Viral Loop – Pass the bucks

I’ve mentioned Viral Loops before in a couple of posts. Since I started talking about it a lot of people have been asking me to ‘do it for them’ like it’s some sort of silver bullet you can just load into any digital gun & fire at a target which makes me chuckle every time. In reality my theory is that sites and content that go viral are more a product of the ‘when’ and ‘where’ rather than the ‘what’. It’s about being in the right place at the right time – call it ‘fluke’ if you want. Most videos that go viral on YouTube were never designed to do so & the ones that were engineered by an agency and go ‘viral’ have spent money with a company like Rubber Republic to get people to view them and I don’t classify those as viral, I classify that as paid-for-media (old school advertising to you & me!). Most websites that go viral have a built in loop for sure, but there is also a lot of luck & right-time-right-place about them.

There are obviously some conditions you can promote within your agency or organisation or start-up that MIGHT have the desired effect… but don’t put all your eggs in these baskets because chances are if the time that you launch isn’t ripe for you product or content it won’t make any difference how potent your viral idea is or how rigorous your viral loop mechanics are:

  • Viral content has to be web based – It just belongs in the frictionless world of the internet. Too many people are asking me how they can create an offline viral idea… sure you can seed stuff offline to raise awareness (more paid-for-media / advertising!) but don’t bother trying to create an offline viral loop. It’s just silly. Use the internet – it’s what it’s there for!
  • It’s GOT to be FREE – Users need to consume your product or content at no charge; after aggregating a mass audience you may be able to overlay various revenue generators… but nothing that you had to initially pay for ever went viral. Fact.
  • Think about organizational technology – The kind of sites that don’t create content, their users do. They simply organise it, but facilitating can lead to a mass audience – just ask Google!
  • It’s almost always about the network effect – The more people who join, the more people there are to have an incentive to join… Every time I talk to clients or colleagues about viral loops I keep on hammering home the point that it’s NOT about the person you recruit to your website, it’s about the people that person knows.
  • Your site HAS to have built in virility – Users will spread a product purely out of their own self-interest and, in the process, offer a powerful word-of-mouth endorsement to each subsequent users… but without the thought about how that invisible virility works right up front you’ll probably lose the opportunity. Apple have recently done it to perfection with PING. I happen to think it’s growing into something of an interesting product is that PING thing (and with the looming downfall of Spotify it’s set to take the main social music crown) because for months now I’ve been sending out Tweets from Itunes and I didn’t even realise I was doing it… how crafty is that… It’s damn annoying but quite quite brilliant. I was telling my 600 odd followers on Twitter what I was buying on iTunes and I had no idea.
  • Remember that a point of non-displacement (or a tipping point to quote Gladwell) is that moment when it’s nearly impossible for a competitor to take a company down. Here’s the harsh facts of life amigos… if you’ve got this big bold viral idea (be it content or a new service) and someone is already out there and it’s got a million subscribers or it’s had a bajillion hits… then don’t bother wasting your time doing it yourself. I’m serious too! The point of non-displacement is a serious fact and reality. You cannot displace something that’s already ubiquitous in peoples lives even with an idea that is 100 times better.

There’s not much more to say really except give up on the idea of ‘planning a big viral event’. It just doesn’t work like that. You can’t BUY virility (well you can, but it’s not viral at all, it’s advertising – a rose by any other name blah blah) and you can’t spoof it. It won’t JUST HAPPEN and if it does it’ll probably happen by accident. So stop trying, sit back, do creative things & play by the rules… you never know, it might happen by accident and all that glory will be yours!

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