How to create viral apps (part I): Strategy and viral loop

What distinguishes good apps from great ones? And what makes the seemingly simple ideas go viral?


A lot of people seem to think that apps which experienced amazing success and gone viral are flukes. Outliers that happened due to the combination of a good idea and luck.


This notion is responsible for millions of hopeful entrepreneurs and developers chasing the next Twitter, Tinder or Pokemon Go… right now as we speak.


No wonder that nine out of ten start-ups fail.


In this article, we’ll shed some light on the sharing element in virality. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be one right, proven and tested method that guarantees success.


However, all viral apps have common strategies and processes which underlie their success (don’t like reading? Check out our infographic on how to create viral apps)


1. Plan ahead

Before you get into creating a strategy and user flows for creating your app, consider whether your app has the potential to go viral in the first place.


Gauging the viral potential by considering your audience can mean the difference between succeeding and failing.


To understand its viral potential, ask yourself these questions:


  • What is your market size?
  • What is the demography of your audience?
  • To what age category does your audience belong?
  • Are they avid ‘app junkies’ or do they prefer to access information via desktop?

app store optimization tool


Secondly, you need to consider whether the topic itself is suitable for mobile applications. [bctt tweet=”A viral app needs to be great enough to capture people’s attention to the extent that they will want to share it with their friends” username=”@amm_news”].


Last but not least, what about the features? You need to solve a problem specific to your audience.


You might consider apps that have one or more of these aspects:


  1. Let users experience personal connections by using the app  – think about how Snapchat started

viral app

  1. Create an emotional connection – users of all ages use Facebook because they can connect instantly connect with friends and family from all over the world

viral app fb


  1. Very easy to use and understand – DropBox for example very easy and useful concept to grasp

app strategy


  1. Continuity element (e.g. game, next levels) – Candy Crush and other viral games (e.g. Angry Birds) did excellent job with the element of continuity

continuity app strategy

Understanding what your audience wants, and tying it with these aspects will allow you to create a great application. Yet, almost all developers still fail because they fail to create an emotional connection with their audience in addition to designing great features.


You might decide to go for a unique idea that nobody ever thought of before. This will, however, involve substantial idea validation, research, testing and iteration.


Alternatively, get a good understanding of the current market and the competitive landscape to design a better solution. One way to do so is through analyzing the app stores and looking at what people complain about.


app stores


To visualize the data, you can create a rating scale which will show the competitors, features their apps offer, and how well is each feature executed.


Depending on the nature of the application you want to develop, the rating can have multiple levels of quality execution, or it can be simply binary: YES feature and NO feature.


Let’s use an example with multiple rating levels.


Basic app features analysis

You can approach a very basic features analysis by performing content analysis, and convert qualitative data into quantitative data, since you will quantify people’s opinions.


In 3 steps:


  • X-axis: here you will plot the features
  • Y-axis: this axis will represent your rating scale (e.g. 0-8, 0-1)
  • You will plot the feature’s score for each competitor to get an idea of how is everyone performing.


In this example, we will use 0-8 rating, where 8 is a score for the best-executed feature, and 0 will be awarded if the feature is missing completely.


Let’s imagine that you want to analyze the competition in the Instagram photo editing niche. You’d start with reading the comments and conducting a content analysis. This will involve simply looking at different features and themes that emerge. The more research you do, the more reliable your data will be. Doing deep research will mean trust in your analysis, so take the time to really do this properly.



It seems that users complain mostly about rotation. You could, therefore, start plotting the data and come up with something like this:



Want to get a detailed competitive analysis done for you?

Read more about app marketing services here

2. Design viral loop

To break down and simplify ‘Viral loop’ as a concept, we can understand it as the continuous process of sharing and inviting people in your network, who will continue to share and invite people in their network.


As you can imagine, being able to design viral loop and establish this cycle can create powerful results.


If we visually depict a viral loop, it looks something like this:


viral loop


Understand your metrics

Before setting out to create a viral loop, it’s vital that you understand all the necessary metrics.


We’ll need to calculate the viral coefficient. This number will reflect how many new customers is each current customer able to convert. The calculation for K (viral coefficient) is fairly simple, and will enable us to build a model of future growth. The formula is simply:


Number of invitations X conversion rate (%)


So let’s use an example to model how many customers we will have after the first cycle.


Remember, all we need is:

1) the number of customers who send out invitation

2) conversion rate




10 customers will send out 10 invitations each (100 in total). 20% of these invitations end up customers.


This will give us 2 new customers per each existing customer. Therefore 20 in total. If we add the new 20 customers to 10 existing, we’d have 30 customers at the end of the first cycle.


To continue building this model and having robust results, it’s important to consider sharing performed by the new customers in each new cycle, rather than calculating sharing of customers who shared in the previous cycle.


By building a simple model like this and testing with different conversion rates, you will quickly see the impact on your app’s growth.


However, remember that to achieve viral growth, the coefficient must be greater than 1.


In case you don’t feel like doing all the calculations yourself, you can use online calculators which calculate K for you.


viral app coefficient calculator


Once you understand your numbers, you want to make sure your app’s features are optimized for sharing.


There is a number of ways to achieve this. Firstly, reduce the barriers to entry for using and sharing your app. Unnecessary opt-ins, too much commitment and sharing of information or bad UI is bound to reduce your sharing rates.


Secondly, accelerate your viral loop by designing your app with shorter sharing cycles. This will result in a greater amount of viral cycles in shorter period of time, and will therefore lead to more users acquired in the given timeframe.



Incentive to share

Lastly, let’s turn to the most important aspect in optimizing sharing – the incentives to share. As with anything, also in apps the WIIFM (what’s in it for me) rule applies.


Here is a list of techniques you can employ to encourage sharing.


Make your app go viral encouraging users to share….

  1. Because of altruism – entice people to share it as a thank you for the features you offer
  2. To receive extra features

dropbox-viral-loop3. And get a discount on the paid version

4. Because of altruistic referrals – you will perform a good deed if they share (such as donating to charity)

5. To receive discounts for other services/products in the industry (for example restaurants in you have an app listing restaurants)

6. To receive a badge, points, virtual currency (gamify sharing and offer perceived value) or other in-game value : Candy crush

7. To make a social statement 

8. To receive pre-launch perks

9. For a chance to win something

10. To show support to a cause


Wrapping it up

In conclusion, creating a viral app is certainly not easy. 


First of all, the fact is that many successful entrepreneurs fail with apps. Scoring with an app that really takes off and goes viral involves more than planning and designing a viral loop.


In part II we will look at other aspects of your app that will make people more than likely to share it with their network.


You can now watch our video about building a viral loop!


Or download the powerpoint presentation here!


Did we leave anything out? Share it with us in the comments below.


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