Adam Penenberg, in his new book Viral Loop, discusses the concept of spreading a message with a viral coefficient of greater than one. It’s simple, really – tell some friends, and if they end up telling lots of their friends, you may create a wave of sorts that spurs exponential growth of your idea or service.
Except that it’s not that easy. Some ideas have initial distribution (think posting an update on Twitter) and low or no viral coefficient (no retweets, no repostings). Others seem to take off like wildfire (HotOrNot.com, Twitter, Facebook, are a few examples … Google hopes that Buzz will be another example) and build a user base and brand awareness almost overnight. What Viral Loops are you creating?
The necessary components of a viral loop are distribution, an interesting idea or meme, and low friction for sharing among other users (think of this as the “transmissability” of the ideavirus). You also need users willing to share your idea, and others who are influenced by them and follow a similar call to action. If this all works right, you get a viral coefficient of greater than one, or a viral expansion loop.
Can you create your own viral loop? Maybe — if you can boil down your idea and make it so easy and compelling for others to share with their friend that they can’t help not sharing it. Can’t explain it in 10 words or less? You might need to go back to the drawing board. Can’t clearly communicate value with your idea? Maybe it’s a clever idea that doesn’t have particular value unless explained in the right context (loop-killer). My viral idea? Make your customers successful. (Ok, maybe it won’t spread like wildfire, but it is simple, valuable, and easy to transmit.)