When we hear the word viral, a lot of meanings pop into our minds.
A highly infectious disease or a popular video, are both viral.
But today we will be talking about a different type of viral: Viral products and how to get them to be viral.
Most of the big products and apps we use today are viral, or they went viral before. Even Google had to go viral to be the most used search engine today (feels like it was always there sometimes).
So, the point is, virality is an important step for long-lasting success.
And while we’re at it, it’s important to note that virality is not a random miracle (at least not when you are talking about product virality). Nor it is a marketing strategy or trick.
Whether your product can go viral is determined during the product design. In fact, virality lies in the very core of your product. It all depends on:
- The product’s potential to go viral,
- The features that will get the product viral,
- The way you will get your current users to make it go viral
Easy work, right?
We will dive into all of that, but let’s define what product virality is first.
What is Product Virality?
In the context of the internet, the textbook definition of virality is; the likelihood of an image, video, or information to become popular among internet users.
We are familiar with pictures and videos going viral, but a lot of different media like apps, games, and websites can go viral as well. In our case though, what we mean by product virality is a tad bit different.
The term product virality refers to the popularity and the process of designing the product in order for it to become popular. Not to be confused with “viral marketing”, which is a marketing strategy mostly used after the product is finished and ready to use; product virality is a process that starts from the very beginning of product design.
While we are at it, let’s clear up a thing or two about product virality.
Product virality is not word of mouth.
It’s true that word of mouth and product virality have so much in common.
In both cases, your product is mentioned and gets attention after this mentioning is done. Furthermore, it’s your customer or user that does the marketing job for you, with word of mouth or virality.
However, the difference lies in the way of doing marketing.
When someone talks about your product and tells people it’s good and they should use it, there is no interaction with the product itself. When it is product virality, your customers somehow get the potential customers to interact with your product. Even seeing the logo counts!
Product virality is not PR
It is true that PR can act as a mechanism of virality, however, virality is not PR.
Product virality’s true purpose is to create (in the making of the product) a potential for your product to go viral.
The same thing can apply to marketing as well. Marketing can get your product viral, but virality methods don’t count as marketing, as marketing is typically not a part of the design process (which virality is).
Product virality is not magic
Let us repeat just in case, product virality is no miracle.
Your product won’t get magically viral overnight, you need to put great thought and work on it.
In fact, it involves a tiny bit of mathematics.
The Virality Formula
Current number of customers x the K coefficient = number of customers after viral growth
The K coefficient formula is;
K = the number of invitations sent by customers x conversion rate for each invitation
So basically, you multiply the number of invitations your customers share by the conversion rate for each of the invitations, (which will give you the K coefficient) and then multiply the result by the number of current number of customers. This will give you how many customers you (will) have after viral growth.
This is an important little piece of information you might want to know for when you need to see how your virality strategy might play out as you design the product.
Alright, now that we are finished with virality maths 101, let’s move on to the types of product virality.
Types of Product Virality
You might be thinking, “viral is viral, how come there are types of it?” well, product virality is a complex concept.
In fact, if it is done wrong, it might do more harm than good. So, it is very important to take a close look at these types of product virality.
Now, there are very different ways and names for these methods, but most people prefer to divide product virality into two main methods. These are pull product virality and distribution product virality.
A- Pull Product Virality (PPV)
Pull product virality, or PPV is the direct approach to go viral.
The goal is to get the existing users to invite their friends and colleagues to use the product. By doing so, as Philip La describes it, the user can gain value out of a feature (and have their friend gain it as well) or the sole purpose of the invitation may be to enjoy the product together.
1- Incentivized Word of Mouth Virality
Josh Elmon prefers to call it that whole sentence, but let’s call it incentive virality.
This is a type of product virality method that all of us come across often. Whether you are using an app, website, service, or a game; there are always referral bonuses. It can be a promotion, a coupon, a free feature of the product, or even free game currency; one way or another we all interact with them.
The reason why is obvious, we get to get something for free and we get to have our friends on the platform with us.
Sounds like a good bargain to me.
2- Infectious Virality
Infectious virality refers to a “virus” infecting someone and that someone infecting another person; not the cutest name but well, it is how it works.
Infectious virality works best for social media and community apps, as it gives out the message “I am socializing on this platform, come socialize with me”.
As the typical zoon politikon, we are instinctively driven to be a part of society and join them.
That’s the main idea behind social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. When Facebook first launched people would receive an invitation whenever they were tagged on a Facebook post, a fun way to invite friends. Similar methods are being used by many others now, but Facebook will always be the pioneer of infectious virality.
B- Distribution Product Virality (DPV)
Distribution product virality or DPV is the type of virality that is achieved when your existing customers or users share your product, a feature of your product, or an experience with your product within their network; with friends and colleagues.
It does not directly aim for the non-users to immediately check your product and start using it right away, instead what it does is raise awareness of your product.
One can say that this method is potentially more efficient than a direct call to “come and join”. Sometimes non-users may find such actions intrusive and annoying. Instead what you do is put little hints of your product and let them discover you by themselves through their friends’ or colleagues’ experiences with your product.
1- Word of Mouth Virality
“Hold on right there. I thought word of mouth cannot be product virality?”
It all depends.
In its common meaning, word of mouth does not equal product virality. The reason why is because word of mouth is more of a marketing strategy rather than a design process and it typically does not require an interaction with the non-user.
However, there are times when word of mouth can be thought of and planned during design and it may also be driving the non-user to use the product.
For example, in the Snapchat app, the act of sending photos is called “snapping” and the photo you send is called “snap”. This vocabulary obviously appeared during the design phase as it is a part of the app itself, on top of that it created a certain interest in the app and drove the non-users to check it out. In fact, that’s how I discovered Snapchat when it first became popular.
So, if conditions are met, word of mouth can be a good virality method as well.
2- Demonstration Virality
As Josh Elman puts it, this is the type of virality that is supposed to make you go;
“dude, how did you do that?”
And in my opinion, that is how basic product virality works.
This is the very cornerstone of virality because people are the most driven to interact with your product when they experience a cool feature of it.
Take TikTok for example, there are countless TikTok videos appearing on my Facebook, Instagram, and even Twitter feed. It is very hard to look at some of the creative videos with slow motion and cool editing and not think “dude, how did you do that?”
3- Outbreak Virality
This type of product virality is not as common, because it’s not about choosing to use this virality method but achieving to use this method.
All the odds need to be in your favor for this type of thing but remember that virality is not magic. As a classical example of outbreak virality, we have Pokémon Go that burst out like the biggest outbreak in the summer of 2016.
First of all, it was Pokémon.
The whole world had been waiting for a chance to catch their own Pokémon for years already, so the “existing customer” was there even before launching.
Then after it launched everyone was walking the streets in a big craze looking for Pikachu and Bulbasaur. Not only it trended on Twitter for weeks, there were actual people you could see catching Pokémon on the streets with their costumes on. Even people who had no idea what a Pokémon is were playing the game.
That’s what I call an outbreak.
How to Make it Successful?
As I mentioned above, virality is risky business (just like all other businesses).
If the product virality method does not match the product itself, it may do more damage than good.
This is exactly why you need to decide the virality method during the design; so, when necessary you can alter the design in a way that will absorb and unite with the virality method you choose.
So, grab a pen and note down these tips for good virality.
1- Choose the Right Method
Would Facebook be as successful if they followed an incentive virality method?
Or would demonstration virality be enough for Pokémon Go?
From day one, product managers and everyone else working on the product start imagining all sorts of scenarios for when the product launches.
It wouldn’t be a wild guess that they also imagine it’s virality and work on it.
At this point, one wrong step is deadly. You cannot launch a product like Slack and not add an “invite” feature. And even after you do add the feature, there are other details to think about: where do the users share the invitation, how much of the product can a non-user experience before signing up and so many more details. This again shows us that there is a strong connection between design and virality.
2- Choose the Name Wisely
The name is the star when it comes to virality, or any activity related to building a brand.
The name of the product has to be short, witty, and catchy.
Do you think Facebook would be so popular if it was called AddYourHighSchoolFriends or something like that?
As I mentioned above, Snapchat makes great use of its name as well. The word “snap” is used in the context of Snapchat itself and it’s honestly great branding.
Another example is Google. It was named after the large number googol, but thankfully we don’t have to say, “just googol it”.
Another thing to note is to never use big viral names.
If you name your product Snapper now, Snapchat will surely pop up before your product. Don’t do it unless you are sure you’ll be bigger than Snapchat one day!
3- Don’t Be Fooled
The reason why we want good virality is because we want users and customers flooding in.
It’s as simple as that.
That’s why your primary concern must be active users. It doesn’t matter how many people view and click on the product as long as they don’t buy or use it.
Don’t panic though. Virality methods are decided during design, but you can still enhance it post-launch, marketing exists for a reason.
Product virality sure is tricky.
There are so many variables and you even have to consider the maths of it.
It’s decided during the design phase so every step must be taken carefully. But there are many types of virality and no need to worry. Sometimes all it takes to go viral is a genius idea. Your product has the potential to be the next Facebook if you remember that product virality is no miracle and you need to work your brains for success.