only” positioning

These are just some of the things we consistently noticed with many of the highly viral sites /apps. While each site / app had some variation, there seemed to be one apparent finding across ALL — an understanding of the importance of the viral growth metric and commitment to uncover the ingredients to optimize it.

Have you figured out your viral formula?

Need Help Going Viral

Need help optimizing and driving your viral growth? Put iPreneur to work. We research, study and focus on driving viral improvements. To learn more contact us.

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