Designing Viral Applications

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Justin Smith (Product Manager, Watercooler), Andrew Chen (Futuristic Play), Blake Commagere (, David Gentzel (SocialMedia), Jia Shen (RockYou) spoke on a panel today about designing viral applications.

Andrew started the conversation by describing viral marketing as a marketing system where your customers sell your next generation of customers. Jia pointed out that the time frame now has been collapsed by the social networks so there is an accelerated viral opportunity.

There’s been a long evolution of viral from word of mouth, through email and other tools that have been turned into features of the social networks. Now instead of starting with the product, you can start from the customer and work back through the social networks as distribution channels.

Jai pointed out that early on Facebook did not put much restraint on how many invitations could be sent which created a gold rush effect that allowed an eco-system to grow as developers chased the growth. Now Facebook has put constraints on viral marketing tools which will make it much harder for new players to grow. The newer APIs are also being more conservative and that means they may have more difficulty building the same kind of ecosystem.

The differences in functionality across sites drives difference in application strategy. For example, on MySpace the focus will be more on applications that are self-expression, canvas oriented and less the viral, messaging applications.

Andrew highlighted that you can learn a lot from games in helping to make applications more successful. Things like reward schedules can drive use.

If you can build something that catches on you will know after the first couple of thousand users. If it’s successful with this group you can be confident that you can grow the applications penetration. Less viral applications will take marketing money to grow.

Being viral is not all it takes. If you’re getting lots of visitors and trials, and are not converting them into active users you are missing the opportunity. You need to make sure you’re measuring retention and repeat use of different visitor cohorts to ensure long term success.

It takes both viral growth and engagement to be successful.

[tags]gspwest08, graphing social, viral applications, viral marketing[/tags]

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4 thoughts on “Designing Viral Applications

  1. Alex,
    this point of yours: ‘Now instead of starting with the product, you can start from the customer and work back through the social networks as distribution channels’ – is interesting. Still I would like to see examples how exactly you do it.

  2. I think the point being made on the panel was that you now have the ability to get right into the customer’s discussion flow. Find the groups of customers you are interested in. Join the conversation. You will see first hand what they are doing, what they are finding hard to do and be able to get feedback from them before beginning on development. This same dynamic will also give you distribution once you have built a product for them. If you are part of their community, it will be a natural for you to introduce the product and if they like it they will become your salesforce.

  3. Pingback: Dare Obasanjo aka Carnage4Life - The Problem with Trying to "Spread Virally"

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