viral loop

Your viral loop is the meanest, most generous, most incredible, most viciously-humbling thing you’ll ever work with as a growth scientist.

Not having one that works at all is a strong indicator that your product or service totally sucks. Having one that’s absurdly effective can be just as catastrophic as it may require you to scale well before you have the capital or manpower to do so.

But what the hell is it?

Your Viral Loop: Many Sides to the Same Coin


Simply put, your viral loop is all the steps a user goes through between becoming aware of a product to inviting the next set of new users to it.

Most business owners don’t map out their viral loop. Instead they think something along the lines of:

I’m going to create a product, and add in these cool sharing buttons. If people like the site, they’ll share it and tell their friends. Because . . . I’ve got these cool sharing buttons.”

With that, business owners never give their viral loop a second thought. They then go back to working on their product, and listing all the things they’ll buy when they strike it rich.

Shortly thereafter, they fail.

However, some business owners put in the time, effort, and focus towards mapping their viral loop in the most intricate detail possible. They then begin the process of systematically improving each step in their loop one by one.

In no time at all they find themselves on stage at some massive event talking about how they acquired millions of users by creating a product people love.

Though if that’s all they are telling people, they’re leaving out an important step. Namely, that they acquired millions of users by creating a product people love AND share with others.

But hold up. To illustrate things a bit better, let’s give you . . .

A Common Example of a Viral Loop Structure


Viral loops come in all shapes and sizes. Without knowing what you do or how you do it, it’s impossible for me to map your unique viral loop.

That said, here’s a walkthrough of a very common viral loop structure:

Step 1: Awareness – A Prospect Hears About Your Product

This awareness can come from an external “viral feeding” traffic source like a paid ad or organic search result in a search engine. It can also come from a viral invite from another existing user that they are somehow connected to.

Once prospective users are exposed to your product, the next step begins.

Step 2: Interest – A Prospect Has Their First Experience With Your Product

Somehow you’ve snagged enough of a person’s interest to get them to experience your product (e.g. come to your website, walk through your door for the first time, etc.). They are now a “visitor.” And want to learn more about what you do and the value you can offer them.

You typically only have a very brief amount of time (a few seconds in fact) to make an impact, and instill enough trust and confidence to get them to continue forward.

You may have several steps in your user signup funnel – and that’s okay. This in and of itself should be its own optimized process. (Funnel optimization is a hugely-important industry by itself). However, it’s often at least partially contained within your viral loop, and the next step assumes that this process has been a success.

Step 3: Decision – A Visitor Signs Up as a User

You’ve showed enough perceived value to convince a user to sign up. Now you can demonstrate ACTUAL value by delivering on the promises you made to the user before they made this commitment. (Hopefully even OVER-delivering to “wow” your users.)

In a nutshell, you’ve shown a user value. They’re satisfied with what they’ve seen so far. Now it’s time to dangle some additional value in front of them to entice taking a viral action.

Step 4: Action – A Visitor Understands and Wants Your Viral Value

Your user has started receiving a core value from your product. Here’s where you make it known that they can get even MORE of that SAME TYPE of value by taking a certain action to help spread your product to others.

This is your Viral Value.

(Note: To learn more about viral value, and why it’s a foundation of of viral marketing, check out our last chapter.)

Step 5: Recommendation – A User Shares or Sends Out Invites

To unlock your viral value, the user must invite others.

Invites may be anything from email referrals, Facebook shares, invites to collaborate, embedded tools, physically taking a friend by the hand and leading them through your door, and more. (For more clarity on what these could be, check out the 12 Types of Viral Marketing.)

This then exposes your site or service to a new prospect (new awareness), which closes one loop, and starts a new one.

Viral Loop Marketing Graphic

In Summary


To understand your viral loop, you must create a detailed, metrics-backed map of all the steps that need to be taken for a user to successfully:

  • Have their first experience with your product
  • Understand your product and the value you offer
  • Make the decision to share / send an invite

Diagram this viral loop as a cyclical process that you can visualize, discuss, and brainstorm around. Make sure to include your data at each step so you can see where your bottlenecks are.

Also, try to include the segmentation factors that describe your most likely converters through your viral loop. Try to figure out why those users behave the way they do, and assess how to either attract more of those users, or how to make other users behave in a similar way.

At the end of the day, successfully improving each step in your viral loop involves increasing the perceived viral value for users who send invites or referrals, and adding an additional, often time-sensitive reward (e.g. viral incentive marketing). The overall goal being to incite more immediate and profound action that can be repeated over and over again.

What’s Next?


Now that you’re in the loop (see what I did there), let’s kick this viral game up a notch.

(Note: This is the 4th segment in our tutorial on Creating Your Viral Marketing Engine. Since viral loop is such a fundamental concept of viral marketing there’s never a bad time to brush up, but before moving forward if you haven’t yet you might like to start from the beginning of the process.)

Getting users to send their first invite is the first step towards viral success. If that’s all they do you’re winning big. But what if you can get them to send another? And another. Then 3? Or 5? Or 20?

That, my friends, is what we’ll dive into next.


Do You Know the Two KPIs That Can Make or Break Your Viral Marketing?

Are you leaking users? In the next chapter we’ll see how to plug up the cork in your viral loop, and better optimize using one of your most powerful growth assets.



What did you think of this article?

  • STILL having trouble mapping your specific loop? Share it below and we’ll go over it together.
  • Can you think of any companies with exceptionally awesome viral loops?
  • Who would win in a hula hoop contest, you or Viral Panda?

Hit me on Twitter, or comment below.


Travis Steffen
Viral Buttons by UP