In the previous episode of the series Voyage in the land of platform businesses’, I’ve presented seven tried and tested strategies to launch successfully a platform business and solve the frequent chicken and egg challenge faced by platform owners when launching a double sided-market platform.

Today, I am on a mission to crack the code of what makes some platforms widely viral whilst others struggle to get any attention or traction. What are the techniques that successful platforms use to encourage users to spread the word about their business and invite other users to join their network? defines virality as “the tendency of an image, video, or piece of information to be circulated rapidly and widely from one Internet user to another; the quality or fact of being viral.”

The authors of the book Platform Revolution, explain why some platforms spread faster by using the viral metaphor borrowed from the medical field. For a disease to spread, it needs the presence of four key elements: a host, a germ, a medium and a recipient. Similarly, a platform needs a sender, one or many value unit(s), an external network and a recipient.

  •  The sender

The sender spreads the value unit, which can be an image, a video or any other information. But why someone will be motivated to share anything? They will do so if that help them to look good. So the platform needs to help users to spread their own creation to their personal network. This tactic works best if they have a natural incentive to share. People usually seek fame, fun, fortune or fulfilment; so tap into these motivators to get them to share.

YouTube, Survey Monkey, Kickstarter, to name only a few, have used this strategy successfully to spread.

Whenever there is no possibility of organic growth, provide a different incentive like Dropbox, that offers free storage to both senders and recipients to stimulate further growth.

  •  Value units

The value unit is the key element for the virality to happen. Smart platform owners design a spreadable value unit from the onset to encourage people to share. Adding a bit of intrigue and asking for feedback work marvel.

Quora, the question-and-answer site, has an in-built shareability function, where a question gets answered by many other people. If your information needs to remain confidential, don’t use the virality technique.

  • External network

An external network can be another platform such as Instagram, Twitter, Slideshare, Ebay or Facebook. In a previous post, I described how Airbnb pigged back on Craigslist and how Opentable leveraged users’ emails.

Be strategic in identifying the external networks that could make a difference for your platform and find creative, value added ways to engage with the users.  A word of caution here; these networks have a total liberty to cut your access if they discover that you are seeding on their network.

  • Recipient

Once the recipient receives the message sent by the host, it responds favourably if the content is relevant, interesting, useful, entertaining or valuable. And if it’s intriguing enough, it may spread.

However, there is no control over the quality of what people produce and share; one way to ensure a high quality content to the recipient is to provide tools that will improve the quality. Canva, for example, provides standard images, defined layout and image producing tools. Instagram provides tools to edit and improve raw photos or videos to be shared.

To illustrate how all four elements work together to allow information to spread, let’s study Instagram, Airbnb and Opentable.

Instagram is built to be a viral tool from the onset. When you take a picture what do you do with it? Share it with friends, otherwise what’s the point of taking the picture? The social network recognised that need and actively encourages external platform sharing as much as the internal one.

As an Instagram user (sender) you share a picture (value unit) on Facebook (external network) to be exposed to potential users. If a user (recipient) is intrigued by your image, they click on it, shares the picture to their network and becomes the new host. And the cycle continues. Instagram converts all its users to become marketers, It’s a marketing app in itself.

Airbnb encourages users (hosts/senders) to list their spare room or house (value unit) on Craigslist (external network). Those who see the ads (recipients) and rent a place become host after their experience, and the virtuous cycle continues.

Opentable encourage diners (hosts/senders) to share diners’ reservation (value units) via email or Facebook (external network) with their friends (recipients) who are joining for dinners. The friends become new hosts and the cycle continues.

To make your platform viral you need to design an ecosystem where senders want to transfer value units through external network to a large number of recipients who also want to become users of your platform.

But virality often can be short-lived as people get excited by the novelty of the platform until they lose interest. This means that adding new functionalities and tools to sustain the interest is a constant challenge. Understanding customers’ intimate needs and connecting with them emotionally to allow them to satisfy those needs are crucial for platform long-term success.

In the next episode, I will cover African platforms, their specificities, unique opportunities and challenges.

Are you looking to better understand and master the #NewEconomy rules for business growth and become a digital leader? Book a confidential strategy session today.

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About Francine Beleyi

Francine Beleyi is bilingual French-English, international digital and change consultant, entrepreneurial journalist & speaker who helps corporate executives, entrepreneurs and organisations, to adapt and thrive in the digital age.

Francine spends her days speaking with and studying the most successful entrepreneurs and leaders in the new economy, and sharing her findings with her clients and those who want to understand and master the new rules for business growth.

She has worked across EMEA, for major corporations like TOTAL, BNPPARIBAS, AXA and also for not for profit organisations and small businesses. She holds a Master’s degree in organisation consulting and change management, a Bachelor’s degree in accounting and finance, a degree in computer science and an NCTJ diploma in multimedia journalism.

Visit |nucleusofchange | @FrancineBeleyi.