Viral Loop: The Whys and Hows

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User acquisition is becoming more and more expensive. The top 5 CPI countries range from $2.95-$3.37. Also, for an app to reach US top 25 on the iOS charts, an estimated amount of $200,000 need spent on ad expenditures. Therefore, it is safe to say that it is quite expensive to climb up the ranks – that paid promotion is the only way to roll, or is it?


Visibility is still gold but organic downloads seem not enough. Well, unless organic downloads to your app just keep on growing right? That’s when “viral loop” comes in.


So, what is a Viral Loop?

A viral loop is basically a cycle of one app user driving other people into the app. The loop is only considered successful if a.) It is self-fueling, b.) User engagement increases, and c.) Active users increases. Not only does a viral loop drive exponential growth for your app in terms of user acquisition, it also lowers user acquisition costs through viral advertising. But the viral loop won’t just happen overnight. In order for the loop to roll, each of its stages should be properly executed


Viral Loop Stages


  1. See. First, the app needs to have high discoverability. A web presence, specifically social presence is important.
  2. Install. Enticing users to download using rewards or other incentives can be great for the initial downloads and can even get the viral loop rolling but this may not be sustainable in the long run. A great ASO strategy and strong app branding would create a more sustainable way of increasing organic downloads.
  3. Desire to share. An app’s desirable for sharing hinges on two main things: shareable content and achievement-based sharing options. They can share level-ups, share scores to compare with their friends, etc. There should be a social drive in sharing – that sharing would either reward them with social proof or bragging rights. Another great motivation for sharing is in-app incentives (lives, extra moves, power-ups, etc.) that they can receive after sending requests or invitations to friends or contacts.
  4. Share. The viral loop still hinges on the users’ willingness to share in-app content. Aside from providing easy ways for in-app sharing, the app should be engaging enough for the user to have a desire to share whether it be for in-app progress or in the hopes that the in-app action would soon become a trend even among the users’ circle. Unless there’s a two-way engagement between the sharer and the desired audience, the loop won’t go anywhere.
  5. Repeat. Viral loops can either fizzle out, turn to spam or fatigue users. The reason for the first may be the lack of engaging content; the second could be an over-enthusiastic/shrewd approach; or it could be too much, too fast. The goal is to prolong the viral loop’s expiration. Jonah Berger, a Wharton Professor explained: “…things that catch on faster tend to die out faster.”


Viral loops can actually come in many different forms and implementations. You can see it in almost all of the hit apps. The best examples are Candy Crush Saga, Timberman, Snapchat, and much more. There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to viral loop implementation. But once implemented right, you’ll find that virality is a force of its own.


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