Viral Amplification Factor - Viral Hero

Before we go over how to use your amplification factor, let me just say what you’re all thinking . . . .

Travis, you’ve made virality seem so easy to understand and create. But if it’s that easy, why aren’t more sites viral?

First off, thank you! You’re too kind.

Since starting Viral Hero, I’ve done my best to break down a complex, dry, and academic subject into something that’s a bit easier to understand. We started with the basics, then reviewed the 12 different viral types, and in the last section created your viral engine in 15 steps. Now let’s put all that hard work to the test with some real world scenarios.

We’ve got a lot more to cover, but I’m glad you’re following so far!

But I NEVER said virality was easy to create.

In fact, it’s the complete opposite.

Why “Going Viral” is Easier Said Than Done


If you don’t architect your product from Day 1 through the lens of virality, a K of > 1 (or even a K > 0.5) may never be possible. (For more on what K is and how to calculate it see our last chapter.)

Simply cobbling together and running with a viral engine would be like putting a top-of-the-line sound system in an economy car.

In other words, you can make something better than it was, but you can’t transform your Toyota into a Porsche. (Write that down.)

But wait, before you panic and start believing viral marketing CAN’T work of you, know that even a K value of 0.1 can transform you from a lowly startup into an industry leader. At scale, it may also make (and save) your company hundreds of millions of dollars.

This is the magic of what’s called your viral amplification factor.

Saving Millions Through Your Amplification Factor


An amplification factor is a multiplier that shows how many total users you can expect to acquire for every one user you acquire from non-viral means – after viral marketing does it’s job.

Let’s say that we’ve got a relatively popular blog that caters to an active market.

Our prior example in the last chapter showed an incredibly viral SaaS application, and how the basic viral formula may work in a vacuum. Let’s now talk about a model that can be a LOT more hit or miss. Namely, an online media outlet (i.e. our relatively popular blog).

Since this model is drastically different, the goal is no longer to create application-specific viral value for users to directly invite others, as it was in the last example. Instead, the media outlet model USUALLY means that viral invites come via online viral word of mouth marketing, and most often through a share on social media.

Some of the world’s top viral media properties like BuzzFeed and Dose crush this method. But most small teams don’t execute on it nearly as well.

A Use Case to Determine Your Application Factor


For now, let’s assume that you’re the typical new blog, and instead of a conv% of 20% (as we had in our previous example), let’s decrease conv% to 5%.

Also, let’s assume our i value remains the same as it was in the last example, and each user you recruit exposes 10 new people to your product.

This means that for every 10 people who see an invite that has been sent (e.g. every 10 people who see a post that has been shared in their feed), 0.5 of those people come to the site and become readers.

Wait, how can we recruit 0.5 readers? Do we need to saw them in half?

Magician Sawing Woman in Half - Viral Amplification Factor

(IMPORTANT: Please do not attempt to saw anybody in half, and if you do, please find a better tux than this guy.)

What having 0.5 readers means is you’ll need two users executing your full viral loop and exposing your product to 10 new people each (for a grand total of 20) in order to recruit one single new user through viral means.

In short, if our i value stays the same (i = 10), this one simple change of decreasing the conv% from 20% to 5% will alone reduce K to 0.05.

How to Calculate Amplification Factor


So how do you calculate your viral amplification?

A = 1/(1 – K)

By inserting our values in the use case above we get:

A = 1/(1 – .05) = 1/.95 = 1.05

Basically, what this says is that for every 100 users you drive to your site, they will collectively recruit an additional 5 users for you.

This isn’t great a number for A, and is often typical for sites of this type that have given zero attention to improving their viral metrics. An amplification factor this low would likely only be a needle-mover for sites spending a ton of money to acquire users through non-viral means.

But hey, it’s better than nothing.

Turn That Viral Dial Up


Let’s assume you and your team conduct some research into online viral word of mouth marketing. You realize that while you’re evoking at least SOME high-arousal emotions (as evidenced by your i value falling within the typical average), there’s still room for improvement.

Fortunately, you can often increase the shareability of your content by improving its headlines and imagery. This will better catch people’s attention by igniting curiosity or controversy or awe (or any other high-arousal emotion) – thereby increasing your conv% on those shares.

Ever hear of the term “clickbait?”

This is exactly what media outlets use to increase their viral numbers.

Dose Click Bait Headline Trending Article - Viral Amplification Factor

The image above shows how Chicago-based online media juggernaut Dose uses clickbait on their homepage via a catchy headline that’s almost impossible not to click.

Now that you’re ready to crank up your numbers, let’s get back to our use case.

Get The Most Out of Your A


You’ve gone ahead and made some awesome improvements to your blog by harnessing the power of clickbait. As a result you’ve successfully driven your conv% up to 40%.

Meaning that people who see something of yours that’s been shared in their feed have a 40% chance of: 

  1. Clicking
  2. Coming to your site
  3. Becoming a reader

With that boost, our equation now becomes:

A = 1/(1 – .4) = 1/.6= 1.667

That’s a little better. An amplification factor like this means for every 100 users you pay to acquire, they bring back 67 new users.

Although this isn’t the sort of wild, self-driving, exponential growth we all dream of, an A value of 1.667 is a HUGE needle-mover metric for even a brand new bootstrapped startup. With it, they can likely afford to profitably dump more cash into non-viral acquisition channels, and unlock additional channels that were previously not cost effective.

What’s Next


Increasing your A value should be the goal of 95% of companies looking to become market leaders, and should be the goal of 99% of companies who are trying to build virality onto a pre-existing product that was not specifically architected to be viral by nature.

Focusing on this goal WHILE optimizing your non-viral marketing channels will help reveal the most profitable path to scalable growth.

However, it won’t provide you with the explosive, exponential growth we all pray to the viral gods for. That honor goes to the KPI in our next chapter.


What Do Baby Rabbits and Viral Growth Have in Common?

So you’ve amplified your growth, and your Toyota is performing better than ever. Nice job. But don’t go thinking you’re ready to star in the next Fast and the Furious movie quite yet. You’ve still got a ways to go before you can take on Vin Diesel with your souped up viral engine. So let’s speed things up by examining the reproductive habits of rabbits.


Travis Steffen
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