In order for something to go viral is must have a ‘viral coefficient’ of more than one. This is to say that, for example, every user shares a certain video with more than 1 friend.

This doesn’t mean that everyone sends it to 2 people. Let’s say 10 people see the video, and 2 of those people send it to 6 friends each. Out of 10 people we now have 12 new people. This has a viral coefficient of 1.2. It’s viral.

This is when you see something grow or be shared at an exponential rate. It explodes.

We see this everyday with videos. The reason being, the barrier to entry to get involved is so little we barely even think about it. Most social media platforms now play the video inline (no need to leave the page) and to pass it on is only a click away. By passing it on, the user is rewarded with a nice feeling of showing their friends something cool or giving them a laugh. It could also be shared without even realizing. By pressing like, Facebook now shows that content on other people’s timelines with a “your friend liked this video” note. This is pretty cheeky design if you ask me.

It’s much harder to achieve vitality with an application. The barrier to entry is much higher as the user generally needs to go out of their way to download or signup to use the app. We also need to generate reasons for the existing users to invite their friends. This could be added functionality, rewards or simply that the app is better with your friends (this is hard to prove though). Facebook has had some success with this kind of thing through games that you could jump straight into without installing or signing up. It would then use Facebooks platform to invite your friends and give you rewards for getting others involved.

This quickly got old, people started hating the invites and requests for extra lives.  Vitality is almost impossible to sustain. It burns through huge numbers of people and then fizzles out. People lose interest, no one is going to share that video twice in a short amount of time.

It’s simply not sustainable.

Just like the video, burning through all the social media platforms and then disappearing after a few days, apps can have the same fate if there is no consideration on how to retain the users after this initial explosion. Sure, the video may resurface after a few years and everyone has another laugh but I wouldn’t recommend this as business model for your app.

To learn a bit more on this I recommend reading: Hooked: How to build habit forming products


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