It doesn’t happen by accident. Not every new game-related site is a Steam, and surely not every social network is a Facebook. And not every texting application is a Twitter.
A story of an app from nowhere to near dominance
Then how did Discord “suddenly” become so hot that even Microsoft was rumored to want to buy it for staggering amount? Discord is a great example of a company going viral mostly from word of mouth. From its start in 2015, the number of registered users has “suddenly” climbed from 45 million in 2017 to a reported 300 million by the end of 2020. That compares with a reported 330 million for Twitter which had a nine-year head start and so much more free press from famous users over the years.
Soon, Discord could become dominant, even before an entire generation of millennials even knows the name. How has this happened, and are there lessons for us in this?
How do you make your product go viral?
What are the elements needed to focus upon in making the attempt to take a product viral? Intrigued by the thought, I recently made a list. It was as much in reaction to my getting blank stares from entrepreneurs when I asked the above question as it was for me to better understand the problem itself.
Here is my list.
First: Planning. Retail or end user web sites aren’t even noticed by potential users or customers without being discovered through a real marketing program, aimed at finding the flywheel effect (the moment of going viral that makes all the difference between failure and success.) In today’s world of social marketing, it takes someone knowledgeable if not expert in understanding how to use available resources in promotion and marketing. Some apps, like Discord, attach a brand link to the bottom of each message so that every recipient can click upon the link and become a user of the product without further marketing by the company. So, the lesson is: always find a way to make a second-generation recipient or buyer a future raving fan.
[Email readers, continue here…] Second: channels. I was chairman of a company that distributed its product through over one hundred fifty retail Internet travel channels, all websites where someone else spent the money attracting their users and attempting to go viral. We could not have begun to reach a fraction of that audience with any amount of money if we did not reach through these channels. Sometimes, it is just the right idea to brand your product inside that of a known presence.
Third: cost. Even a great marketing plan to gain an audience fails if there is not enough money to prime the pump and start the flywheel effect moving. And of course, that could easily require a large amount, far beyond the capability of a small company looking for its initial audience. And yet, word of mouth sometimes is all that is needed. Google became an overnight industry standard for search strictly by word of mouth, never spending a dime on advertising in its early years. Marketing cost is not the best measure of success. Accurate targeting measured by acceptance is more important, even if the cost is near nil.
Fourth: measurement. If you can’t measure the results of your attempts to gain a viral response, how can you know when to focus upon reinforcing or changing the effort? Well-tuned metrics are an absolute must. And the tools for most are available, sometimes free, for the educated marketer. You cannot be successful if you cannot measure the results of your effort.
Fifth: reaction. If everything goes right in finding the right plan, channel, cost, and measure of success, and if you do nothing to reinforce the success or change the focus, the rest of the effort can easily die a slow death. Respond to positive niche adoption with increased focus upon those niches.
And sixth: the pivot. A reaction is not often enough. Many times, it takes an intelligent repositioning of the entire offering to try again with revised ideas based upon learned experience. And, like the story of Discord and Twitter, it takes continual product and feature updates to stay ahead of the competition or overtake a sleepy competitor. A pivot or product enhancement in reaction to user or customer comments will advance your chances of success.
It is a cycle that must be learned and followed to successfully maximize an opportunity in any industry and for any product or brand. So, where in that cycle are you today?