Back in the mid 70’s, Happy Days was the coolest show on television. Every week, viewers tuned in to watch Richie Cunningham (played by Ron Howard) and his rough-around-the-edges leather-jacketed friend Fonzie (played by Henry Winkler) get into trouble, and then somehow find their way out of it by the end of the episode.
However, after four seasons the writers were running out of ideas – and the viewers knew it.
Their viewership started to level off, and in an act of desperation the writers decided to get “creative.”
Your Happy Days Are Over, Fonzie
So in the season five premiere, the writers decided to engineer an incredibly odd situation that resulted in Fonzie on water skis jumping over shark infested waters.
While the scene did briefly capture the attention of viewers, it was clearly a one-off gimmick that was a far cry from what the show had been known for, and was a blatant a last ditch effort to maintain the popularity they had enjoyed in years prior.
Although Happy Days continued to air for a few more seasons, fans noted that after the moment Fonzie “jumped the shark” the show continued to decline in quality and was never the same again.
To sum up, the idiom “jump the shark” refers to the turning point where a once popular and high-quality TV show that has since leveled off starts to decline and is never the same again.
(NOTE: It has come to my attention that there are, as ridiculous as it may sound, arguments on whether or not the “jump the shark” moment was the true moment when Happy Days began its decline. However, this site is not about debating the viewership stats of 70’s TV shows. It’s about viral marketing. So let’s all agree to take this as the origin of the idiom, shall we?)
Okay, so the million dollar question now becomes . . . .
How the Hell Does This Relate to Viral Marketing?
Ayyyy, I’m glad you asked.
We’re going to be borrowing the “jump the shark” idiom to describe our very own turning point where user growth begins to decline. (A use case that was made famous by Andrew Chen.)
In growth engineering, “jumping the shark” refers to the perfect storm of awfulness when a company…
- Has a high churn rate
- Hits their carrying capacity
- Reaches network saturation
. . . all at the same time.
If any of these were to happen by themselves it sucks, and would take time and effort to overcome. If two happen at once, you better have an incredible team ready to solve a big problem.
But if all three happen at once, you’re sunk.
But why does this happen? Let’s take a closer look.
How to Jump the Shark of Virality
- Your churn rate refers to the amount of users you lose during a predefined time period. Let’s say you have 5,000 users, and your churn rate is 10% per week. This means each week, 500 users become non-users.
- Your carrying capacity refers to the moment when your churn rate equals your customer acquisition rate. Let’s say you are adding 500 users per week. Once you reach 5,000 users you’ve got a customer acquisition rate that equals your churn rate, and all growth stops until something changes (i.e. acquisition rate increases, or churn rate decreases).
- Network saturation then smacks you in the face. You’ve overexposed your marketing channel to your product, and fewer and fewer people are buying. You suddenly lose your ability to acquire users more and more every day – and now you LOSE users quicker than you can acquire them.
In other words, you’ve achieved reverse growth. You are now officially shrinking.
The more you can educate yourself on the mathematics of growth and virality, the more carefully you can plan. And the more advanced warning you’ll have to stave off any of the things we’ve covered above.
To give you a push in the right direction, in the next chapter I’ll share a simple equation to prevent your company from pulling a Fonzie and embarrassingly “jumping the shark.”
Can You Predict the Future of Your Viral Growth?
Most growth projections are just wishful thinking in disguise. But not all. Up next I’ll give you a useful equation that might just give you a peek into the future, and help avoid the disastrous event of getting eaten alive.
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