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No two viral marketing campaigns are alike. So to cover all the bases I (along with the help of Viral Panda above) have broken the entire scope of viral marketing down into 12 different types. Each can be a game-changer for your website or product, but the king of them all is called Inherent Viral Marketing.

So let’s start there.

(Note: If this is all new to you and you haven’t yet read through my Viral Marketing Basics, you might want to begin there first.)

Inherent Viral Marketing: All Hail the King!

 

Few things spread faster than a well designed, value-adding viral site or app – especially when its marketing campaign adds to the user experience. Growth, at least for a little while, can be hyperbolic. Which means awesome things for your bottom line.

So everyone should attempt to use inherent viral marketing to grow… right?

Wrong.

Not every site, app or product is inherently viral. In fact, very few are.

This isn’t necessarily because you screwed up, developed poorly, or people don’t like what you’re providing. In fact, you may have a perfectly architected website with a loyal, fast-growing audience that loves what you do, and STILL not have an inherently viral site.

In a nutshell, inherent viral marketing is a form of viral marketing where people get ZERO value from your site, app or product unless others are using it as well.

Who’s Doing it Right: Skype and WhatsApp

 

The Shangri La of viral marketing is inherent viral marketing. If a product or service solves a user’s problem BECAUSE others are using it as well, you win. Few have been able to ascend to these lofty heights and return to tell the tale. But those that have often come out with billions to show for it.

Let’s use the popular VOIP and messaging app Skype as an example:

  • What value do you get out of Skype when you first download it but have no contacts? None. Skype does absolutely nothing for you at this point.
  • The moment you send a contact request to somebody and it’s accepted, you unlock a TON of the value Skype has to offer. You can send instant messages, place calls domestically or internationally for free, have video calls, share screens, and more.
  • But wait… what happens when you invite a second person? You then magically unlock conference call features allowing you to get MORE than two people on a call from anywhere for free.
  • The more friends you add to Skype, the more value you’ll get from it, and the more frequently you’ll use it.

Since the core usability of Skype ONLY gets unlocked once you invite others to use it with you, it is a product that should grow itself (and it did – with 300 million users and counting).

howto_skype4

In other words, the entire value proposition of the product depends on users getting more people to use it. The more people you invite to join, the more valuable Skype becomes to you as a user.

You’re then much more likely to use it regularly, and maybe even unlock some of its paid features, which makes for a pretty lucrative business. (Evidenced by their acquisition by eBay for $2.6 billion in 2005 after only being around for two years, and then getting re-acquired by Microsoft in 2011 for $8.5 billion!)

Another great example is WhatsApp. Like Skype, it is a communication tool. But instead of being structured around making a phone call, WhatsApp’s platform is based on the the familiar UX of text messaging. Most importantly, it uses the same viral mechanics as Skype.

whatsapp-installation-in-linux-5i

As a result, WhatsApp is another inherent viral marketing powerhouse with insane user growth stats, culminating in a $19 billion acquisition by Facebook.

Can you think of any other inherently viral sites or apps you want me to break down in more detail? Let me know in the comments below.

Create an Inherent Viral Marketing Engine

 

Okay, so now you are all set to be a billionaire. All that’s left is to implement inherent viral marketing and start watching the checks roll in.

Or so we’d hope.

The truth is succeeding with inherent viral marketing is very difficult. (No one said being king was easy.)

As products or services start to reach ubiquity, users essentially have no choice but to stay and be active since they will actually LOSE value by leaving. That’s the genius behind inherent viral marketing. It is NOT just comprised of making something cool and hoping others will pass it on, but rather makes the act of inviting others absolutely essential to unlocking the value of the product.

Implement Before You Start

 

Unfortunately, if you’ve already built a website or app it’s most likely too late to create inherent virality. That is unless you infused some sort of communication tool or component that only has value when used with others. In which case you’ve accidentally already created an inherently viral product. Well done.

If that’s not you, don’t worry. You’re still off to a great start. Learning as much as you can about inherent viral marketing will provide a strong understanding of viral growth in general. And help you grow much larger as a result. In addition, it may give you some ideas for how to better architect future products from Day 1.

Either way you can use this knowledge towards establishing other forms of viral marketing within your company. Just know that the growth potential will be lessened in comparison.

The Hard Part of Inherent Viral Marketing

 

Once you get the ball rolling with an inherently viral product, growth is easy.

However, getting the ball rolling is the hard part.

Remember when I mentioned how valuable an inherently viral product becomes as it approaches ubiquity? The exact opposite is true early on. There is often VERY low value for the first users of inherently viral products. It’s akin to entering an empty room. No one likes to be the first person to a party.

However, as more people join, social proof increases drastically, and signups snowball. If you haven’t heard of Metcalfe’s Law, it essentially states that the value of any network is equivalent to the squared number of users using the network. While I can’t speak to the accuracy of the formula, the theory is sound, and applies to inherently viral products in the same way. These types of products are incredibly valuable at scale, but incredibly worthless early on.

In other words, the early days of using inherent viral marketing will be the toughest ones you’ll face. But as T. Jefferson liked to say, with great risk comes great reward.

How to Succeed Early On

 

There are a few things a company can do to offset the growing pains of inherent viral marketing, such as:

  • Niche Targeting
  • Brute Force
  • Getting Lucky

Facebook is a great example of someone who handled this issue with grace. Instead of being a pure communication tool in their infancy, they were a blend of niche group communication, self-advertising, and flirting, marketed to the college crowd one poke at a time. By confining their product to individual universities, it was easier for Facebook to grow and take advantage of niche PR (i.e. campus newspapers, blogs and newsletters).

Of course, Facebook was also a massive example of a right place, right time, right audience, right UX perfect storm. Like most viral products, Facebook’s success early on was largely accidental.

But you don’t have to limit your focus or wait around for luck to come knocking at your door. Sheer brute force is another fine way to overcome early underuse of your inherently viral product. In other words, spending money to acquire users.

After all, you won’t be able to optimize your viral loop or know which subset of users is most viral unless you’ve got a base number of active users providing feedback and data. With a little proactive spending you can establish a test group to pave the way for future virality.

Once you’ve achieved one of these approaches and survived the “viral feeding,” growth can be explosive.

What’s Next?

 

Now that we’ve met the king of viral marketing campaigns, let’s meet the rest of the court. The second type of viral marketing is called viral communication marketing – and we’ll dig more deeply into it in the next chapter.

 

What Do Apple, MailChimp and Hootsuite Have in Common?

All three were inspired by the viral communication marketing success of one company, and grew hugely successful as a result.  Want to know who this legendary viral sensation was? I’ll tell you in the next chapter.

 


 

What did you think of this post?

  • Do you know of any other sites or apps that are inherently viral?
  • What was the last inherently viral site you used to invite more than one friend to?
  • If you could see Viral Panda playing any sport, what would it be?

Hit me on Twitter, or comment below!

 

Travis Steffen
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Travis Steffen

Travis Steffen is a Silicon Valley growth engineer, data scientist, and serial entrepreneur with multiple exits. He is currently the founder and CEO of FlashCourse. He's also a crazy adrenaline junkie, is obsessed with fantasy football, and can grill a mean rack of ribs.
Travis Steffen
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