I often find myself sitting with friends, entrepreneurs and product people discussing their product “viral” strategy and hear stuff like “we’ll achieve virality by adding sharing features to our system. Just like Instagram did”. I find this approach naive and dangerous and I’ll try and explain why:
Treating sharing as a peripheral feature will not get you far
There’s a tendency to add sharing functionality as an add-on feature or peripheral layer of interaction which leads to poor usage statistics.
In Instagram, sharing is the product, you’re launching to app in order to share photos, there’s no real sense in opening the app if you’re not about to share a picture so where other apps have a funnel of
[launch app] > [do something] > [decide to share] > [share]
where Instagram’s looks more like
[launch app] > [take photo] > [share it]
In my eyes Instagram’s funnel can even be referred to as
[launch app] > [share]
One can safely assume the % of shares vs. app launches is massive among Instagram users.
The ability to share is just the perquisite for virality
It’s not the act of sharing that makes your app viral, it’s WHAT you share that does that. If you’re sharing something trivial, non-personal or non-interesting, expect no love from the viral gods.
On Instagram on the other hand, the photos shared look beatiful and artistic (I can add that on a personal level the retro filters totally had an emotional effect on me), someone seeing these photos can only think “I want one too!”.
Give your share URL a lot of TLC
So you got people to share something and it has the elusive viral ingredient built into it, now you gotta make sure the shared unit is visible on all social platforms (e.g. images shown on feed on facebook vis open graph meta tags), and that when a user clicks it he can easily be “converted” to a user of you product / service while still doing it in a subtle way and allowing for his enjoyment of whatever was shared.
That’s my $0.02, now I’ll let you back to the quest of achieving viral coefficient > 0