open viral marketing

The basic premise of viral marketing is leveraging users to promote your product for you.

If optimized well, this viral promotion is often free.

For example, Skype effectively leverages inherent viral marketing when it requires that users invite others to the platform in order to talk. Likewise, Disqus uses embeddable viral marketing to demo their product to hundreds of millions of people each day.

In other cases, viral marketing can cost some serious coin. Such as when PayPal or DraftKings use viral incentive marketing to give cash, or cash-equivalent incentives, to users for referring others to their sites.

But what if there were a scenario where people paid YOU for the privilege of promoting your site.

I know what you’re thinking:

Wait . . . so people pay ME for promoting my site? What poppycock! This certainly must be some sort of preposterous farce. How dare you, sir!

I dare indeed. It’s not some fantasy world. It’s very real.

And it’s our seventh type of viral marketing.

Open Viral Marketing: The Marketplace Engine


Open viral marketing involves opening up your product to third parties, often as a distribution channel for the products they are producing.

Any viral loop, this one included, relies on the 6 “phases” of people:

  1. Prospect – Somebody who needs the value your product provides but hasn’t been exposed to your product yet.
  2. Lead – A prospect who is exposed to your product, and interested enough to grant you their contact details to request more info.
  3. User – A lead who was impressed enough with the additional info they received as a lead to take the leap and begin using your product.
  4. Acolyte – A user who reached an “Aha!” moment about your product’s core value, and has now seen enough value to stick around.
  5. Advocate – An acolyte who reached an “Aha!” moment about your product’s viral value through using your product, and has now seen enough value to invite others to join them.
  6. Immune – Somebody who never needed (or no longer needs) the value your product provides, regardless of whether they have been exposed to your product or not.

The best part? Open viral marketing often transforms Acolytes to Advocates without them ever realizing it. They instead believe they’re promoting a completely different product – either their own or another they really love. All while happily paying you to do so.

I’ll use a popular example to demonstrate.

How Apple Convinced Developers to Pay to Distribute Apps on the App Store


Let’s say you’re a huge fan of Instagram’s app for the iPhone. You want one of your photographer friends to post their photos more frequently on it. You share the link to Instagram’s app with them, and they install it.

But wait . . . by doing this, you’ve shared a link to Instagram’s app on the App Store. Your friend has now seen the value in this Apple product. And they’ve become a user of it.

Apple iPhone App Store - Open Viral Marketing

This, my friend, is open viral marketing in action.

The high viral value of this method provided early success to Apple as app developers continued to build tools (i.e. apps) for their various devices. So much so, that Apple decided to charge developers an annual fee for a developer account. Since nearly all of these developers can make more than $99/year – the cost of a developer account – they were more than happy to buy in.

Apple Platform Enrollment - Open Viral MarketingThis financial investment had the double effect of ensuring content creators felt invested enough to promote their apps in order to offset their operational costs. Which is just another way of saying they were enthusiastically paying to promote Apple’s services.

These app developers work hard to promote the App Store by promoting their own apps because they have a direct financial interest in doing so. As an added bonus, great app developers leverage viral marketing themselves from within their own app. Which places millions of smaller viral loops within Apple’s larger viral loop.

To recap:

  • Developers pay Apple for the right to distribute apps on their platform
  • Those people actively promote Apple’s App Store by promoting their own apps
  • Many of those apps have their own viral loops, which increases the power of Apple’s larger viral loop
  • Apple also makes a commission on every paid app purchase and in-app purchase

Simply put, Apple’s App Store and iTunes products are two of the most pure and profound examples of open viral marketing in history.

But there are other effective examples that have helped brands command the marketplace.

Viral Success Story: YouTube


YouTube is a great example of open viral marketing. Content creators often have a direct or indirect financial interest in promoting their own video content. In doing so, they spread the YouTube brand in the process of spreading their own videos.

People who see the media YouTube users create are then exposed to YouTube (i.e. Prospects transitioning to Leads). A few of them then want to create a video themselves and sign-up (i.e. Leads transitioning to Users).

Youtube Recommended Videos - Open Viral Marketing

Like Apple, YouTube has gotten so popular as a discovery engine that users often PAY YouTube to promote their own videos ON YouTube (i.e. YouTube ads).

(NOTE: I often get asked about the distinction between “viral media” and “open viral marketing.” There are a ton of similarities. However, one main difference is that viral media can also be created by the internal team, while open viral marketing ALWAYS involves user-generated assets, and relies on the value of users self promoting those assets.)

Viral Success Story: Udemy


Udemy is a much more niche example. The successful online course creator uses a similar open viral marketing strategy as Apple in that course creators can create and sell courses on Udemy for a profit.

Udemy - Open Viral Marketing

However, since the course creation process is typically done start-to-finish by individuals rather than companies with a staff and marketing budget, the user-driven viral loops have been nowhere near as prolific. To fuel their open viral spread a bit more, Udemy recently began giving up their commission on user-generated sales. The goal is to increase user promotion. The hope is new users who come to Udemy will be more likely to buy other courses, or create a course themselves. Thus spreading the platform’s reach.

Viral Success Story: Zapier


Zapier is a very unique case of open viral marketing. Catering exclusively to B2B customers, Zapier provides software companies with an easy engine for integrations. It has essentially become the “App Store” for service-to-service integrations.

Zapier Apps - Open Viral Marketing

Companies typically become users on Zapier first, discovering new and powerful applications to help their business. They then often decide to open their own APIs to Zapier, allowing for integrations they can likewise promote to their own users on Zapier.

A company who uses Zapier adds value to their own users. They also become asset creators for Zapier. Every user who then integrates that company’s product will not only get a better experience, but will be exposed to Zapier’s entire marketplace of integrations. Users then find other sites to integrate with. Or better yet, create an integration with their own platform’s API if they have one.

In other words, open viral marketing is awesome.

What’s Next?


Have you ever watched a video, or been more willing to use a product, because you saw a crap load of others did so before you? Our next form of viral marketing heavily leverages this inherent truth of human behavior. So click the button below for the next chapter where we’ll show how to tap into the power of social proof.


How Did MapMyRun Grow Via the Monkey See, Monkey Do Mentality?

Our next type of viral marketing helped brands like MapMyRun, Spotify and Kickstarter grow early on in a way that communicated trust and value better than nearly every other form out there. Check out our next chapter to learn more.


Travis Steffen
Viral Buttons by UP