October 2, 2015

The Proven & Scientific Approach To Go Viral

The Proven & Scientific Approach To Go Viral

“Going viral.”

I'm sure you have seen many people write about what kind of elements or factors will help your content to go viral.

Should your content be contagious? Should it make people look good? Should it trigger certain emotions such as joy?

All of these are true...

... but it only tells half of the story.

Regardless of how contagious your content is, how they feel after they share or how funny it is... whether something goes truly viral all comes down to one critical formula that you need to understand first.

What does "going viral" mean exactly?

There seems to be a misconception about the term "viral".

Just like how a virus spreads, a viral message conveys from one person to another.

That doesn't mean that if something is being shared 100 times it's necessarily "viral". Let's say you send 10,000 people to a piece of content, where after 100 of those people share it on social media - resulting in 500 new visitors.  It's great that you got some extra traction, but it's definitely not going viral (you'll see why below).

When it's truly going viral it will keep on spreading from one person to another (at an ongoing basis).

The Formula for Viral Growth

Whether a piece of content (an article, video, application, contest, etc) will go viral all comes down to one key factor.

The viral coefficient.


Simply put the viral coefficient is the average number of new visitors that is being referred by each initial visitor.

It's a simplified representation of the viral growth you'll be getting. When the viral coefficient is over 1, it means you're getting exponential growth. When it's below 1, the social traffic will quickly die.

Let me give you a basic example.Imagine you have a piece of content that you're hoping to go viral. Out of every 100 people that see your content, 5 decide to share it on social media resulting in 5 x 15 = 75 new visitors.

In this case, your viral coefficient is 0.05 x 15 = 0.75 and will not go viral (because it's under 1).

What's interesting (and important) to know is that when the viral coefficient goes over 1... it's instantly a completely different story.

While at 0.95 you'll still be running a mediocre campaign,  as soon as it's over 1.... the amount of traffic you'll be getting will spike.


Let's dive into some examples..

Let's say you're running a contest using UpViral where your audience 1) enters their email address to enter the contest and 2) gets an incentive to share your contest with their friends.

Scenario #1:

Let's say you send 1,000 visitors to your contest from other sources (your newsletter, social media, etc). 20% of those people enter the contest, where after 10% of those people decide share the contest on social media. On average each "share" results in 10 new visitors, who will then see the contest for the first time (20% of them will sign up again, and so forth).

In this scenario the viral coefficient is 0.2 x 0.1 x 1 x 10 = 0,2 (meaning that every visitor will on average result in 0.2 new visitors).

So after one "cycle", those 1000 initial people have resulted in 200 new visitors. In the 2nd "cycle" those 200 visitors have resulted in 40 visitors.

As you can see that number is going down... fast. Meaning that nobody will ever see that campaign again.


Conclusion: you'll send in 1,000 visitors yourself, where after you will get ± 250 extra visitors - and that's it. You'll have to keep on driving traffic yourself to spread the message.

Scenario #2:

In this scenario we're using the exact same setup... although this time we're going to assume we've done some work to increase the conversion rates.

More specifically, here's what we did:

  • We’ve split-tested various opt-in pages to see which one gets most people to opt-in.
    • The new opt-in page is now converting at 40% (instead of 20%).
  • We’ve split-tested the share page (different incentives/copy etc) to see what gets people to share the campaign. We’ll also follow-up by email to get more people to share (and share it more than once).
    • Because of that 15% of the people are now sharing the campaign.
    • On average they now share it 1,5 times each (note: in our actual campaigns this number is usually a lot higher).
  • We tested which message gets people to click on it once they see it on social media.
    • Because of that, each share is now resulting in 15 visitors per share (on average).

When we calculate with these numbers the campaign went from a complete failure... to a viral powerhouse.

If you send in 1,000 visitors to this campaign, it will result in 1,350 new visitors after the 1st cycle... which result in 2,665 visitors... etc (this number is increasing every cycle - which is the viral effect we've been talking about).


Conclusion: the campaign is now going into a viral, resulting in an ongoing flow of traffic.

Why most people fail to go viral

Over the years I've seen many people try to get viral success... yet most of them miserably failed (e.g. they didn't get the viral traction they were hoping for).


Because they gave their idea just one shot - and that's it.

"Let's create something and see if it flies... and if it doesn't fly I'll just create something else and try again."

The problem is that they usually have no idea how close they are to viral success...

Chances are they were close to hit "the jackpot", it just needed some persistence to make it work.

Here's how to ensure virality

Once you understand the theory behind going viral, you should understand that it has nothing to with luck - and all about persistence.

After all, it's just a numbers game.

The following 2-step system is what I call "optimizing your way to virality".

It's thanks to this exact system that I've seen my campaigns go from not viral at all... to insanely viral.

Step 1: Break down your "viral loop" into smaller steps.

Grab a piece of paper and start writing down every action/step your audience needs to take from the moment it sees your content, until their friends can see it as well.

If you're trying to let a blog post go viral, this could be something like this:

  1. They see the content for the first time and decide whether they want to keep reading it.
  2. They decide whether they want to share it on social media.
  3. They share it.
  4. The message appears on social media for their friends to see. Their friends then click on the link.

In case you're running an UpViral contest:

  1. They see your contest-page and enter their email address.
  2. They land on the thank-you page where you give an incentive to share it with their friends. They decide whether they want to.
  3. They share it.
  4. The message appears on social media for their friends to see. Their friends click on the link.

I'm sure you get the idea.

Step 2: Optimize each of those steps separately

Next would be to optimize each of those steps - separately.

So instead of just asking yourself "how can I get this to go viral?"...

... ask yourself how you can optimize each of those steps individually.

  1. How can you get more people to opt-in to your contest?
    1. You can A/B split-test multiple opt-in pages and see which one performs best.
  2. How can you get more people to share your contest?
    1. You can A/B split-test multiple share pages (where you incentivize your contest participants to share your contest) to see which page gets people to share.
    2. In addition, you can send (and even A/B split-test) follow-up emails to get people to share more often.
  3. How can you get more of their friends to click on the social media message once people share it?
    1. Using Facebook Ads & Twitter Ads you can A/B split-test multiple messages/images to see which one gets the best CTR, and thus gets most people to click on it.

Two real-world case-study

Using this exact method I've turned failing campaigns into powerful viral loops, resulting in an ongoing stream of traffic.

And when I say ongoing... I mean ongoing.

I applied this strategy for the first time 3 years ago - and never touched that page since that time. Guess what? It's still being shared on a daily basis, even after 3+ years.

More recently, I set up a similar site. Just a simple opt-in page, where after I'm giving every subscriber an incentive to share the campaign.

When I set this campaign up, it did NOT go viral right away. Only after I tweaked the campaign, it went viral.

Here's what I did exactly:

  1. Created 2 opt-in pages to see which one got more people to opt-in.
  2. Created 2 share pages to see which page got people to share.
  3. Created 3 Facebook Ads and 3 Twitter Ads to see which image got the best CTR.

Once I applied the winners of each of those tests... things went crazy.

I sent a total of 416 visitors using Facebook Ads to this brand new site, which so far resulted in over 70,000 total visitors - all because it went into an ongoing viral loop.


As you can see I also collected over 7,500 (and counting) new email subscribers in the process.

Have you looked at viral marketing this way before? Let me know in the comments! 🙂