@andrewchen

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

Is your site really viral? Viral Branding versus Viral Action

The PayPal alumi’s viral successes
Just came on this article in the YC News front page, called A Gold-Plated VC’s Billion-Dollar Secrets. I’d encourage you to read it, even though the title is completely at odds with the guy who they’re covering. (Think humble, not gold-plated!)

Anyway, there’s a great analysis about viral marketing and the fact there’s actually several variations of it these days. Broadly speaking, you have two categories:

  1. Viral branding
  2. Viral action

Let me explain the two categories below.

Viral branding
Most people, when they talk about viral marketing, are in fact talking about viral branding. That’s the philosophy of:

Do something REALLY cool and people will tell all their friends.

In the article, they explain it like this:

"Many people think the word "viral" is interchangeable with "word of
mouth"–implying that the product or service is so good that people are
compelled to talk it up with their friends."

Here are some examples:

Another variation of this is the types of things people do on their blogs, where they try to write something genuine or interesting, or attention-whoring or controversial, and people pass it around to all their friends.

This is really great, and has its place. In fact, whole books have been written about it, like Purple Cow. In fact, books like Tipping Point are also really about it. So if you find yourself reading books about "breaking through the noise" and "identifying influencers" and other soft-skill marketing strategies, then you are reading about the viral branding industry. Another good way to benchmark this is how many of the examples are based on off-line word-of-mouth examples versus interactive media.

Viral action
There’s another segment of viral marketing that is really about direct response marketing. That is, the entire focus of the PRODUCT (not marketing, but deep down into the product) is getting more people to use it. That means you are ultimately focused on one issue only:

Do something that’s REALLY easy to spread to other people

In this case, you are focused more on the mechanism of viral transmission than you are the content of what you are transmitting. For many products, this means you are making it highly efficient to take over their communications media to spread your message.

This is the quote from the article:

"Word of mouth is when I tell you to shop on Zappos because I think the
service is great," explains Botha. "It becomes viral when you have to
be ‘in the system’ to use it. For example I can post a video on YouTube
but then you would need to go to the site in order to see it."

What are examples of this?

  • Plaxo taking over your Outlook and making it easy to spam 50 people at once
  • YouTube giving you the code to easily copy-and-paste videos to other sites
  • Slide asking for your social network credentials to make it easy to embed slideshows

In these cases, they are not simply depending on making something really cool to have you spread it. They are making it automatic, something built into the product rather than as a marketing afterthought.

Furthemore, you end up focusing more on metrics than in the branding case. You end up measuring and optimizing things like:

  • Sources of traffic
  • Landing page views
  • % of users that register
  • % of users that send out invites
  • # of invites sent out, per user on average
  • % of invites delivered successfully
  • % of invites read by users
  • # of virally added users, per user on average

And of course, you’d want to A/B test the hell out of each step of the way.

The viral equation?
Obviously, one cannot live without the other. It makes me think that there’s a very short checklist of things you need to do in order to make your site viral:

  1. Make it EFFICIENT to spread your site
  2. Give people an INCENTIVE to send it to their friends
  3. Have a GREAT product that keeps people around spreading it through time

I think these are the 3 things you need to create an enduring viral site… just don’t get too sucked into the branding / soft-side of it without addressing the stuff around your product.

Want more blog entries?
Here’s a couple other relevant blogs on the topic:

Enjoy!

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.