Getting More Out of Virals

Once you’ve invested your time and energy in creating viral content you want it to spread as far and as fast as possible. The most important metric is the K-factor (or contagion rate) – that is: how many other people does each host infect. For viral growth you need a K-factor of at least 1.4.

Leaving it to chance isn’t going to work – people don’t share everything that they encounter any more, there’s just far too much content for that to happen organically. But there are things you can do to ensure that your users share your content as much as possible.

1)      Make them “level up” – Dropbox and Quidco do this very successfully, rewarding their users with more storage and cash rewards for each successful referral. You can apply this strategy to your viral content by only allowing people to unlock premium content after a certain number of shares or successful recruitments.

2)      Give them all the necessary tools – your users will have multiple channels and multiple social networks that they can use to share your content. Make sure you have one-click share options for all the major sharing platforms, and allow users to embed and deep link to your content. The more generous you are with your content the more likely they are to share it.

3)      Be specific – use the old chain letter technique of requesting a certain number of shares. “Please send this to five friends” works better than “please share this with your friends.” Not only is it a specific, measurable call to action, your user is most likely to think of friends that would appreciate the content rather than scattershotting it across their network.

4)      Promote trust – if you ask to access a user’s address book, or to create messages in their timelines, then you need to demonstrate that you will use those privileges responsibly. Although confirmation screens reduce the follow through rate you don’t want the backlash that comes from acting without permission.

Stephen Fry’s experience with Shortmail was very quickly picked up and retweeted by his many followers. The PR blowback has cost them dearly:

5)      Use persuadable events in the user’s timeline – when a user levels up in your game or rates a video as five stars, offer them the chance to brag about it. Wall badges and twitter stickers are used by apps like GetGlue to encourage users to keep sharing their interactions with friends. Endomondo allows you to post every successful workout to Twitter and even to ask for pep-talks as you exercise. These don’t feel like viral pushes to the user – they feel like value added features that let you brag about achievements or ask for support – but they keep your content in their timeline.

6)      Focus on retention – the more times a user interacts with your content, the more likely they are to share it. Create reasons for them to keep coming back: launch new content regularly, or have them work towards an accumulated status that they warm for multiple check-ins. Foursquare’s “Mayor” system is a prime example of a way of getting users to repeat the same action in the hope of accumulating a reward.

7)      Make space for UGC – if your users can make something with your content, or if they can remix it, they are more likely to want to share the results of their efforts with friends. Apps like Androidify encourage you to create Android-themed avatars of yourself and your friends and it’s almost impossible to resist sharing the result.

8)      Encourage fan sites – avoid the temptation to control your content with take-down notices and heavy handed techniques, particularly if your aim is to build brand awareness. Let remixes, homages and fan-art proliferate! Each bit of UGC is not only free advertising, it’s a clear signal that someone cares enough about your brand to get involved. Consider hosting fan-art and fan-mix competitions. The Warcraft series does this very successfully, encouraging users to send in their screencaps and fan art.

9)      Build new social networks – another thing that the Warcraft series has done very well is to encourage people to join guilds and to take part in pick up groups (PUGs). These are a fantastic way to increase retention and sharing. Not only do people become invested in the groups that they have joined, they will actively seek out and recruit other people to join those groups. In terms of retention and sharing, this strategy delivers huge benefits.

10)   Nurture your seeds, or buy ready-grown roots – Getting that first wave of users is often the biggest obstacle. One of the most important aspects of creating a successful viral campaign is speed. An overnight sensation is more likely to create a buzz than a slow burning fuse. Many agencies have paid seeders that they use – these are well connected bloggers, tweeters and Facebook users who can be guaranteed to get your content out to a large number of followers. If you’d rather not use this strategy, you can create your own “seedlings” by having a pre-recruitment phase. Ask people to register for an invitation: create the illusion of scarcity and make them wait for a launch date. When you launch you will have a ready made first wave of users who have been anticipating your content for a long time.

Good content isn’t enough to ensure viral success. By following these simple hints you can boost shares and retention, whatever your niche.

About: Raja Writes on SEO, Blogging, Web Design, Web Hosting. He regularly writes on eCommerce Hosting Reviews at

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