Viral Marketing Hook Viral Panda Fishing

I’m going to start this chapter with a little anecdote. It may seem pointless at first, but stick with me.

A few months back, I tried fly fishing for the first time. I was on a remote mountain in Utah, and the weather was beautiful. I was with a group of friends, and we had an instructor who had been fly fishing for 15 years.

As a former athlete, I’m obsessed with mastering the mechanics of an activity. I’m a firm believer that with sound fundamentals even mediocre athletes can compete at the highest levels.

So after about an hour of practicing the mechanics with the instructor, I was ready to catch every fish in the world. He helped me prep my pole for the first time, and I caught a fish within the first 3 minutes.

Clearly I’m the best fly fisherman here.

Come at me, fish.

What Fishing Taught Me About Viral Marketing


Feeling brassy as all hell, I made a bet with a friend of mine that I could catch more fish than him within the span of 2 hours. Filled to the brim with my newfound confidence and perfectly executed mechanics, I promptly got started casting the crap out of those waters.

Fly Fishing Mountain Landscape - Viral Hook Marketing

An hour later, I hadn’t caught a thing.

Something was wrong. Was it my mechanics? I walked through every step, and asked the instructor to show me a few more times. Everyone around me was catching fish and having a grand ole fishy time, but I wasn’t making any progress. And I had a bet to win!

Sensing my growing frustration, the instructor came over, took one look at what I was doing, and then chuckled to himself.

Did you re-bait your hook after your last catch?

. . . Shit.

Once we put a fat night crawler on my hook, guess what happened only a few minutes later?

The moral of the story: The fish didn’t care about my mechanics. Or how awesome I was. They just wanted the worm I was throwing in the water. The mechanics helped once I had a worm on the hook, but without the worm the mechanics were meaningless.

Viral Marketing Hook: Using the Best Possible Bait


The core reason WHY a person shares your product with others is called your viral marketing hook. 

(Note: This should NOT be confused with your Viral Hook Point, which is the moment where users actually become AWARE of the value sharing your product provides.)

The viral marketing hook is determined by a few key things:

  • The dynamics of your product
  • The CORE value your product provides
  • Which one of the 12 types of viral marketing you’re using
  • What additional value users unlock when they share your product

While a poor product can adversely effect your user experience and viral loop (with poor content, a poor slideshow, a poor widget, etc.), most people place the blame on the viral marketing hook by default.

What they DON’T consider (and should) are the other influential factors impacting the user decision making process.

B = M + A + T


The Fogg Behavioral Model tells us that behavior, or B, comes from 3 things:

  1. Motivation (M) – WHY should people take an action? Why should they do it NOW? Is this obvious at a glance? The higher the motivation, the more likely your users are to take action (which in this case is sharing or sending invites).
  2. Ability (A) – Does anything prevent users from taking action? Is your interface even semi-confusing? Is it too much work to act? Too expensive? Is the process intimidating, or is it SUPER quick and easy?
  3. Trigger (T) – What tells the user that it’s now time to take action? As an example, the ringing noise of a phone tells us there’s somebody calling. What’s YOUR “ringing phone“?

Fogg Behavior Model - Viral Hook Marketing

Your viral hook is a combination of the M and the T in the Fogg Behavioral Model above.

The moment you locate where you can most clearly communicate that it’s the right time for users to share and their experience will be enhanced when they do so – you’ve identified your viral hook point.

To find a shortcut for where this hook point may be located, look at your application and ask:

Within which of my features does it actually make sense to encourage a user to reach out and connect with a non-user?

A Butterfly Halfway Across the World Can Create a Typhoon, or Something


You know that old saying (hopefully better than I do) that basically means it takes just a small action to create a huge impact.

According to Reid Hoffman, in the early days of LinkedIn, only a half dozen out of thousands of features actually encouraged this sort of viral impact – and of those, only TWO made any real difference.

These two would be considered hooks. (Do you know what they were? Give it your best shot in the comments.)

LinkedIn Invitations - Viral Hook Marketing

The important thing is that LinkedIn integrated these features right from the start, and were able to test which ones best meshed with their core value, resulting in a special few creating a butterfly effect.

When To Bait Your Viral Hook


Viral marketing mechanics cannot just be easily grafted into a service when there’s no real value to be had from them. The best viral products build their viral loops BEFORE building their core products. This helps ensure you can engineer and optimize both the loop and the hook before embarking on the epic, arduous journey of starting a new company.

This doesn’t mean you can’t build a viral marketing engine after the fact. You just may need to come to terms with the fact that it may be a long hard road full of serious changes and potentially even a major pivot.

After all, to get what you’ve never gotten, you must be willing to do what you’ve never done . . . or something. Hey, give me a break here. I’m a growth scientist, not a motivational speaker.

(Oh, and in case you were wondering, I did not win the bet I told you about at the start. But I DID get a great anecdote, so I’ll count that as a moral victory.)

What’s Next?


So you’ve built your viral engine. You’ve optimized it to maximize your average invites sent per user. And, now, you’ve identified your hook.

But where’s the growth?

Just because your users are SENDING invites doesn’t mean the people RECEIVING them are actually doing anything.

Let’s change that, shall we?


What's the First Level Towards Achieving Viral Growth?

Now that we’ve laid the foundations of your awesome viral engine, it’s time to start generating some positive results. How do we start? Join me in our next chapter.


Travis Steffen
Viral Buttons by UP