Product Virality 101: How To Design a Viral Product That Drives Growth
If there’s one thing that can turbo-charge your SaaS’s growth, it’s achieving product virality.
There’s no secret formula to virality.
However, with a firm understanding and application of some fundamental principles, any savvy product manager can take steps to achieve viral growth in their own product or service.
In this article, we’re going to explore how.
Let’s dive in!
- Virality describes the rapid spread of a product, service, idea, or other pieces of media. It’s usually driven by users sharing directly with one another across different networks.
- Product virality refers to the swell of interest and demand generated by new users and existing customers of a product. This article explores what goes into making a viral product.
- You can calculate product virality by looking at the conversion rate of new customers invited by existing customers (which tells you whether your product has been a viral success).
- There are two major categories of product virality: pull product virality (PPV) is about existing users encouraging people to start using your product, and distribution product virality (DPV) is about more users spreading awareness and information about your product to their network.
- Examples of PPV include driving word-of-mouth virality, value virality (letting the value of your product do the talking), and exposure virality (where user-generated content gives exposure to your product).
- Examples of DPV include network virality (users sharing your product or service within their social and professional networks), and incentive virality (applying marketing or engineering effort to crafting meaningful incentives for your users).
- There are many ways to achieve virality within your own product, drawing from a range of the techniques above.
- You could create two-sided incentives (so both the referrer and the referred person stand to gain). Another option is driving intra-organization virality by enabling users to easily invite and engage with their colleagues.
- A sort of ‘outbreak virality’ can be triggered when your content is easy to share (for example, by making it simple to embed on social media platforms). Appealing to active users’ vanity and driving exposure virality can be another effective method.
- A good way to make sure your product is inherently viral is by getting the design right. The more usable your product (and the more viral loops you look to create), the better. Adding watermarks to free plans can also be a quick way to boost exposure and craft a viral marketing campaign.
What is virality?
Virality describes the rapid spread of something, usually by users sharing directly with one another across different networks. It could be a tweet, a blog, a movie, a game – even a dance (remember Gangnam Style, anyone?)
The concept of virality has become increasingly important with the growth of social media and the emergence of dozens of culturally significant viral trends.
What is product virality?
Virality comes in many forms: product virality is what this article will focus on.
It refers to a swell of interest and demand generated by new users and existing customers of a product. Users generate interest amongst potential new customers with product evangelism (typically by sharing content about the value it brings them personally).
How do you calculate virality?
We’ve covered what product virality is. But how do you know you’ve achieved it? Here’s a handy formula:
C(0) * k = # of customers at end of time period
- C(0) = the number of customers at the beginning of the time period you’re measuring
- i = the number of invites per customer
- c = the percent conversion rate of each invite issued
- k = the number of new customers each existing customer can convert (i * c)
- The k coefficient must be greater than 1 in order to achieve true “virality.”
Product virality is calculated by multiplying the number of customers at the beginning of a time period by ‘k’. That tells you the conversion rate of new customers invited by existing customers (and is an excellent proxy for understanding what portion of your growth is viral).
Types of virality
In this section of the article, we’re going to explore the two main types of product virality, how they differ, and some examples of each. Broadly, virality fits into two categories:
- Pull product virality (PPV) is about existing users encouraging people to start using your product.
- Distribution product virality (DPV) is about existing users spreading awareness and information about your product to their network.
Pull product virality examples
Here are some great examples of PPV to consider. Each demonstrates how you can get users talking about your product or service.
Word of mouth (WOM)
Word of mouth is a classic viral marketing technique. It means your product does such an effective job of meeting user needs or generates such a buzz your customers essentially do your marketing for you.
A great example is the buzz generated by the launch of the first iPhone: it dominated conversations, news, and media. And because the product lived up to the hype, it dominated the market too.
Value virality is a lesser-known, but equally important, viral growth technique. It’s the idea that simply by using your product and delivering value, the usage of your product becomes inherently viral. Customers spread the word as they go about their day-to-day activities.
E-signature generators are a great example of value virality. Having to print out, sign, and scan documents that need a signature is a time-consuming experience. A tool like Adobe Sign or Hellosign helps you solve that problem. Any time people use the product, they build brand awareness and help spread the word: a viral loop.
Exposure virality is typically generated when customers ‘show off’ your product to increase their exposure in some way. Think about Instagram (particularly in the early days). Users would share tastefully edited photos across other networks to demonstrate their eye for photography and design skills.
As a side effect, they raise awareness with other potential customers.
Miro is another great example from the SaaS world. Users love being able to create effective designs quickly and professionally, so have adopted the tool in their masses. Every time they share a link (which really is to showcase their own work), they are inadvertently building social proof and helping advertise the tool.
Distribution product virality types
Now, let’s look at some specific examples of distribution product virality.
Network virality effects aka infectious virality
Network virality is driven by customers sharing and inviting other users to your product. The larger the network, the faster your product will grow – and as it grows, it becomes inherently more valuable.
Social networking is a classic example of network virality.
Twitter only works when lots of interesting people share their ideas; LinkedIn is only useful if it’s used by colleagues, business leaders, and potential employers. There are countless other examples to consider.
It’s the network effect in practice: a phenomenon where increased numbers of users improve the value of a good or service. Users are, in essence, doing your marketing for you (because it benefits them).
There are two distinct variations of network virality:
- Cross-company. Virality that spreads beyond the bounds of one group or organization. This is particularly effective as it enables the cross-pollination of ideas and connections.
- Intra-company. Products or services that are used within the context of a single company (e.g. a CRM tool) can still benefit from network virality but to a lesser extent.
Referral programs and invites – incentive virality
Another type of distribution virality is linked to incentives.
Incentive virality is driven by users or customers being incentivized to share and refer your product to their immediate network. The incentive in question can take many forms:
- Discount codes
- Gift cards
- Privileged access
- Additional storage space
In many cases, the incentive goes both ways. That means both the existing customer and new users stand to gain from the transaction.
Incentives are a powerful and effective way of driving signups, particularly in the early days of a product launch. However, it’s critically important that your incentives align with the needs of your target audience.
Revolut is a product doing incentive virality extremely well: they target distinct offers to their audience via different channels (email and in-app, plus push notifications).
Incentives alone aren’t enough, though.
Your product needs to have a strong foundation of value or after the initial buzz, users will simply start looking elsewhere. You can’t perpetuate viral growth on incentives alone. That’s why it’s important to consider different types of viral marketing.
How to build virality inside your product
We’ve explored what product virality is, and the various ways it manifests itself.
Now, we’re going to break down exactly how to build virality within your product or service by looking at real examples and drawing out actionable insights and tactics.
Let’s get into it!
The two-sided reward product virality
What is it? This is an example of incentive virality.
How does it work? You create an incentive for a user to invite their friends, colleagues, and connections – and for the person on the receiving end. That double incentive increases the chance of boosting viral growth.
Example #1. Dropbox has crafted an appealing offer: free storage for both the inviter and the invitee. It helps the incentive be meaningful and aligned with the core product use case.
Example #2. Loom has designed a small (but nicely formed) pop-up, which makes it simple for users to invite their colleagues.
This works well because it clearly informs the user what they stand to gain by sharing far and wide (the ‘per invitation’) means the further they spread the word, the better the incentive.
Foster collaboration between team members
What is it? This is a specific example of intra-product network virality.
How does it work? Collaborative apps have a kind of inherent virality: additional value is unlocked as different team members work together to solve problems.
Example #1. Miro, a collaborative whiteboarding tool, has a permanent ‘invite members’ button displayed on its UI. That means users have plenty of opportunities to bring people in as and when they need them.
Example #2. You can see how Google Docs is set up to encourage network virality, with a prominent share button featured clearly at the top of the page.
Example #3. Calendly has crafted an effective viral loop: every time someone uses the service to book a meeting, they receive an email encouraging them to sign up. That means every time the product is used, it’s also being promoted and shared more widely.
Drive viral growth with embeds
What is it? A type of network virality.
How does it work? A handy growth marketing tip is to make sure it’s easy to share your product (with a particular focus on social sharing your product). Embeds are a great way to do this.
Example 1. Loom has used this kind of approach for a long time. Rather than relying on traditional marketing, they’ve made sure the tool could easily be integrated with various social media platforms.
This fosters viral growth by exposing Loom to a potentially unlimited upside – users will share, watch, learn and re-share useful video clips (provided it’s easy to do). Done right, and embeds can help you scale fast.
Appeal to user’s vanity
What is it? This is a form of exposure virality.
How does it work? It’s human nature: we compare ourselves to one another. Using exposure virality, you can tap into that fundamental instinct and use it to drive growth.
Example #1. Hubspot has created a detailed set of badges linked to specific certifications. Users proudly share and display them on LinkedIn, in email signatures, or on their personal sites. Pride in their achievements helps Hubspot drive virality and spread the word about their product.
Drive value virality through design
What is it? This is a form of design-inspired value virality.
How does it work? A big part of the inherent value users receive comes from the design and overall usability of your product. The easier to use your product is, the more your users will love it – and the greater the chance they’ll share it with their peers.
Example #1. Loom has an exceptionally easy-to-use interface. There’s very little friction required to view a video, as we can see from the example below. There’s even a CTA after a video finishes encouraging sign-up.
Example #2. WeTransfer does a good job of showcasing the product’s primary features as a user waits for their download to finish. It’s all about building an innate awareness of what the product does, who it’s for, and how to use it. The more confident a user feels about those things, the greater the chance of getting them to sign up.
Watermarks on freemium plans
What is it? A subtle form of network marketing virality.
How does it work? Including a watermark across your freemium plans helps to build awareness of your brand and what it represents.
Example #1. Userpilot includes a small, tasteful watermark on the survey UI below. The key here is that the logo doesn’t impede the value of the product from being released: it strikes the balance between increasing awareness and cluttering an interface.
We’ve covered a lot of important information in this article. Let’s take a moment to recap. You should now have a firm understanding of:
- The different types of product virality and when you’d use them
- How product virality works in reality (with specific examples)
- A framework for unleashing viral growth in your own product
So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and launch your own viral campaign!
Want to get started with building product virality? Get a Userpilot Demo and see how to take the first step.