We all of course want our app to go viral, but which factors lay the foundation for exponential growth? Let’s be clear on one thing: your app doesn’t go viral by accident. Most successful apps have a well thought out viral strategy built in right from the start.

The Viral Coefficient

In order to make the concept of ‘going viral’ or ‘virality’ a bit more concrete, Eric Reis (author of the Bible for Successful Start-Ups called The Lean Startup) defined virality as “how many new customers will use the product as a consequence of each new customer who signs up.”

When your app has a viral coefficient greater than 1, the app will lead to exponential growth. When your app has a viral coefficient less than 1, your app will lead to hardly any growth at all! Although this makes sense, how can you measure it? Without going into too much detail, this is what the formula looks like:

Viral Coefficient = N x P1 x P2

N = average number of new users each active user invites
P1 = proportion of invited users who become active users
P2 = Proportion of users who invite other people

One variable missing here is timing. What you would like to know is within what time range will the user share your app on their personal network. In order to speak about virality, you need your app to be shared like wildfire.
The big question now is ‘how to get there?’ If you want your N, P1 and P2 to grow, your app flow needs to be well designed, with a viral strategy built in right from the beginning.

Building an App with a Viral Loop


Before getting to the viral loop, make sure you have the basics right. When first creating your app (at the MVP stage) you’ll be confronted with the main questions regarding the viability of your app. This forces you to think about your niche and the (unique) value you’ll be providing to your audience.

In a nutshell, make sure your app is solving a problem and that it’s providing value for its users. The overall value of your app will increase as more people join, thereby increasing its long-term viability.

Let’s illustrate this with an example in the offline world which we’re all familiar with, a party. Of course you want your party to ‘go viral’! “Please come to my party” is not a great kick-off message for virality. Nevertheless, if you tell people “This party is so amazing, let’s invite our friends, they can’t miss this!”, we’re moving closer to a viral message. The result is that the party will rock even more as all your friends (as well as their friends) are there. As a consequence, the following exponential growth will take place: “Now that all my friends are here, this party is even more amazing, we’ll have the best time ever, so let’s invite more friends!”. Even from just the latest sentence you’ll see there’s a loop that has been created, a viral loop! At this stage, it’s all about added value.

Only when you achieve this actionable loop that drives users to create more users, which increase engagement and existing users, can we speak of a viral loop. As more people continue inviting others and those new users are spending more time engaged, the overall value of your app will only continue to increase.

WhatsApp is a great example of an app with increasing value as the amount of people using the app multiplies.

If your app has the ability to encourage even more people to use it, the result is that your users do all of the marketing for you. Apps with viral loops enormously decrease the cost of user acquisition.

Reward Your Users for Sharing

There are many features that can be implemented into a viral strategy, but one that is most overlooked is actually building a process into your app that rewards your users for sharing.

“Give your users a reason to share,
they are your best marketing team ever.”

Sharing the app does not make your app viral by itself, but offering your users specific features that they value in exchange for inviting their friends is a different story altogether. There is a clear incentive in the latter. Make sure that during the design stage you reserve some strategic features or exclusive content specifically for your sharing users.

When it comes to games, it’s really easy to implement these types of incentives or rewards. Games should already have an addictive aspect, so imagine what happens when you pair that with an attractive incentive to share the game with your friends! The popular Candy Crush Saga optimises the potential of the ‘Game Over’ part to the fullest: you need help from friends in order to get more “lives”.

Candy Crush: a smart way of rewarding users for sharing.

You should also pay attention to the moment within the app flow where users will actually invite their friends, and which kind of reward they’ll get in return. This can be tricky to find, so be sure to experiment and ask for user feedback to get it right. Spend some time doing user tests to check out the level of incentives needed to encourage them to invite their friends.

For gaming apps, it’s simple to invent valuable rewards for sharing, as the competition and addictive aspect are inherent to gaming. Don’t underestimate its success though, you’ll need to add some gamification to your app, whether it be in the form of incentives like app currency, points, badges or other types of rewards.

In the end, it’s all about planning the viral loop within your app flow right as from the beginning. If you feel like your app downloads have plateaued or your downloads need a boost, let us know. We can take your app to the next level!

Mobile Jazz

We're a 25 people strong engineering + design team based out of Tallinn. We build innovative software and enjoy life while traveling the world.