It's the dream scenario: Your app grows because your users are delighted with it and share it with others. But how to make sure your app has what it takes to go viral?

When talking about apps that went viral, we think of Dropbox, Snapchat, Pokemon Go or short-term trends like Yo. That kind of exponential snowball effect is impressive, but virality exists on a spectrum.

How to define virality

The question is: How many new users does the average existing customer generate for you? That metric is described as the viral coefficient or k-factor. The higher the number, the faster the growth. If a customer is so satisfied with your app that they bring in another one by recommending it, your viral coefficient would be 1. Anything over 1 lets your customer base grow exponentially.

Many app developers would already be happy with a smaller growth boost through referrals, making them less dependent on paid marketing. That's especially true for mobile apps, as discovery in app stores is getting harder and harder. So even if you don't reach exponential growth: Every increase of your k-factor helps you reach your organic growth goals.

How to create viral loops

Viral growth can be described in a loop, repeating over and over:

Viral loop

People become aware of your app through others, engage with it (install and use it) and decide to share it. This results in a new user becoming aware of it, engaging with it ... and so forth.

We can't really predict whether anything goes viral these days, but it's not all just luck either.

To kick off a viral loop, we have to think about ways to make sure that:

  • Your app brings your users value quickly and consistently (the prerequisite for growth and retention alike!)
  • Your users get something out of sharing your app like a monetary reward, emotional gratification or social currency (validation, prestige,..)
  • The benefit of sharing ideally becomes more valuable the more a user uses your app
  • Sharing is as easy as cake (or even better: inevitable when using your product)

Strategies to support social sharing

Virality is not a feature, so we can't just implement a generic share button and hope for the best. We need creative solutions for (personalized) sharing that is tied to how people use your app.

Here are some proven approaches and examples for inspiration!

🏅 Make people's achievements shareable

Your users get value out of engaging with your app, often it helps them reach some kind of goal (e.g. regarding their health) - make it easy for them to them share achievements on their journey with friends, family and followers!

Example: Share your Peloton workouts

A fitness app like Peloton supports routine and analytics for performance. Making completed workouts shareable does not only help users celebrate their fitness accomplishments (and feel good about themselves), but also lets new users discover how many diverse classes and instructors are available for Peloton members. In the case of Peloton, there might also be a bit of prestige involved 😉

You can read about Peloton's success with implementing shareable Instagram stories in this developer case study by Meta.

🤚 Let people spread your app just by using it

Make sharing a natural part of the experience. Being smart about how to do this is especially valuable for anything like social networks or messengers, but it can also be applied to event platforms, marketplaces and others.

Example: Your content, branded by TikTok

Whether your mum has a TikTok account or not: She probably has already seen a TikTok-branded video by a creator. TikToks can be downloaded and shared, and they are automatically branded. Sharing their creation makes users spread the word about their platform as well. And it succeeded in being everywhere!

Other examples of this include Loom (async video messages that can be shared with anyone) or Pinterest (sharing inspiration boards).

🤑 Create incentives for sharing (and joining)

Reward your users with in-app credits, promo codes or VIP content whenever they share your app. Make sure it's pays off for both the inviter and the invitee!

Example: Earn storage rewards for Dropbox referrals

You and your friends can earn free additional storage for sharing and joining Dropbox via referral. It's a win win win for the company, the existing customer and the new user.

🤝 Make your users want others to join

Does your app get better for everyone the more people join? Let your userbase build up that subtle kind of FOMO 🙃

Example: The bigger your LinkedIn network, the better for you

LinkedIn gets better for you the more people of your network join. Not that LinkedIn is that enjoyable, but you know what I mean: You likely get more opportunities to connect with the right people if they are also active on the platform. It's a great example of a network effect that is built into the product.

Other examples of this include social networks like Snapchat or Facebook.

✨ Help people express themselves

Aren't we all creators at heart? If there is any way your app lets me express myself (mood, thoughts, creativity) then let me share it with the world without thinking twice.

Example: Share your life's soundtrack with Spotify

People identify with the music they are listening too. It helps them express their mood and acts as a soundtrack for their lives. Spotify lets you share songs in multiple ways, including as Instagram Story stickers.

In a similar social sharing case study of KKBOX from Meta, a music streaming service from Asia reported that 60% of their users share content to Facebook and Instagram Stories, generating traffic as a result.

Design for value and virality

You can see that the value of your app and product usage are at the heart of all these strategies. Designing for virality means designing for value. It needs a very customer-centric approach that you can't force by doing just one specific thing.

Creating something useful is the part we can't do for you, but we can help you with making your app content shareable!

Placid offers APIs, SDKs and nocode solutions for creative automation, and can help you generate shareable assets like Instagram story images & videos or other marketing creatives. Try it out for free, learn more first, or discuss your ideas with us!