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Viral loops are a type of marketing campaign used to promote a company or product. Named after our friends the viruses, a viral loop is meant to infect a person and cause them to share it with other people.

A viral loop is designed to go from zero to thousands or millions of viewers in a very short time. It spreads exponentially, as each new customer or user shares the content with any number of friends.

By using consumers as marketers within the fast-paced arenas of social networks, viral marketing is a great way to spread the word about practically anything.

For companies looking to drive growth, viral loops offer a cheap and relatively easy method for establishing a name and consumer base as customers end up doing most of the actual work.

A major component that makes a viral loop possible is an outstanding product, service, or offer, which will attract the demographic being targeted. The other half of the equation, in essence, is developing the right viral loop strategy.

Every viral loop needs to contain an explicit incentive for the users to pass it on – why would they if it didn’t? The main offer also has to be simple and instantly attractive, so viewers can understand it as quickly as possible. Overall, it has to be interesting and useful (or funny, depending on the product). There has never been a boring viral loop, and there never will be.

The Science of a Viral Loop

To find out if your viral loop will be successful and reach every available niche in the web, you can use the following equation:

VC = N x P1 x P2

Don’t freak out; it’s barely science and easy to understand. You should want to memorize it because it will tell you, in no uncertain terms, what your viral loop will need to work. Each of the variables in the equation stands for a particular aspect of viral loop marketing:

  • VC – this stands for “Viral Coefficient” and is the result of the equation, the most important bit.
  • N – this stands for the average number of customers who are invited by each active user who invites people.
  • P1 – this variable stands for the proportion of invited users who tend to actually sign up and become active customers.
  • P2 – this stands for the proportion of active users who tend to invite other people.

To use this equation, you plug in the appropriate values, based on your analytics, for N, P1, and P2. Then multiply them together to get your result, VC. The value of VC will tell you how well your loop will grow, in the following manner:

  • If VC is greater than 1, you can expect to see the growth of your viral loop increase exponentially into every area possible.
  • If VC is less than 1, you’ll need to constantly monitor and remarket your content to keep it going.
  • If VC is 0, you will see no growth whatsoever.

This is a powerful equation because you can use it to understand what your viral content needs to survive. If your VC is less than 1, examine the three factors that go into creating it. Is your P1 value way too low? Or is P1 very high and doing well, telling you to focus your efforts on N or P2? You can play with each value to see how it affects VC when you raise or lower it by different amounts.

So now that we know what viral loops are, how they work, and how to analyze them, let’s take a look at five strategies you can use to create viral content that will drive growth and revenue.

Give and Get More

The “give and get more” strategy for a viral product means that when a customer shares the product with a new user, they get some kind of upgrade or benefit to their own use of the service. This is most easily understood with the example of Dropbox, an online storage service.

Dropbox users have a limited amount of storage space, but they can invite friends to begin using the service. Every friend they invite will increase their own storage space (as well as their friend’s) by 500 MB, incentivizing them to encourage other people to sign up. This is of high value to the user at relatively low cost. This strategy works great because Dropbox is such a useful and high-quality service, and because it is extremely easy for users to invite their friends.

To refer new people, a user needs only to click the “Refer Friends to Dropbox” link, enter any number of email addresses or names, and click send to automatically send invites to those people. The ease and simplicity shown here is a crucial element of viral loops. To reach the most people possible, it needs to be quick and easy to invite new users to use the product. Use the fewest transition links you can, and make the customer do as little work as possible.

Socialites Love To Be Social

You can tap into our innate love for connecting and interacting with other people by incorporating rewards for having large, active communities using your product or app.

If you provide information about restaurants, you can reward your users when other members find their reviews useful. If you are giving people a way to publish their own content, you can upgrade their service or reward them with badges for attracting comments.

This strategy has been used almost perfectly by Candy Crush, a game app that has become immensely popular. The game is tough, and players frequently run into situations where they need help. They can ask their friends for lives and help moving on to the next level, and send people they know extra moves and other benefits.

The game encourages users to be active, so people who have stopped playing will be encouraged to start up again by new players who need help. The more friends they have actively playing the game, the more fun the game will be. Users can easily invite friends to start playing the game with an in-game invite screen that is automatically populated with the player’s contacts.

Pay for What You Get

An easy, direct strategy for motivating customers to share your product is to offer a monetary incentive for signing up new people. The basic principle here is the same as affiliate marketing – affiliates work to sell a product or service, and they share in the profit from any purchases they initiated.

In the same way, you can offer existing customers a way to cash in on the growth of your company. A good way to do this is to provide them with share-links and buttons that can automatically notify their friends on social networks or through email. The best notifications include some personal aspect of the customer’s buying experience that shows a real example of how useful the product is. This could mean, for example, saying something like “Mary saved $26 with Price Match! How much could you save?”

Take the High Ground

Do-gooders may have no place in the schoolyard, but customers admire a socially conscious, ethical company. There are many problems in the world, so there are many opportunities to do some real good with your profits.

A common and fairly traditional way to do this is to give some portion of your profits to a particular charity. Today, however, we have an unprecedented ability to interact with customers and get their opinions. You can work with several different charities, and give customers the ability to choose one to donate to when they make a purchase.

This isn’t a bad strategy, but you can raise the perceived value of your charity by actually doing some good works in some way, instead of just donating some money. Chegg, a textbook rental service, found a great way to do this by partnering with the American Forest Global ReLeaf Foundation. When people rent textbooks, they have the option to have a tree planted either in or out of the U.S. Together they have planted over five million trees.

It’s not that the staff at Chegg are literally going out and planting the trees themselves (although maybe some are). The point is that offering to plant a tree sounds a lot more effective and practical than a simple monetary donation. Look for ways to make a real difference in the world.

Consider Your Platform While You Consider Your Content

Not all types of media work the same across different platforms. You need to be aware of their inherent biases, and you can design your viral loop strategies to take advantage of these.

There are many different types of content you can use to create a viral loop. If you are not incorporating the loop into your product or service, these are some great content types you can use to hook viewers:

  • Memes – quick, easy and eye-catching, you can create them at
  • Infographics – a tried-and-true method of presenting information in an appealing and memorable way.
  • FAQ – a set of common questions and useful answers.
  • Interviews – a good way to bring in a big name and publish some exclusive, expert information.
  • Videos – expensive to make, but very compelling and shareable.

When it comes to posting your viral loop, Facebook is most suited for visual content with a short explanation. When text is used, longer posts on Facebook tend to be shared more often, as do those made around 6 P.M. EST and on weekends.

If you’re into text, LinkedIn is the place to put it. Users here are a bit more dedicated to engaging with content they find and expect to find longer posts filled with useful information. They will take the time to examine what they come across.

The opposite is true for Twitter, where posts between 120 and 130 characters receive the best click-through rate. Use this network to share short bits of data that are shocking or fascinating and that link back to your viral loop. The most popular tweets have more action verbs and fewer nouns, and are made on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

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