@andrewchen

Get the newsletter · 2018 essays (PDF) · Featured · Recent

Cracking the code: Analyzing viral strategies

Encyclopedia of viral marketing strategies
I’ve recently been thinking more about viral strategies, and how they get implemented. I’ve been trying out a couple different sites that have gotten a lot of traction in the last year, to figure out why. After some analysis, it strikes me that there are some things that are obvious to understand, and some things which are not.

Explicit communication is obvious

When you go to a site and they ask you to embed a widget, or import your address book, or something similar, it’s obvious to list out these hooks. For the most part, they focus on two sets of actions:

  • Assuming control of a communications platform (email, MySpace, IM, etc.)
  • Making it easy for the user to spread it (widgets, URLs, Digg this,etc.)

The first case is automatic, yet most of the time they need you to log into an existing service, or download a client software that will do the importing automatically. Either way, it’s pretty clear.

Optimization isn’t obvious
When you see LinkedIn having an orange button for "Add to your network," it’s unclear what other variations that they tried to make the process successful. Was it:

  • The placement of the button?
  • The color of the button?
  • The fact it’s a button, not a form?
  • The fact it’s "Add to your network" rather than "Add a friend?"

It may be that in the universe of thousands of permutations, they are using the most optimal configuration. Yet you’d never know unless you were able to duplicate the same page layout, product, and audience. This makes these types of optimizations very hard to analyze.

Same for landing pages and action pages, where it’s critical for some stage of the "user funnel" to be optimized. You’d never know what kind of work they put in to change the title of the page by 10 characters.

Bootstrapping isn’t obvious
Another difficult part to understand is how some of these sites bootstrap their viral processes. Obviously, you have to start somewhere. So how widely did they start? Who did they initially court? How were they able to identify likely viral candidates?

For example:

  • Buying millions of e-mail addresses and bootstrapping using email marketing (MySpace)
  • Sending to all of your friends in your address book (HotOrNot)
  • Acquiring advertising media across ad networks (several dating sites)

Obviously in the case of social networks, where you start has a lot to do with where you end. If you start in India, you end up with a lot of international traffic. Figuring out how to break past the first 50k or so users in a targeted demographic is critically important.

PS. Get new updates/analysis on tech and startups

I write a high-quality, weekly newsletter covering what's happening in Silicon Valley, focused on startups, marketing, and mobile.

Views expressed in “content” (including posts, podcasts, videos) linked on this website or posted in social media and other platforms (collectively, “content distribution outlets”) are my own and are not the views of AH Capital Management, L.L.C. (“a16z”) or its respective affiliates. AH Capital Management is an investment adviser registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Registration as an investment adviser does not imply any special skill or training. The posts are not directed to any investors or potential investors, and do not constitute an offer to sell -- or a solicitation of an offer to buy -- any securities, and may not be used or relied upon in evaluating the merits of any investment.

The content should not be construed as or relied upon in any manner as investment, legal, tax, or other advice. You should consult your own advisers as to legal, business, tax, and other related matters concerning any investment. Any projections, estimates, forecasts, targets, prospects and/or opinions expressed in these materials are subject to change without notice and may differ or be contrary to opinions expressed by others. Any charts provided here are for informational purposes only, and should not be relied upon when making any investment decision. Certain information contained in here has been obtained from third-party sources. While taken from sources believed to be reliable, I have not independently verified such information and makes no representations about the enduring accuracy of the information or its appropriateness for a given situation. The content speaks only as of the date indicated.

Under no circumstances should any posts or other information provided on this website -- or on associated content distribution outlets -- be construed as an offer soliciting the purchase or sale of any security or interest in any pooled investment vehicle sponsored, discussed, or mentioned by a16z personnel. Nor should it be construed as an offer to provide investment advisory services; an offer to invest in an a16z-managed pooled investment vehicle will be made separately and only by means of the confidential offering documents of the specific pooled investment vehicles -- which should be read in their entirety, and only to those who, among other requirements, meet certain qualifications under federal securities laws. Such investors, defined as accredited investors and qualified purchasers, are generally deemed capable of evaluating the merits and risks of prospective investments and financial matters. There can be no assurances that a16z’s investment objectives will be achieved or investment strategies will be successful. Any investment in a vehicle managed by a16z involves a high degree of risk including the risk that the entire amount invested is lost. Any investments or portfolio companies mentioned, referred to, or described are not representative of all investments in vehicles managed by a16z and there can be no assurance that the investments will be profitable or that other investments made in the future will have similar characteristics or results. A list of investments made by funds managed by a16z is available at https://a16z.com/investments/. Excluded from this list are investments for which the issuer has not provided permission for a16z to disclose publicly as well as unannounced investments in publicly traded digital assets. Past results of Andreessen Horowitz’s investments, pooled investment vehicles, or investment strategies are not necessarily indicative of future results. Please see https://a16z.com/disclosures for additional important information.