I want to make my startup go viral. I beg it of you; please shower me with your dark magic secrets to customer acquisition. What is it that makes startups such as Quizup grow from zero to 3 million users in less than 3 weeks? What kind of skullduggery is this? Are you Gandalf?
Maybe not in that fashion but you get my point. With fierce competition and startups experiencing unprecedented growth rates, nothing seems as important as crafting revolutionary strategies, unleashing the holy hack and making your product as viral as Herpes.
Since so much focus is put on achieving viral growth, and given that there is no magical formula, sometimes the desperation kicks in and drags with it the more aggressive and incomprehensible viral hacks, which deceive you into spreading the word to the masses.
Black Magic Loops
Viral growth traditionally occurs when you create a product that not only engages people, but they love and want to share with the rest of the world. But this isn’t always the case.
I’m sure many of you have been in the position where you encountered a personalized invitation from a LinkedIn contact, which upon clicking entwined you in a rancorous loop where your entire contact list was suddenly imported before your eyes and spammed in an instant.
At the end of the day these types of loops are more about pushing the user into sending invites without being fully aware of what they are doing. Exploiting our disregard for T&C’s and our impatience for absolutely everything, we are more inclined to click on whatever appears in front of our eyes without taking into account the gravity of the situation. From a short-term perspective this might work but for someone who isn’t interested in how exactly they executed the loop, this process would be frustrating and generates negative sentiment around the company
Some examples of viral loops such as these are obvious in their design and somewhat aggressive in nature causing us to send invites without meaning to. In other cases, the push can be subtler, reflected in the design (more in apps form what I’ve experienced). I have come across a few examples on apps where upon downloading, the app imports my friends list, the contacts are either all highlighted by default, which is a pain to deselect (if you have a bunch of contacts) or alternatively you aren’t aware if the check means the contacts are highlighted or not.
Understandably these methods can be very powerful and cause short-term gain although such hacks are unlikely to cause a company to grow to 1MM users within a week if the users do not truly love the product.
On the other hand, excellent examples of great growth hacks and viral loops can be seen by companies such as Hotmail, Dropbox and Upworthy.
I’ve included below a few of the basic steps to help you design your own viral loop.
The first steps to creating your own viral loop
The core element to viralirty is that it is centralized around your product, preventing anyone from replicating the same (unless you have a clone), allowing you to create a long-term sustainable growth strategy. However, before we delve into any more detail, it’s important to note that viral loops, like any new feature should follow agile development methods and A/B tested thoroughly before taking any final decisions.
1. Choose your platform
How will users come across and tell their friends about it? Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Email? Before deciding on which media to integrate you need to consider the how difficult the integration process and also the potential response rate. Testing at each stage of the design process is essential to guarantee the parts of the funnel are optimized. It could be that Email converts 3x more than Facebook, or the inverse. Test and find out what converts better to get potential users to your landing page. In my experience, personalized email has always been more powerful but that might not be the case for you.
2. How many steps are in your funnel?
At what stage does the loop fit into the product? How many steps does a user go though before they complete the invitation process and on the other side how many steps does an invited user pass through to become a new user?
Being a loop, there’s a start and an end point:
– New user to viral loop
When an invited user clicks on the notification/email, what happens? Are you just asking for an email and password? Like most of these processes, the fewer the steps the better. Each stage can be considered a barrier and given that the bounce rates at each stage can be as high as 80%, each following step compounds that percentage. Each step should be optimized to minimize the dropoff.
– Viral loop to potential user
When do you prompt the new user with the viral process? Directly after registering for the first time? By email, by popup? Testing will tell you which method works better. Define what address books the user will choose from when importing friends. The sector, market and geographical location will influence this decision greatly. Always try and keep you invite process relative to your product, i.e. if its a message sharing service then the invite should be a message.
3. What’s the prize?
What are you offering up so that new users invite their friends? Free features? Free money? Whatever it may be, the value of what they will receive + love of the product has to surpass the cost of inviting their network.
Designing a viral loop can take a long time to get into action and should never be considered a completed project. There will always be ways to optimize and improve your viral loop!
What types of viral loop have worked for you in the past?
Gone viral via Shutterstock
P2P viral via Shutterstock