Viral amplification loops – the secret for virals?

A viral campaign – everybody wants one. Few ever gets one.

I am the first to admit that it isn’t easy, but there are things you could to to better the odds of ever creating a campaign that goes viral. I prefer calling it “a campaign that goes viral” rather than “a viral campaign”, because, by definition, it can’t be a viral campaign until it has proven itself to actually go viral.

Then there is of course the distinction between campaigns that go viral on a larger scale and the ones that only go viral on a small scale, in very contextual environments. But, I am drifting away here, to topics that I didn’t intend to write about this time. The intention was to write about using an amplification loop as a way to increase potential for viral spread.

Viral expansion loops were discussed throroughly in a Fast Company article about a year and a half ago, in April 2008 – Ning’s Infinite Ambition.

The article tells us about Ning, a startup in Palo Alto, designed specifically to exploit viral loops. In the article, viral loops are said to have emerged as perhaps the most significant business accelerant to hit Silicon Valley since the search engine. But, we also learn that while viral advertising can’t be replicated; by definition, a viral loop must be.

About viral expansion loops from wikipedia:

“A viral expansion loop is similar to viral marketing with one notable difference: viral marketing can’t be replicated indefinitely, while a viral expansion loop must be in order for it to exist. When properly conceived and implemented, a viral loop almost guarantees self-replicating growth…

And a short quote from the article:

…Ning grows because each new user begets more users. Every time someone sets up a social network, he has no choice but to invite friends, family, colleagues, and like-minded strangers to sign on as well.”

Ning benefits from a “double viral loop,” which spreads two ways, because every network creator is a user, drawing in more users, and any new user can become a network creator.

Campaigns that go viral are usually not created in a way to permit something similar. But, there is something equally interesting – the viral retention loop – incentivizing users to come back to a service. This is very often used by Internet start-ups. One way of doing it is to send updates on what has happened on their account while not there.

I think we can expand this thinking and try to build campaigns that makes interaction with campaign material more than a one-off. For this, we have to build in incentives for users who have already been touched by the campaign to come back to the campaign material, interact again, and spread the material further. This should increase the basic reproductive number. If we can double the basic reproductive number of a campaign from for example 0.8 (by definition not a viral campaign, since it’s below 1) to 1.6, we have managed to set an avalanche in motion. This by simply adding an amplification loop into the campaign. Of course, numbers might differ a lot – these are just examples.

The difference between a retention loop and an amplification loop would be that the latter also incentivizes spread of the material, while the former just incentivizes the user to return to the service.

Through this (these – there can of course be more than one) extra loop we amplify the potential virality of the campaign. The trick is, as always, to come up with something interesting, something worth returning to,  and something that makes the user want to pass the material on again, maybe with a new twist.

Here are some reading tips about viral loops:

5 crucial stages in designing your viral loop

What’s your viral loop? Understanding the engine of adoption

And some for the swedish readers:

Viral loops vs. viral tools

Viral- & retention loops

Virulenta nätverk och loopar

Har din produkt en viral loop?

Kristofer Mencák has a M.Sc. in Business Administration from Stockholm School of Economics. He is a consultant, author and lecturer on social media, viral marketing and word of mouth. He has also recently been travelling the world teaching the dance kizomba.

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