Ever since the first chain mail went, to borrow from a term that wouldn’t be coined till a century and a half later, ‘viral’, marketers have been intrigued by the prospect of hard-coding social momentum into the design of the product. Popular examples of these are referral systems that earn you incentives for sharing it with your friends.

Virality vs Word of Mouth

Now, before we tell you more about this. We want to make sure you understand that virality is often confused with Word Of Mouth. Word of Mouth is when a product’s design, or customer experience is so good that people can’t stop recommending it to their friends or writing about it. For example, if my food delivery app makes it very easy for me to find my favorite snacks, I’ll talk about it to my friends. That is word of mouth.

Virality, on the other hand, is a term that is used to denote people sharing a product in the context of using it. If I share the news of the day on Twitter, it doesn’t mean that I particularly love Twitter. It means that I can’t get that kind of outcome on any other platform.

What is Viral Product Design?

Viral product design is a blanket term for incorporating both features and core characteristics that drive peer-to-peer interaction and encourage more people to adopt the product. The broad umbrella term of design can be further broken down into characteristics and features. Viral characteristics mostly have to do with the core design elements like content, UI, UX, value, and the psychological effect it has on the user. Viral features mostly have to do how a product is shared and how the experience of it is expressed to other prospective users.

Viral features can include a variety of things not limited to generating notifications about other users activities, enabling communication with other users, and personalized user experience. Some of the popular viral product features are personalized referrals and automated broadcast notifications.

Characteristics that lead to Virality

Often, product development and marketing are seen to be separated by a firewall. This leads to a disconnect between the product’s core use case and its marketing needs. Hence, a well known bias known as the Valence effect comes into play: where product managers believe that the virality of a product comes solely from quality, and hence if the product is of sufficient quality, virality will naturally ensue. Unless, there is an external amplifier of the product, this isn’t the most efficient way to go. In order to guarantee widespread adoption, the product development and marketing considerations need to work in tandem.

  • The utility of the product is enhanced through interaction: Simply, the product becomes better when your friends are on it. Imagine what Facebook would be like if none of your friends were on it. The need for interaction in order to enhance the core value is what incentivizes people to share it with others and have their friends sign up for the service or product.
  • The product’s users benefit from networks synthesized as a result of its connections: The product gives the user access to broader networks that they wouldn’t otherwise have access to. In fact, a core component of the value that a user derives from the product will be rooted in the vast networks that they synthesize on the product. The product hence, incentivizes people to grow communities around common factors, life experiences, professions, or anything else.
  • The product benefits from its existing networks and adds value to the users’ existing connections: The product does more than enable high quality interaction between users. A product derives its virality from its ability to incentivize people to connect with networks. Even if the user doesn’t personally invite anyone, they should be able to connect with the existing networks and derive as much or more value than they could have from the user’s own personal networks.
  • The product exhibits high user retention: The product has a unique ability to not only get people to join, but also to get people to stay. Products with viral design usually have a low attrition rate. Users typically don’t invite their friends on to a product if they’re not personally whole-heartedly invested in the product. The fate of a viral design is usually contingent upon how confident a user feels in approving their own personal seal of approval on it.
  • The product’s utility is ubiquitous and instantly recognizable: A product’s virality also depends on how much of a market need the product’s problem statement really is. It is more likely to be viral if it addresses a gap that the market is already talking about. That leads to the marketability of the gap directly translating to the marketability of the product.

Product marketing is a question that has long flummoxed marketeers, and although strategies pushing virality have been around as long as communication itself, it takes a whole new meaning with the continuously evolving landscape of digital media. In order to fully take advantage of their resources, marketing needs to be a much more integral part of the design process. The marketer must own not only the UI/UX, but core functionality also. While we regret the inevitable increase in the workload of the marketer, it presents a great opportunity for Joe McMarketer to justify marketing budgets next quarter.