Startups · Entrepreneurship

What makes a product viral?

Ryan Thompson Commercial Real Estate Agent at Stidham Commercial

September 16th, 2016

From my understanding, virality consists of growing your customer base by encouraging customers to refer their own friends. VCs go crazy when they hear the words networking effects around products. I am looking for some guidance into what makes a product viral and some of the techniques and factors that led to viral adoption in major startups. Many thanks for the help!

Joshua Lu Growth @ Zynga

September 16th, 2016

Hi Ryan, check out "Contagious" by Jonah Berger. You don't have to read the whole thing, just the first few chapters. It's required reading for PMs joining my growth team and it talks about this exact subject. Hope you find it as useful as I did.

Alexander Reekie

September 17th, 2016

I second Joshua's suggestion of reading "Contagious" ( - it really outlines the psychology behind why people share and promote content. Some of which is less than obvious.

As for my opinion, I believe virality or organic growth needs to be designed into the product and business model from day one. It's a lot harder to successfully tack on something simple like a referral scheme later on.

Famous/favourite examples are:

Hotmail - included "get your free online email" (or something to that effect) at the footer of all emails sent from the service. Apple then copied this strategy later on with "Sent from my iPhone".

Macbooks - outward facing apple logo, designed to be seen by others and advertise apple, despite confusing users as to way round to open their machines.

Dropbox gave away free extra storage space for referring friends.

As for services, an exceptional experience leading to positive word of mouth still trumps anything else.

Sam McAfee Building better technology leaders and teams

September 16th, 2016

You can't make a product "go viral".

There are only two options:

1) Make a product that naturally takes advantage of network effects as it's core value proposition. You can only do this if the problem you are solving for your customer involves networks of some kind (sharing, collaboration, contact management, scheduling, etc.)

2) Make a product so good that customers want to refer all their friends and coworkers. And then just make sure you have functionality to make it easy. You will know it's that good by your retention metrics. Your churn will be extremely low, and you'll have natural inbound referrals already happening organically. If you're not there yet, don't worry too much about artificial growth.

Sorry, but there isn't any more magic to it than that.

Todor Velev Managing Partner, EEI Network

September 16th, 2016

Ryan, probably you are mixing the speed of introduction of a product or services (viral) with increasing the value of your services due to increase in its users (network effect). Getting viral might be good to get traction, but if there is nothing to keep the clients returning back or using the service, it has no much value. It is much more important getting network effect to being viral; the best is to combine them. 

William Guillory at Innovations International, Inc

September 16th, 2016

Finding that place where most people are around a product or service. Not necessarily something leading-edge, initially; or something people have to work at with too much energy, effort, and time. It comes easy.

I also think timing is vital. Is it something people want that they didn't know they wanted? It made life so much easier. Or is it something that was so much fun and insightful, that they had to just share it with others. And it takes off.

These are my initial thoughts. 

Michael Meinberg Teacher (iOS Development) at The Mobile Makers Academy (A Hack Reactor School)

September 16th, 2016

Ryan:  If you can answer that question, you are on the road to gold.  That isn't the easiest question to answer.   Something that people get excited about and want to share with their friends.

Dimitry Rotstein Founder at Miranor

September 19th, 2016

A very interesting and complicated question.
Here's my partial answer:
A full (and more updated) answer is available in a form of a presentation. Send me a private message if you want the presentation.