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The Viral Loop: Get Your Users Advertising for You

The Viral Loop: Get Your Users Advertising for You

Acquiring users continues to become more expensive each and every time we look at it. Chartboost recently pegged the average cost of acquisition across their network as $2.69 for iPhone apps and $3.30 for iPad. Depending on the country and device you’re selling to, this can reach as high as $5.96 per install.


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What if you could reduce your reliance on CPI user acquisition methods altogether, and encourage your current users to bring on the next wave of users themselves? That’s where a little something called a “viral loop” comes in.


A viral loop can be defined as the steps a user goes through between entering an app to inviting the next set of new users. It is a loop because, when executed successfully, each new user should follow the same steps and then invite a new set of users as well.

In this post, we’ll take a look at some apps that have got the Viral Loop right, and a couple that didn’t do so well. If you’d like to see some more examples of viral loops in action, and how to calculate if your own viral loop is working, check out this post on the Tapdaq blog.


There are a good number of established ways to build and develop a viral loop, but fundamentally, viral loops require iteration in order to become highly effective.


Timberman is one of those silly games that we all love to play on our iPhones from time to time. It sees you trying to chop down an infinite tree by tapping on each side of the screen, avoiding incoming branches as you go. As you get better at the game, you unlock costumes for your lumberjack. You play more and more as you try to unlock the next costume.

The viral element comes in when you’ve set a new high score. The game lets you quickly share your current high score to twitter, with a link to download the app from the App Store. Your friends can now tap the link, download the free app, and try to beat your score.

Once your friend has downloaded the game and has given it a go, they’ll likely be driven to achieve their own high score, and try to beat yours. We love showing off, so when your friend beats your high score they will tell you, and they will share it on twitter. And so, the loop continues.

My high score is 372. Can you do better?

Candy Crush

I think we’ve all heard of Candy Crush, and we’re well aware of the notifications that we get from friends when they’re playing it. But did you know that this is a form of viral loop?

Candy Crush encourages its current players to ask their friends for help when they get stuck. This often takes the form of Facebook invites, where the player gets items to help them in the game when their friends join. In this way, Candy Crush uses a viral loop, driven by the game’s difficulty at some levels, to bring more people into the game.

If you needed proof that the strategy was working as a way to get people to know about the game, just look at the memes that have arisen around Candy Crush invites:

Whilt people publicly bemoan these invitations, and the fact they just keep coming, there are large numbers of people who see these invitations and help their friends out. It saves their friends having to buy IAPs to get past the level they’re stuck on, it gives us a little dopamine hit for helping someone, and it gives us some fun when we download and play the app.

Inbox by Gmail

Scaling your app can be hard work, so many applications that are expecting an influx of users have started implementing queue or invite systems. Apart from helping the developers scale the application at a more manageable rate, and keeping the app more stable, these queues and invites also work as great viral opportunities.

If you’ve been on twitter in the last couple of weeks, you’ll likely have seen people obsessing over a product called ‘Inbox’. Inbox is Gmail’s new take on the email client and how it works within our everyday life. Despite being the masters of scaling web products, Google has decided to make its launch invite only. Why could that be?

It’s about generating buzz and excitement. People want what they can’t yet have, and they’ll shout about it until they get it. So, you get hundreds of thousands of people tweeting about Inbox, asking each other for invites, and waiting for someone to answer their plea. This initial surge in activity helps Inbox trend on social networks, and gets the word out.

People who receive invites to give it, take a place of power. They tweet asking if people want an invite to Inbox, and the circle continues.

app keyword installs


Back in December last year a new social networking app, Circle, caused controversy when it came from nowhere to top App Store charts around the world. Developers and marketers soon began their inquest into how Circle had scaled so quickly, and it soon became apparent that Circle had performed a very sneaky UX trick in their sign up funnel.

Below you can see a screenshot of Circle’s ‘Invite’ page. You would think hitting the top right tick icon would skip the page, but it doesn’t. Instead, tapping the tick actually sends a Facebook push notification to every single one of your Facebook friends, inviting them to download Circle. As is to be expected, users were not happy.


Above are just a few examples of established viral loops, some that have shown their worth in the real world and a couple that haven’t, but it’s not a definitive guide. Viral loops, as long as they encourage the sharing of your application with others, can come in many different forms, and you may have an idea of your own that becomes the next “Queue Jumper” or “Social Competition” on our list.

Give it a go. Think of ways people can have fun sharing your app and getting others to join. Implement it, see what happens, measure the results, learn, and iterate. You might be surprised by the growth you get.

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