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Viral marketing has evolved from word of mouth to a much more scientific endeavor in the online world. Based on my previous posts and some additional thinking about the subject I’ve defined seven mechanisms that companies have used to successfully “go viral” in the past.

1) Communication. Same side positive network effects have driven virality for companies like AIM, Skype, Facebook, MySpace and even Fax Machines. Since you can’t communicate with others who have the tool until you get it, virality works very well. (I’ve listed Facebook and MySpace as communications tools and not self expression communities because I believe it is the Wall/Comments that drives a lot of the virality and high PVs of these sites)

2) Email invitations. Make it easy for your users to invite all of their friends. Make it hard for them not to. Tagged, Hi5 and Flixster (LSVP portfollio company) do this extremely well.

3) Widgetopia. Reid Hoffman refers to this as “invading a community”. Rockyou (a LSVP Portfolio company), Slide, Photobucket, Snapvine and others have done a great job here. Increased penetration in an existing community makes it more likely that a new user will see one of your widgets and want to get something similar. Increasing returns to scale means that the big get bigger faster.

4) Platforms. Cross side positive network effects as Jeremy posted about a couple of weeks ago can also create virality as groups on both sides of the platform flock to the greatest numbers of the other group. Ebay is the best example of this.

5) User Generated Authority. User generated content can result in high levels of traffic from organic search. This can result in more user generated content and the virtuous cycle continues. Wikipedia and Yelp are probably the best examples of this. We’ve been seeing similar behaviour at a smaller scale at Stylehive (a LSVP Portfolio company)

6) Everyone’s favorite topic. Quiz based content that tells the user about themselves (and often compares them to other people) has worked to drive virality in the past. Tickle, Quizilla, Classmates, Friend Reunited/Genes Reunited all saw big growth by getting users to input some data and gave them information about themselves (whether it be an IQ test, which sort of Superhero you are, or contact info on old friends).

7) Pay me. There have been several businesses that successfully grew by paying both new and inviting users. The economics can make this more difficult for media models than commerce models. However, it can drive a lot of new adoption, and did for AllAdvantage and Paypal.

Just about every site that has gone truly viral has employed at least one of these tactics, and sometimes several. I don’t have a detailed understanding of Netvibe‘s growth at this point and it doesn’t appear to fit into any of these categories. If you can think of companies that don’t fit these models, or other approaches that have also worked, please note them in comments!

  • http://www.mychurch.org/joesuh/blog joe suh

    Interesting list. What do you think about “competitive recognition” as a mechanism in going viral? (in quotes due to lack of a better phrase)

    In its simplest form, its who’s got the most friends (myspace/linkedin) or who’s got the biggest readership (mybloglog/feedburner). With Digg, its who’s got the most front-page submissions. If I want to increase my ranking, I introduce Digg to my friends and tell them to vote for my submissions.

  • http://hitchhiker.blogsome.com will

    Joe . . .call it vanity . . . :)

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  • http://www.lior.blogli.co.il lior

    what about mybloglog.com?

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  • http://www.kendallschoenrock.com/blog Kendall Schoenrock

    As for your last point #7. I would now included in that list Agloco.com, which is AllAdvantage take two.

  • saar

    great post. I haven’t figured out netvibes either and am curious if you learn more…

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  • http://www.lightspeedvp.com ravimhatre

    Thanks for the comments above and sorry for the delayed response.

    Joe’s point on Social recognition or “ego boo” – as alternative term I’ve heard used – can be a powerfull motivator to drive viral behaviour. It has similarities to Point # 5 “User Generated Authority” – users are given authority to develop content – the best and most prolific and highest quality authors gain recognition priveleges as their status within the community grows which drives them to continue to author additional content. This in turn drives other aspiring authors to compete in attempting to publish more and better content to achieve comparable status and recognition. We think Yelp, Wikipedia and Stylehive (LSVP Portfollio company) do a nice job in creating a framework that fosters this viral pattern.

  • http://www.lightspeedvp.com ravimhatre

    Thanks Saar!

    Our latest theory on NetVibes is that we may be overthinking it. This simply a really great consumer service that has emerged at the right time. “Good old fashioned” viral marketing (or word-of-mouth marketing as it use to be called before the Internet) required a product or service that resonated deeply with consumers out of the gate. This is more art than science. But every once in a while its bound to happen. In the case of NetVibes, its a really usefull service with the explosion of online content and getting started is extremely low friction and intuitive. Its also something you’ll immediately tell your friends about once you’re hooked :-) After the installed base reaches a tipping point (which has definitely happened here) most consumers will default into trying NetVibes first because of the many positive referrals from friends and colleagues – and thus, a classic “word-of-mouth” viral propogation pattern is born!

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  • http://myspace.com/ghartline George Hartline

    I find that one of the best ways to go viral is to find the number one site that pops up when you google it, and then leave a comment on that page with your link.

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  • http://www.miltski.com/blog/ Miltski

    Excellent post,
    These Viral times are an an exciting place to be. As nobody is quite sure how it will develop. Time will tell.



  • http://JackZufelt.com Jack M. Zufelt- Mentor To Millions

    Thanx for the Viral guidelines. They are pretty good. I find George Hartline’s viral marketing technique too interesting by checking the site which comes up on google as number one.

  • http://www.pachucapress.blogspot.com Pachuca Press TD Marketing

    Converting Every Visitor into Subscriber If a person visits your website and leaves, chances are that he or she will not come back, especially if there are no compelling reasons to do so. After all, we all behave rather impulsively on the Internet, so much so that we can easily forget where we were 10 web pages ago. But the bottom line is that your visitor may not come back to your website again. If 1,000 visitors visit your website, leave and never come back again, you can imagine the amount of potential revenue lost, simply because they do not come back. You could have converted a fraction of the visitors into your customers. Some may say that creating unique content can keep some of the visitors coming back, but very often, unique content is not the solution. The real, long-term solution lies in converting your visitors into subscribers of your mailing list. Before your visitor leaves your website, you want to convert him or her into your subscriber via a simple opt-in to your mailing list. You do this by asking for your visitor’s name and email address through your opt-in form. And if your visitor signs up to be on your mailing list, you can still follow up with him via email. You can get your subscriber to consider your offer, or endorse another offer to him or her. All in all, you want to convert as many visitors into subscribers as possible and obtain the potential revenue you rightfully deserve – the easy, wise way.

  • http://www.hiddenbrains.com/ Web Development India

    Very nice and informative post..Thanks for sharing..

  • http://www.biztechconsultancy.com/ Manali

    Thanx for the Viral guidelines. They are pretty good.

  • http://nowebsite rhonda scruggs

    All II want to know is how and what happens if you post a video and in the morning it has had 2 million hits,what then do you do.How do you make money,Its realy an easy question.Please give me an easy answer.Thank you ,Rhonda

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