It is a requirement of people who live an online life – especially those who do it professionally – to be at the cutting edge of whatever is new. In doing my own little bit of ‘pass-it-on’, about a wonderful book I’ve just finished reading, I am revealing myself to be a long way behind the times. You see, Viral Loop was published in 2009, and 15 months, or thereabouts, is a very long time in ‘online years’.
It was only as I reached the end of the book that I realised its author, Adam L. Penenberg, writes for Fast Company, one of my favourite reads of the month. What he’s done in this book is to take the internet hall of fame – Hotmail, Flickr, Google, Paypal, eBay, Facebook and others – and use them to illustrate the power of virality. Even if tech and internet aren’t your things, it’s fascinating to read how these turned into huge and successful companies.
What one doesn’t realise is that other people were doing similar things at the same time. The ones that made it hardwired the viral loop into their offering, which is what ultimately allowed them to gain traction.
The opening chapter deals with Hot or Not, a website which illustrates the effects of virality perfectly. Within 90 minutes of launch, the number of users doubled every two hours. On the second day, they doubled every hour. Penenberg tells the story of how the site’s founders, James Hong and Jim Young, scrambled to find hosting to keep the site up during this eye-popping growth. It reads like a thriller.
It isn’t all internet, though. Tupperware gets a chapter, too, and serves also to illustrate the need for product creators or brand owners to communicate the relevance of products if they want to sell them successfully. It now seems self-evident that no household can survive without Tupperware, but before Brownie Wise got her teeth into the brand it languished on shop shelves. The sales method she created has been copied by myriad other businesses, becoming a cliché in the process.
If you only read one business-related book this year, make it Viral Loop.