Create Viral Engagement Loops To Drive Customer Retention

Create Viral Engagement Loops To Drive Customer Retention

Your customers will always be your best salespeople.

Think about the last time you tried a new restaurant, downloaded a new app, or subscribed to a new newsletter. Why did you do it? 

Did you get a personal sales call from the restaurant owner or app developers themselves? Of course not! Chances are, a friend nudged you in their direction, accompanied by a, “Oh my gosh, you just have to try this amazing new [blank] I just found.” And the second you followed through on your friend’s raving five-star review, you became part of a viral engagement loop.

Viral loops transform your customer base into an extension of your marketing team — which helps you create exponential growth for your company. They’re also what Amanda Goetz, founder of House of Wise, Chief Marketing Officer for Teal, and former Vice President of Marketing of The Knot, believes to be the key in building a brand. 

On episode 19 of the Growth Machine Marketing podcast, Amanda explains what a viral loop is, how she used one of them throughout her five years at The Knot, and how she plans to create viral loops within her new startup, House of Wise.

What Is a Viral Loop, Anyway? 

A viral loop takes a traditional sales funnel, and flips it upside down. 

Here’s how traditional marketers and sales people think: We’ll start with a large pool of people, then slowly narrow that pool down through various touch points. By the bottom of the funnel, we'll have a handful of people primed to buy. 

But wouldn't things work so much better if it worked the other way around? If you started with a small, loyal user base, which grew into an exponentially larger audience? By expanding word-of-mouth marketing from one-to-one to one-to-many, you can implement a viral marketing campaign.

That's the logic behind viral engagement loops. You tap into the hearts and minds of your active users, who then tell your friends about your company. When they do, two things happen: 

  1. Your initial users provide a number of referrals, leading to new users or customers.
  2. Your new users improve the overall experience for your initial users, improving customer retention.

When you combine the two, you get viral growth for your company.

As Amanda explains, the best example of viral loops — the originators of viral engagement, if you will — are social media networks. When Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram arrived on the scene, users invited their friends to join. Once their friends joined, it improved the overall experience for the initial user, as suddenly they had friends to send messages to, comment on posts, and tag them in photos. 

At the same time, viral loops come in many forms, and may not appear as "viral" as your typical social network or meme. At Growth Machine, we are a B2B services company. But while we aren't shoveling out millions of downloads on the app store, our clients do talk within their own network. 

We credit our growth to positive client referrals and case studies. While we began as a small agency with a handful of clients and a team of freelance writers, our testimonials led us to sustainable growth, with a full in-house team, 50+ freelancers, and a slew of clients we're proud to serve.

How To Use Viral Engagement Loops To Grow Your Startup 

Amanda used viral engagement loops long before she launched House of Wise. Here are some examples.

Create a Quiz That Drives Retention

Amanda’s past experience as a wedding planner informed how she approached viral loops during her time at The Knot. As a wedding planner, she did a wedding style quiz with each of her clients to better understand their overall vision and aesthetic. 

So she developed a similar wedding style & vision quiz for users of The Knot. People who are planning their weddings can take this “swipe left”-style quiz and get vision inspiration. The results page offers suggested venues and other ideas — it’s a printed asset that they’re encouraged to share with their vendors.

The viral result? The quiz made The Knot vendors want to work with more couples from The Knot. It helped the couple better articulate their vision, and it also made The Knot the place that could help facilitate those conversations. It’s a B2C quiz that also helps their B2B side.

Improve the Experience for Every Type of User

In the case of The Knot, when guests look at a couples' wedding website, it elevates the experience of the wedding itself. The couple gets more gifts (thanks to an easy wedding registry) and guests can easily navigate all their questions (thanks to detailed landing pages for the couple, wedding party, venue, and accommodations). Therefore, when it comes time for a former wedding guest to plan their wedding, it only makes sense to use The Knot. 

Implement a Referral or Affiliate Program 

Now a veteran in using viral growth loops to expand her business, Amanda has homed in on the power of affiliate programs for her new startup, House of Wise.

House of Wise sells luxury CBD products, and empowers its community to help drive sales with its affiliate program. There are no upfront costs, quotas, or recruiting. Just a referral link where Wise Women get a cut of the revenue when a referred customer makes a purchase, and a free Slack community where Wise Women can ask questions about the products and the program.

Create Viral Loops Through Content Marketing

There are obvious ways to implement viral loops, including referral codes, affiliate links, and two-for-one pricing options. At the same time, there are more subtle ways to implement viral loops and increase customer activation.

At Growth Machine, the podcast you're listening to and the blog you're reading can be seen as viral loops. Here, we increase user engagement among content marketers by interviewing content thought leaders (like Amanda Goetz). When we publish a blog post or podcast episode featuring that individual, the interviewee shares their story with their audience. This creates a viral coefficient for the content itself, thereby helping us reach more people.

Types of Viral Loops: Choosing the Engagement Loop for Your Company

Viral loops are the word-of-mouth engines that support your marketing efforts. Now, you just need to figure out which loops work best for your business. Here are a few ideas to help get you started:

  • Offer an incentive: Uber capitalized on referral codes when they first arrived on the ride-sharing scene. By sharing a code with friends, both you and your friend get a discount — creating a positive experience for you, while helping expand Uber's engaged user base.
  • Create a referral program: There are a number of ways to incentive engaged users to refer their friends to your service. Dropbox was able to exponentially grow their user base by offering free storage space in exchange for referrals. 
  • Encourage social shares: Imagine how dull social media would be if you couldn't share the experience with friends. On Snapchat, you elevate the experience by sharing photos with friends; on Slack, you can easily collaborate with colleagues sharing similar interests.
  • Create a personalized experience: Quizzes, games, and other opt-ins are fun because it creates something tangible for the user. Once one user sees their results, they want to share it with their friends.
  • Offer a discount: If you run an ecommerce site, you can easily offer a discount in exchange for customer referrals. If an existing customer refers a friend to your website, they can receive a coupon once their friend makes a purchase.
  • User-generated content: If you run a blog or a content site, you can increase your exposure through guest posts and other user-generated content. Once a user publishes their post, they'll invite their audience to view it on your website.

Increase Virality Through Engagement Loops 

Every marketer understands the value of a raving review from a client. But not every marketer understands how to make those client referrals go viral.

Viral loops transform your most engaged users into your marketing team, inviting their friends and family members to your service. A number of viral companies, from Uber, Dropbox, Instagram, and LinkedIn, have used viral loops to increase their exposure.

As a content marketer, your job is to create real connections with your loyal user base, so you can capitalize on this word-of-mouth engine. Not all viral loops will work for your business model — it's up to you to determine which feel most authentic and will incentivize your existing customers. 

If you need help determining how to implement viral loops into your marketing strategy, contact us for a consultation.


Kara McCartney

Kara McCartney


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