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Social Media, The Viral Loop and App Marketing

Most app developers have high hopes for their creations. Independent app developers, in particular, often expect their app to receive thousands of downloads soon after its release. And why wouldn’t they? If their idea is good enough, surely people are going to rush to download it?

Unfortunately, the sheer proliferation of apps – 1,600,00 on Google Play, 1,500,00 on the Apple App Store, 400,00 on the Amazon Appstore, 340,00 on the Windows Phone Store, and 130,000 on Blackberry World – means that the quality of an app alone is very rarely enough to make it a success: people need to hear about your app too!

This is the role of marketing. And it’s important. And in this digital world in which we live, social media is a critical part of this. Yet, despite the fact that 91 percent of app developers claim to understand the importance of marketing in successful app development:

On the other hand, top app developers (those earning $50,000 or more):

  • Spend 14 percent of their time on marketing.
  • Set aside $30,000 as an average marketing budget.

The trend couldn’t be clearer: app developers are far more likely to succeed if they invest time and money in marketing.

Of course, many independent developers or small scale development teams simply can’t afford to dedicate $30,000 to marketing their app. But the truth is they don’t need to.

So long as developers invest the right amount of time (we’d suggest at least 14 percent), they can leverage the power of social media, which is largely low-cost or completely free, to effectively spread awareness of their app.

The Viral Loop  

The viral loop is a helpful concept for app marketers who don’t have a huge marketing budget. As you know, many of the most successful companies use viral advertising to further their brand profile and business interests.

However, for most aspiring app developers, aiming to get hundreds of thousands of social media shares is probably little more than wishful thinking.

That said, the concept of the viral loop can still be implemented on a smaller scale. If you can get your app to go viral even amongst a relatively small niche or demographic, then you can still expect to receive huge rewards.

If you’re marketing an app, you should already have a good idea of who your target audience is (if you don’t, marketingdonut.com have written a great guide). Your objective, then, is to create content that goes viral amongst your target audience. To do this, you need to understand how the viral loop works.

The viral loop consists of four stages: seeing, installing, desire to share, and sharing.


Let’s run through the stages:

  • Seeing – In order to be seen, you need to have a social presence. Look at which social media networks your target audience use, and be sure to establish a presence there. Also, since almost every demographic use Twitter and Facebook, it’s important that all app developers have accounts on these sites. Buffer have an insightful article detailing some social media best practices for companies just starting out.
  •  Installing – In order to get those initial downloads, you may have to entice users with great ASO (app store optimisation) and, possibly, even rewards. Posting about your app to your social media following, and making it clear that the first users will receive some benefit should generate enough interest to get the viral loop started. Hongkiat.com list some great ways to boost downloads in this article.
  • Desire to share – Making your current users want to share their experiences about your app is perhaps the most vital step of the viral loop. To create this desire in your users, you need to make sharing beneficial. An incentive may be simply to allow users the opportunity to share their success on the app (this works especially well for fitness apps, games of skill, and intellectual challenges). If your app is not suitable for success-based sharing, then offering in-app benefits (such as a “sharing badge”, extra-power-ups, credits, etc.) may be preferable.
  • Sharing – To benefit from the viral loop, it’s important that you make sharing as easy as possible. Creating simple in-app “share buttons” that allow users to share on their favourite networks with just a click is crucial to this. After all, the easier you make the sharing process, the more people you can expect to do it!

Sellmyapp’s “The Ultimate Guide for How to Create an App That Rocks the App Store!” goes into much more detail about how app developers can use the viral loop to their advantage, and gives some good case studies and tips.

The clever thing about exploiting the viral loop is that, by doing so, you manage to turn your users into advertisements. And, because social media users are far more receptive to content shared by friends, family, and colleagues (as opposed to companies), then your viral loop marketing efforts are (if successful) likely to be more effective in the short-term than traditional social media marketing.

This, of course, isn’t to say that traditional social media and content marketing doesn’t have a place when it comes to app marketing. But, since apps are such a good subject for viral loop marketing – because they can distribute tangible benefits, can be equipped with easy share features, and are often the type of thing social media users want to share – app developers stand to gain a lot from implementing a viral loop strategy.

Whilst using the viral loop as a centre, app marketers should still follow social media marketing best practice and keep up with the latest trends. For example, the recent explosion of video content should (which 57 percent of marketers used in 2015) makes it clear that video is one of the most effective and engaging forms of content. App developers, then, also stand to gain a lot from using video content to give their social media following a preview or insight into their app. Similarly, app developers should still pursue traditional social media marketing objectives (such as engagement, customer loyalty, and brand awareness) – as we know, good social media marketing is the only way to establish long term social media success.


Orientating your social media marketing campaign around the viral loop is a good way to ensure cohesion between your social media activities and your app. Successful implementation of the viral loop will gain your app new social media followers and fans rapidly. Once you have a solid social media following, you’ll need to keep them happy and engaged with a more traditional social media marketing strategy. Tools like AgoraPulse and Hootsuite provide all of the functionalities that make this as easy as possible, and the latter provide some great tips to get you started.

Are you an app developer looking to use social media marketing to your advantage? If so, let me know any questions you have with a comment. Or have are you a social media marketing veteran? If so, feel free to add to any of the points made above!  

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