At its core, viral marketing is a way to get your customers to refer their friends to your product or service.
Products “go viral” when every user brings in another user, and the cycle repeats. This leads to exponential growth of your customer base.
Tech giants like Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp initially gained traction and continue to grow through this channel.
The viral loop is simple. It’s made of three parts:
- A customer finds your product or service.
- The customer tells other potential customers about it.
- The potential customers find your product or service and some of them become customers.
If you can achieve this with your product and marketing strategies, you can create viral growth.
There are many types of viral loops.
- Word of mouth - Facebook spread this way in the early days among Harvard college students
- The product itself is inherently viral - Skype isn’t usable unless you invite your friends
- The product encourages collaboration - Google Docs is usable by yourself, but it's better with others
- Embedding links or reminders into messages sent from the product - The default tagline “Hotmail: Free, trusted and rich email service. Get it now.” was effectively used by Hotmail in its early days.
- Including the product logo into free customer’s sites - Free Wix websites include Wix branding
- Including special benefits for referrals - Dropbox gives users more free storage if they invite a friend
- Embedding share buttons - YouTube’s video players include a button to share the video with friends
- Broadcasting user’s actions to social media - Spotify shares the songs you play to your Facebook profile
You can calculate if something is going viral with real numbers by calculating the viral coefficient (K).
K = i * conversion percentage
(i is the average number of invites sent per user)
If K is 1 or higher, you’ve achieved viral growth.
It’s also important to look at your viral cycle time. This is the time it takes for your customers to complete one viral loop — the shorter it is, the better.
You can tweak each part of the above formula in order to increase viral growth. For more growth, increase your conversion percentage and the average number of invites sent per user, or shorten the viral cycle time.
It’s best to focus on each factor one by one, doing A/B testing and tweaking it before moving on to the next.
Focussing on changes that could lead to a 5-10x increase in an important metric for your product.
You can encourage your customers to send their friends email invitations to sign up for your product or service.
The email should have a call to action button that leads the person to a conversion page. A conversion page asks visitors to subscribe, purchase, download something, or do another meaningful action for your company.
Keep A/B testing on every part of your conversion pages and optimize it for your ideal customer. You can change the look of the page, the wording, the sign-up process, testimonials and social proof, the call to action, and anything else you can think of.
You can also ask for user feedback using surveys or tools like UserTesting.com.
You may find a specific group of customers that are experiencing viral growth, while other sectors are more stagnant. It may be a certain demographic or location of user. Once you’ve found the pocket of viral growth, you can begin optimizing your product for this group of customers.
Viral tactics can’t just be slapped on top of a mediocre product. The product itself needs to be valuable, easy to use, and likable.
When starting out, you can simply copy somebody else’s viral loop and see what results it brings. Then you can start testing and optimizing and come up with ideas of your own.
If viral marketing is your core channel, you will need to make sure that you have a steady stream of new customers to keep the cycle going. This is called seeding. You can get these new seed customers through other methods like SEO and Content Marketing.