Viral Loops: Encourage Users to Promote Your App

Kseniia Petrina

Is it possible to link the words "viral" and "2020" when we are talking about something positive, and not about a pandemic? Yes, it is if we think back to the success of the Zoom video calling platform that year. The company's product has gained incredible popularity worldwide among absolutely different people, from famous politicians to schoolchildren. Users forwarded video meeting links to their friends and colleagues, spreading the word about Zoom like a virus. 

Of course, the scaling of the company's prominence was due to the demand for the product, but it was not unique in the market. Zoom made its service truly user-friendly, and it encouraged users to engage other people in communication through the platform. Audience growth continued in 2021, while the number of active participants in meetings increased by 2,900% in two years. Most newcomers joined Zoom not because of ad campaigns but because of recommendations and invitations from existing users.

If you wish your customers to attract new customers, you definitely need to learn more about viral loops. This guide will tell you what they are, what types of viral loops exist, and how to encourage your audience to recommend your business. And at the end of the article, you'll find bright examples of viral loops for inspiration. Let’s go!

What Is a Viral Loop?

A viral loop is a marketing mechanism when attracting new customers through the recommendations of existing ones. 

Is this a fancy name for word of mouth? These concepts are similar, but they are not the same thing. Word-of-mouth marketing is based on satisfied customers telling their acquaintances about a positive experience with a brand. Some of those people may try the company's product, but the chain of recommendations can end there. 

Meanwhile, a viral loop is designed to induce exponential customer growth. Its goal is that those who have joined the brand through a recommendation will also bring new clients. In this way, a loop works like a closed cycle, constantly increasing your audience.

The principle of the viral loop
The principle of the viral loop

Moreover, the viral loop involves a sharing tool built into the product, significantly shortening the newcomer's conversion path. For example, your friend will sign up faster for a certain app if you don't just talk about the product, but also send a link to download it. 

You might also come across the concept of "viral marketing," which, like the viral loop, is built on sharing information between people in your target audience. However, this method focuses more on brand awareness than on attracting new clients. For this purpose, companies create content that users will surely want to share on social media or private messages. 

At the same time, these approaches can be closely intertwined and complement each other. 

Ways of spreading information among customers
Ways of spreading information among customers

Benefits of Viral Loops

There are several reasons why viral cycles can be more effective than traditional promo campaigns in attracting customers.

Low customer acquisition cost

The average person is surrounded daily by dozens of advertising offers in the offline and online world. So it can be a challenge to fight for a customer's attention. Part of the target audience will find your competitor's offer more attractive, while another may abstract away from any promotional campaigns and make a choice on their own. It's also worth bearing in mind that sometimes your messages reach not potential customers but completely uninterested people. 

The good news is that your existing customers may be more effective lead generators than the best advertisers' ideas. New potential clients get information about your brand from someone they trust, so they are much more likely to use the product. As a result, your cost of attracting these customers is significantly lower compared to other methods.

Fast audience growth

If you provide a high-quality product or service, you have a good chance of retaining newcomers. When becoming loyal customers, they can recommend your company to their acquaintances. In turn, some invitees are also likely to bring new contacts. Mathematically speaking, your audience grows exponentially, or simply put, it grows like a rolling snowball. 

This is the key difference between a viral loop and a funnel, such as the AARRR model. When working with a funnel, marketers focus on increasing the entry flow of potential customers. Next, the company optimizes the journey of customers in such a way that as many of them as possible arrive at the endpoint. This often requires more effort and does not give as high a result as a viral loop. 

The difference between traditional and viral funnels

High level of customer engagement

A well-designed viral loop scheme encourages customers to invite not random contacts but those who might be interested in your product. Therefore, your customer base grows both quantitatively and qualitatively.

For example, a customer gets bonuses for referral purchases. In that case, they send a link to someone interested in products from the store. Similarly, if a customer wants to compete in a quiz with a friend, they invite the person who is most likely to play it.

Types of Viral Loops

Viral cycles have one operation principle, but there are several implementation techniques. This makes viral loops applicable to different businesses so that you can develop your own working version. Depending on the product, it is not always necessary to plan a budget for the functioning of the loop. You can motivate your customers to promote you not only through discounts but also through other incentives. 

Broadly, all viral loops can be divided into two categories, depending on the nature of the customer's interaction with the product.

Intended-Action Loops

This type of viral marketing can also be called organic. Customers attract others to get a reward, not because of certain pushes from you for these actions. Information spreads naturally, according to the user’s intentions and intrinsic motivation.

Intended-action loops are suitable for companies that sell off-the-shelf products and services as well as those that allow users to create their own content using the offered products/services. In both cases, brands should provide an easy way to spread the word about themselves.  

The desire to click the "Share" button is often due to psychological and social factors. Here are a few reasons why people engage their friends in the product they use:

  • Striving to be helpful. Sometimes you find a great product that closes your pains and you want to tell other people about it. To avoid the "Where did you buy this?" and "How much does it cost?" questions, you post a link to the product on social media and your subscribers get easy access to it.
  • Viral content. Did you find an interesting discussion on Reddit and share it with your Facebook followers? Some of your friends might join the network after reading it. Or did you send a link to a recipe from YouTube to your mom in a direct message? "Nice channel,” she thought after watching the other videos and then subscribed. The viral loops are running. 
  • Fun (and a little vanity). It's the reason why we share quiz results or content from entertainment apps and invite friends to join our games. Your friends and subscribers need to know who you are from the characters in the Harry Potter story or what kind of pizza you are! And what about the challenge? Can they beat your record in a game? Entertaining content is contagious – your friends' friends will also probably soon find out what kind of pizza they are.
  • Collaboration. Cloud services have eliminated the need to send out new versions of work files every time we make edits. You can work on text documents, tables, graphics, mind maps, etc. with colleagues online. All you have to do is provide access to the project. Moreover, today's apps allow us not only to work together online but also to do ordinary everyday things. For example, exercises.
  • Communication. To avoid feeling like a tumbleweed in the desert, we tend to invite people to communities of interest on platforms where we are used to communicating. Such platforms like Skype, Discord, and Slack are created for multiple users, and they expand their network themselves.

Incentive-Driven Loops

At the core of incentive-based viral cycles is a reward for the user who brings a new customer to the company. This approach is used in most referral programs. The incentive usually encourages the consumer to continue using the product. In this way, companies fill two needs with one deed: growing their audience and increasing the lifetime of existing customers.

Depending on your business niche, you can use one of the following types of incentives:

  • Free product. If users choose your product, they like it. So, why not give them more for recommending your company? That's a kind of bonus Dropbox uses, giving account holders extra free storage for each referral. The service also provides the newbie with extended storage space, boosting the program's effectiveness.
  • Discounts. If giving away free products is burdensome to your budget, you can offer them at a lower price as a reward. The discount can be given in percentage or monetary value, and the order can have a minimum cost. The ability to vary these terms allows you to make the referral program truly profitable for the business. 
  • Bonus points. As a rule, companies with a loyalty program allow their customers to buy goods or services using a bonus account. That's why this option can be an alternative to discounts. To increase the conversion probability, you had better limit the validity of this reward. 
  • In-game currency. Game applications usually offer purchases not only for real money but also for their contingent currency. In such cases, it is possible to motivate the user to invite other players by rewarding them with in-game money for each referral. Also, possible mutual assistance can serve as an incentive. For example, the player can ask for some goods or additional lives from their friends in the app. 
  • Access to advanced features. This approach especially suits companies with several pricing plans or different paid options. Sometimes users are not ready to spend money on a product without trying all of its benefits. This time-limited reward can help to set up conversions of free account holders to paying subscribers. 
  • Something exclusive. Each company adapts "something" to its business: it may be a limited-edition product, unique content, membership in a closed community, etc. 

As we can see, there are genuinely many types of motivations that can form the basis of your viral loop. A noteworthy thing is that many brands manage to combine different methods. For example, the app Quiz Planet uses 3 approaches at once.

1. In-game currency: each new player receives rockets to his account, for which they can start a new game.

2. Vanity: when a player correctly answers a question while others incorrectly, the app offers to send a challenge link to their friends.

3. Social interaction: periodically, the question pops up between the levels of games: "Is your whole family already playing?" And, of course, the interface offers easy ways to share the link on the App Store or Google Play. 

 Offers to invite friends in the Quiz Planet app

How to Create a Successful Viral Loop and Analyze the Results?

Loyal customers bring new customers who also become loyal and bring new customers... The viral loop looks like a magic wand that allows you to reach more people and get more money with minimal effort. But in reality, for getting a working loop, you have to put enough effort at the start of its development.

Here are 4 steps on the way to an effective viral loop. 

Define the values of your audience

This is essential for choosing the incentive that will motivate users to share information about you. If your product is based on content or social interaction, people may do this altruistically, just by following their desire. In that case, you need to provide a perfect user experience and keep your audience engaged. 

If the organic viral cycle is not relevant for your company, you have to design a referral program. As a rule, the most effective ones are double-sided, with benefits for both the new user and the one who invited them.

You should also think about the following conditions for attracting referrals:

  • What kind of bonus will encourage my customer to invite other people and a newcomer to accept his invitation?
  • Will the incentive for the invitee be one-time or cumulative? Will they receive bonuses for subsequent purchases of their referral?
  • Should there be a limit on the number of possible invitations?
  • How can you incentivize customers to attract users interested in your product, and not those who are looking for a one-time profit?
  • How much money can you invest in a referral program and still make a profit?

The answers to these questions will help make the referral program both attractive to customers and profitable for you at the same time. 

Provide a handy tool for sharing

Add a user-friendly button that nicely fits in with the overall interface to make it easy for users to send others links to content and individual products. If you know your audience well, suggest in the sharing menu the channels that are most relevant to your customers.

Sharing options in the Canva app

Keep in mind that the loop may break down after a user shares content from your product. If the customer's audience is not motivated, they may not join your product. You can give them a little push by adding a call to action or the like. As an example, when someone shares a track from Spotify in their Instagram story, you might see a clickable button to play the song in the app.

Sharing a track from Spotify on Instagram

For referral programs, you can develop a separate section of your site or application. Make this feature easily detectable and the terms and conditions transparent. You can also use creativity to introduce your program to customers. For example, the mobile banking app visualizes the amount of money a customer can receive by inviting a certain number of friends. And to make the invitation more fun, the user can record a video, replacing the face of a well-known actor with their own. 

Offer to invite a friend in the Monobank app

Make sure that after receiving the invitation, it will be easy for referrals to join and use their bonuses.

Keep a newcomer going

Acquisition without retention is ineffective for business. That’s why you must optimize your funnel so that the new user doesn't fall off after the first touch with the brand. Proper onboarding, personalization of the customer experience, and smart direct marketing based on customer data can help you do this. 

After all, your ultimate goal is to make the newcomer a brand ambassador so that the viral loop works. 

Measure results

It's a pleasure to contemplate the flow of customers. However, to be able to improve your viral cycle, you need to add some math and analyze the effectiveness of the loop. So, calculate the virality coefficient (also called the K factor) using the following equation:

The calculation formula for the virality coefficient
The calculation formula for the virality coefficient

VC – virality coefficient (the number of customers that primary customers bring during their lifecycle)

С – number of customers

R – the average number of referrals per customer

CR – a conversion rate of invitees to paying/active customers

Let's look at an example. 

  1. You have 1000 customers, C=1000.
  2. On average, each client invites 2 friends, R=2. 
  3. 10% of referrals accept the invitation and become your customers, CR=0,1.

Now let's substitute the values in the formula:

Example of calculating virality coefficient
Example of calculating virality coefficient

VC > 1 means that your customer base is growing exponentially. All brands using viral cycles strive for this value, but it is often difficult to achieve. 

If your VC < 1, analyze which of the variables in the formula is not big enough and how you can influence it. Are customers reluctant to invite other people? Pay attention to an incentive that would give them strong motivation. Are referrals unwilling to accept the invitation? Consider what might encourage them to join. Maybe you should simplify the registration process or provide some bonus.

Developing a viral loop, you shouldn’t rush to conclusions. If your K factor is less than 1, don't consider your program unsuccessful. After all, it's good for business if 100 customers bring at least 50 new customers at a low cost (or even free). It is important to focus not only on one indicator to evaluate the results, but also to conduct an in-depth analysis of the impact of the viral cycle on your final result.  

Awesome Viral Loop Examples from Well-Known Brands

Dropbox, Uber, and Airbnb are among the most frequently mentioned companies in viral cycle guides. Their referral programs have similar mechanics: they are based on a double-sided model with rewards for two participants. Let's look at examples of viral loops from other famous companies, which prove that this marketing tool is more multifaceted than it may seem at first glance. 


The popular service for learning foreign languages offers its users to invite their friends through one of the following options:

  • synchronizing the contact list with the app;
  • providing access to Facebook contacts;
  • sending a referral link in any convenient way.
Offer to invite a friend in the Duolingo app
Offer to invite a friend in the Duolingo app

For each registered friend, the user gets access to the premium version for one week. However, this financial incentive is not the only motivation for the audience to engage their contacts. Duolingo adds value to the invitation by providing an opportunity to interact with a friend, for example, to compare progress, congratulate him on achievements, or take part in joint learning quests. In its motivational email, the company notes that such collaborative learning increases the likelihood of completing the course by 5.6 times.

The newsletter motivating users to invite friends

The app interface also allows users to share content and their own achievements in popular messengers and social networks.

The effectiveness of the Duolingo viral loop is achieved not only through recommendations from active users. The company's marketing strategy also includes two crucial approaches:

  • Gradual engagement for newcomers. A potential customer can first try the service's functionality and then sign up if they like it. In this way, registered users become truly interested in the product. It reduces the likelihood that the client will quit the interaction at the beginning of the journey. 
  • The product-led growth for all types of users. This business model is about increasing audience engagement through product functionality. Personalization in training, gamification, and user-friendliness encourage users to constantly interact with the platform and involve their friends in their experience.

In this way, the company manages to retain a significant portion of new users who came through invitations. Gradually, newcomers become loyal and willing to involve their friends in learning, making the viral loop work steadily. 

The Hustle

The email referral program has become one of the main factors in the growth of this media publication. In 4 months since its launch, the project has reached 70,000 subscribers. Today, its audience is 2 million readers and keeps growing. 

The Hustle uses a multi-level referral program. The essence is that the more new subscribers you bring, the more valuable bonus you get. The first letter a subscriber receives is from the company's founder. He addresses the reader with a proposal to build a society of thinkers and dreamers. Real prizes for invitees reinforce the motivation to achieve lofty goals. 

Email from The Hustle founder
Email from The Hustle founder

From time to time, the company changes the list of gifts. The current list is:

  • While the reader is just getting used to the newsletter, the publication does not offer brand-related products. The starting bonus corresponds to what the readers came for and what can be useful to most of them. Hustle's audience consists of progressive people interested in business news, so they get an e-book with business ideas for their first referrals. 
  • Then there are branded gifts. Over time, subscribers become increasingly involved in newsletters, and they desire exclusive merchandise from their favorite brands. Here lies another round of the viral loop. Let’s suppose you received stickers from The Hustle and pasted them on your laptop. When someone sees it, they take an interest in the resource and join the mailing list audience.
  • The next step is a subscription to a premium Trends product. This project for entrepreneurs combines exclusive content and the community to grow business. Trends members can also bring referrals and receive cash rewards for this. 
  • The most active fans get the opportunity to meet the founder. The goal is quite difficult to achieve, but it is realistic if there is a wide list of people with similar interests.  

Readers can receive their gift after the invitee has confirmed their subscription to the newsletter. 

Maybe, you have a question about the quality of the contacts invited. What if new subscribers confirm their email addresses and then don't read the newsletter? The answer lies in the product. Hustle's content is humorous, kind of cheeky, and friendly in tone at the same time. Once you let these guys into your inbox, you'll probably continue reading their emails. 

Still, if you want to adopt such an ambassador program in your business, you'll need to check the validity of the invitees' email addresses and keep an eye on the open and unsubscribe rates. 


The worldwide coffeehouse chain is a prime example of a company that has made its product truly viral. The siren logo flashes now and then in movies, in photos of celebrities, and your friends on social media. The reward system has been a key to success that has allowed the business to become one of the top franchises.

Every Starbucks customer can join the loyalty program and receive virtual stars for purchases. Bonuses can be used to get free drinks, food, and other company products. From time to time, Starbucks holds a Refer a Friend promotion, which is part of the loyalty program. A customer shares a link, which the invitee must use to sign up. After that, the referrer receives stars on the bonus account, and the newcomer can get a free drink.

Offer to invite a friend in the Starbucks app
Offer to invite a friend in the Starbucks app

A feature of Starbucks’ viral loop is that each customer can choose where they can spend the earned bonus. In this way, the company encourages its audience to make repeat purchases. In turn, newcomers also become participants in the reward program and can save on their next purchases. 

It is worth noting that Starbucks holds promotions to attract friends not only among customers but also among its staff. The company pays monetary remuneration to those employees whose recommendations lead to the hiring of a new candidate in the coffee shop. Thus, viral cycles are involved at different levels of brand life. 


The history of the music streaming industry leader shows that viral cycles must be constantly reviewed to achieve maximum effect.

Spotify launched with an invitation-only system: new users are able to join only through a referral link. The new format of listening to music and limited access gave exclusivity to the service and helped increase demand from the audience. Seeing the constant interest of new users, the company made registration available to everyone.

After the mobile app release, Spotify brought back the invitation system. They decided to curb the influx of new users in this way to provide a high-quality service. The referral program provided a monthly premium subscription for someone who brought a friend. A newcomer only needed to register and use the free version of the application. 

Over time, the company noticed that although the number of users was growing, the number of premium subscribers remained low. To change the situation, it was necessary to give more understanding of the benefits of paid subscription. For this reason, the referral program became double-sided: a referrer gets one month of premium, and their friend receives 2 months. 

Offer to invite a friend in the Spotify app

Spotify's audience appreciated this reward system, so the app's user base quickly grew to 5 million users. At the same time, such a motivation model did not contribute to the app monetization but caused a loss of profit. Users could go a long period without paying for the subscription just by inviting new friends. That's why the company limited the number of invitations to 5 and again removed bonuses for newcomers. 

Today the Spotify referral program is no longer available. The company has reached the desired popularity, so it doesn’t need anymore to attract new users with additional benefits. Nevertheless, the brand continues to use viral loops, only now of a different nature. Just look at this list of Spotify's features:

  • sharing a song, album, artist, or user profile;
  • creating Blend playlists where songs are mixed with friends' songs;
  • Duo and Family plans for multiple accounts, which make premium subscriptions cheaper. 

All of these options naturally encourage users to involve their friends in the app. It allows creators to get new people and retain existing ones.  

Final Thoughts

The viral loop can be an effective tool for your promotion because this type of marketing is based on recommendations from friends and acquaintances. At the same time, you need to earn the trust of your customers so that they are willing to tell others about your business. To ensure not only rapid but also steady growth of your audience, you will need an effective retention strategy. 

With Reteno’s features, you can automate personalized communication for both your loyal customers and newcomers. So, now you know how to free yourself from two important marketing tasks, but still get good results:

- let your customers become your advertisers;

- let our platform relieve you of routine tasks and ensure constant audience retention.

Feel free to contact us, and we'll tell you where to start!

Alex Danchenko


October 13, 2022

Vladyslav Pobyva


September 23, 2022

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