Sustainable viral marketing on facebook?
I was talking to Nathaniel yesterday about an idea for a facebook application. (Facebook is a social network that has opened the doors to third-party applications. Read my past posts on facebook here.) Facebook applications are frequently viral because they are easily passed from friend to friend. But many viral applications burn fast and bright. Is it possible to have sustainable viral marketing?
Most viral content that we think of likely fits into the “fast and bright” category. Consider Jibjab’s awesome video in 2004 called This Land. It reached perhaps ten million people via email in under 48 hours. But what happens next? After becoming “infected” with the humor, you develop an immunity to it. You move on to something else.
In epidemiology, jibjab is a little bit like the common cold. It spreads easily from person to person, has a short term impact, and then you become immune to that particular strain of the virus.
In general, viruses can be characterized by the virility, gestation period and the mortality rate. Ebola is highly viral and deadly but has a limited gestation period, so at least it can be contained effectively with quarantines. AIDS is viral but has a long gestation period, so it much harder to quarantine.
With the release of facebook apps, there have been quite a few of the jibjab or ebola-type viral applications. For example, millions of people have signed up for “zombies” that allows you to bite your friends and turn them into zombies. Extremely viral, but also very annoying very quickly.
In contast, facebook is viral but of a more sustainable nature. The adoption rate is something like 3% increase per month. That’s very fast, especially when you consider that 45 million people use it daily! But it has been steadily increasing for three years, and not an overnight flash-in-the-pan.
I think there is an important lesson: there is a tension between ultra-fast and sustainable growth. I think that the Internet, first, and facebook, second, increases the possibility of faster yet sustainable growth, but it hasn’t eliminated the tradeoff completely. In future posts, I hope to explore what makes stuff grow fast or grow sustainably, or both.