Everybody wants to go viral. But how? Can you control it? Turns out…you can. This article explains “micronetworks” and the science of going viral.
In this guide, you’ll learn why “micronetworks” are the secret to going viral.
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Viral marketing is like inner peace.
- Everybody wants it.
- Nobody can achieve it.
But imagine if you could achieve it.
Just target a few hubs, then bam: Exponential growth.
To solve this mystery, I sifted through hundreds of academic papers — everything from network theory to epidemiology.
Stuff like this:
…which led to this:
Ultimately, I had an epiphany: It IS possible to control virality.
This guide explains how.
Problems With the Current Approach
Typically, marketers disperse a message by targeting “influencers” who are connected to many people.
And it can work. However, it restricts virality for two reasons:
Problem #1: Low Interconnectivity
Although recipients are connected to the source – the influencer — they aren’t connected to each other (Lerman & Ghosh, 2010).
To maximize diffusion, networks need interconnectivity:
Suppose that Person A shares a message. Then Person B reshares it. If the network is interconnected, Person C will see the message twice:
Repetitions trigger a snowball effect of virality. More exposures lead to more infection…more infection leads to more exposure…etc..
Problem #2: Weak Connections
Influencers are connected to many people, but these connections are very weak.
It’s not the end of the world if you ignore a blogger’s email (except mine, of course). But you need to open emails from your boss.
Strong connections are important for virality because they increase the transmissibility of messages.
Why Micronetworks Are the Solution
You can maximize the dispersion of a message by targeting a type of network that I call a “micronetwork.”
A micronetwork has three criteria:
- Interconnected. People know each other.
- Small. Most people know everyone in the network.
- Strong. People frequently interact with important messages.
The second criterion might seem weird. Instinctively, most marketers want to disperse their message in “large” networks.
However, most epidemics originate from small networks — like families (Ball, 1997). One person who becomes infected will transmit the infection to everyone else because they live in the same house.
Then it triggers a snowball effect.
Once the family becomes infected, adjacent networks (e.g., neighbors across the street) become infected.
And it continues spreading outward.
Suddenly the whole region becomes infected — and it all started from a tiny network.
1) Target Micronetworks, Then Scale Outward
Most entrepreneurs want a “large” market for their products.
But, ironically, this approach is counterproductive. Customers are disconnected in large markets, so word of mouth is constrained.
Instead, target a tiny market. Then scale outward.
Case Study: Facebook
Zuckerberg didn’t launch Facebook to the whole world — otherwise, it would have failed.
Rather, he targeted a micronetwork: Harvard students.
Facebook gained traction because the word of mouth spread rapidly in this interconnected network. Within 24 hours, half of Harvard signed up (The Guardian, 2007).
And, naturally, Harvard students aren’t separated from the world. They have friends at nearby schools.
Infection started spreading to adjacent networks, like other schools:
Those schools are micronetworks, too. Infection spread throughout these networks, too.
Facebook scaled their growth by overlapping new markets that were interconnected.
Facebook infected the entire planet.
And it all started from a micronetwork.
2) Create Content for Interconnected Segments
Some marketers acquire customers by creating content (e.g., blog articles).
Always consider the interconnectivity of these audiences. For example, you can categorize content into two types:
- Horizontal. Topics that spread across domains
- Vertical. Topics in a single domain
Consider the topics on my blog.
Over time, I noticed that vertical topics (e.g., pricing, UX) perform better than horizontal topics (e.g., choice, attention).
Sure, there might be search volume for horizontal topics. But this audience will be highly fragmented.
Thus, infection builds separately.
In vertical topics, however, most people share the same need. People searching for “pricing techniques” are more connected.
Always consider the segmented nature of any topic or audience. Choose topics that will reach people who are interconnected.
3) Disperse Content in Interconnected Networks
Suppose that you want to reach photographers, so you write an article about photography on your website.
Which social network would be the best promotional vehicle?
Answer: Any network where photographers are interconnected.
Now, suppose that a photographer shares your article on Facebook.
That’s great, right?
Well, what are the typical connections for a photographer on Facebook? Maybe this:
When this photographer shares the article, only a few photographers will see this article:
Instead, you need to target a network in which photographers are interconnected. Every time that someone shares the article, it will be transmitted to people who are susceptible to the infection.
In this case, LinkedIn or Reddit might be better.
Want more insights? I expand on this topic in my course on content marketing.