January 7, 2013
A couple of years ago I saw some permutation of the formula for virality for the first time. Although it’s extremely simple, it had a profound effect on me.
The act of garnering popularity on the Internet often feels like this shadowy black art. The spoils are reserved for those in the right place at the right time… right? Well, not so much. There are concrete reasons why some things are popular online and some aren’t. If you understand how virality online works, you may even be able to predict your own success or failure.
I * C = K
I = number of invitations generated by your contributors
CR = the conversion rate on those invitations
K = viral coefficient
Consider this scenario: you have a crowdfunding campaign launching tomorrow. You have 300 Facebook friends, 200 Twitter followers and an email list of 100 people. You plan on asking all 600 of these people to contribute to your campaign.
How much do you expect to raise from your immediate network? Can you answer that question?
Realistically you’ll never know what type of response you’re going to receive until you go live. At the very least you should take an educated guess at what your average contrbution will be.
For example, say you’re offering preorders for your $15 product. Most contributors are probably just going to preorder one, right? A handful may preorder more than one, but to be conservative let’s say you expect an average of $15 per contributor. You’re seeking $5,000. You now know you need about 334 contributors to reach your goal of $5,000.
334 contributors * $15/preorder = $5,010 raised
Your entire immediate network is 600 people. Are more than half of them going to contribute? Probably not.
The real question is how many of those people are going to tell their friends about your campaign, and how many friends do they have?
This is a thought process I think every crowdfunder should go through before their campaign launches:
1. Know what you need and have a rough idea of how many people need to contribute to meet your goal.
2. Make a realistic assessment of your existing network. Do you have influencers in your network?
So how the hell are you going to reach 334 people? Well, you probably aren’t… but your contributors may, and that is where this idea of a viral coefficient comes into play.
A viral coefficient in simple terms is the number of new contributors that each initial contributor is able to bring in. A viral coefficient of one or more denotes what we call “going viral.” Less than one means diminishing growth.
In other words, say 60 of your 600 friends contribute. If your viral coefficient is 0.5 that means that your 60 contributors will bring in 30 more from their network. (0.5 contributors per existing contributor) That 30 will bring in 15, then that 15 brings 7 and onward until you reach 0. Assuming you don’t do anything to influence your viral coefficient, you’ll get just over 100 contributors and you won’t reach your goal.
Now say your initial network has some influencers and your viral coefficient out of the gate is 1.5. Those 60 contributors bring in 90 more. The next 90 bring 135 contributors. Now, you can’t keep this up forever, but being in this position out of the gate will really help.
Suddenly your 600 person reach isn’t that bad if some of them are influencers who deeply believe in your product and want to contribute to your success.
“But… isn’t this why I list my crowdfunding campaign on a big old portal web site? Don’t they intrinsically help me network?”
Well, maybe. Maybe not.
Are you willing to stake your entire campaign on whether or not your project is curated toward the top? Do you think a crowdfunder has never been disappointed to sit on the inner pages of a Kickstarter category for 60 days before whimpering into the sunset?
Also, how do you think big crowdfunding sites determine what projects get curated? Virality plays a part, I promise you. If they see an offering take off, they’re going to help promote it. They want everyone to see your success and would rather not share your failure.
My point is this: your biggest assets in your crowdfunding campaign are your contributors. One of the most important things you can do is provide incentive for contributors to join in your cause and become vocal advocates, especially if they are influencers themselves.
That doesn’t mean buying them out or giving things away for shares and retweets. Just be available, convey your passion and hone your pitch. If you can do anything to build community among your contributors, that is a great way to keep them informed and participating as well.
If just one person in your network of 600 can help push your viral coefficient upward, it could be the difference between success and failure.
Think your network is a little short on influence? Build it before you launch your campaign. Find influencers close to your offering’s niche and engage them personally. Again, convey your passion. The media acts as a great influencer, too. Line up your media coverage beforehand if possible. Build your network with virality in mind and you’ll greatly increase your chances for crowdfunding success.
This article was originally published in Crowdfund Insider.