✨ 4 ways Pokémon Go Mastered the Viral Loop + addendum

Pokémon Go exploded seemingly overnight. The augmented reality app’s astoundingly rapid success is due, at least in part, to its mastery of “viral loop” marketing.

Dickey Singh on July 25, 2016

Pokémon Go exploded seemingly overnight and showed no signs of slowing its viral pace. The augmented reality app’s astoundingly rapid success is due, at least in part, to its mastery of “viral loop” marketing. While many other apps have created successful viral loops, Pokémon Go’s approach is remarkably unique in some ways that mobile marketers can learn from.Pokemon.png

1. Organic Discovery

Unlike other viral apps that rely primarily on users’ social networks or contact lists to attract new users, Pokémon Go requires players to explore new areas of the real world around them. We see groups of people playing outside a PokéGym or visiting PokéStops, which are physical-world places marked as points of interest within the augmented reality of the game. Passersby watching users play become curious and then download the app as a result.

Because the app is discovered organically, outside the app store and without search or via Facebook ads, this significantly decreases the “viral cycle time,” or the time it takes for a user to gain interest in an app and then ultimately cause others to use it as well. When the entire population — as opposed to just an install cohort — is encouraged to participate, the app is likely to grow much faster.

2. A Truly Personalized User Experience

The importance of creating a personalized user experience is nothing new, but Pokémon Go takes it new a whole new level, as the game is unique to each player’s particular location and the time of day. For example, users have a better chance of discovering a nocturnal fairy, dark or ghost Pokémon at night, and water types can be found near bodies of water.

Personalizing content and experience based on individual users’ behaviors, preferences, social graph data, locations, and environments have a significant impact on engagement, retention, and satisfaction.

3. User Generated Content and Interaction

Pokémon Go users can visit PokéStops to retrieve various items, like PokéEggs that hatch into Pokémon and Poké Balls for capturing the wild specimen. They can also make PokéStops more enticing to both Pokémon and fellow players by using Lure Modules, which last for 30 minutes and thus guarantees user engagement for that amount of time, and also accelerates a user’s progress in the game.

Having numerous user-generated gameplay experiences is critical to keep users engaged and coming back. When users can create and interact with content, they essentially become promoters of your app, which makes UGC key to going viral.

4. Unbounded Playing Time

Unlike other games with play periods that are level-based or limited with lifetimes or energy, Pokémon Go users can play the game as long as they want by walking to additional PokéStops in the surrounding area, without having to pay. The game never ends and the ending is a moving target keeping users engaged for extended periods of time, and players are always incentivized to continue progressing through the game gaining more experience and mastery.

A loyal, engaged user base, fueled by personalized and fresh content, creates more opportunities for monetization both within and outside the app.

At the End of the Day, Usage Is King

There are some lessons to be learned from Pokémon Go, like thinking outside the box of the social network invitation. But perhaps most importantly, apps that create personal experiences for its users build a loyal and passionate user base. Apps that enable users to create, modify and interact with content, makes app users promoters of the app, which is key to virality. Usage remains the key metric on which app publishers should focus.


I wrote the above article for Chief Marketer and added the following section based on a discussion with some friends.

App Viral Loops

App Viral Loop Marketing

App Viral loop marketing describes the steps that lead to an app or service become addicted and popular with both new and existing users.

An app attracts new users actively, using search engine marketing or Facebook mobile ads, and passively, using app store optimization, Search ads, search engine optimization or via thought leadership and blogs initially.

The app is engaging and/or rewarding enough for existing app users to share with new users, thereby making the app even more engaging to existing users. The network effect drives even further usage.

The viral loop concept encompasses behavioral intelligence, network theory and the sociology of groups. The app typically encourages users to invite contacts and friends by making it easy to share and modify content. When users interact with content, they essentially become promoters of your app.

Viral Cycle Time

Viral cycle time for Apps is the length of time that takes for a user to get interested in your app, download and start using it, and finding it useful enough to invite or advocate the app to friends. Lower viral cycle time is a significant factor for accelerated growth of your app.

Viral Incentives

Viral Incentives are the incentives that users share with their friends. How many explicit incentives does your app offer? More incentives mean more reasons for users to advocate your app.

Viral Coefficients

Entire populations do not participate in all incentives. For example, you should invite friends to an app once, but you could potentially ask friends to edit an album sometimes.

If the entire population can participate, Viral Coefficient, or K, is

k = (#invites sent / #daily active users) 
 x (#invitees converted / #invites sent)

If only new installs can take part, the Viral Coefficient for a cohort is

k = (#invites sent / #installs in cohort) 
 x (#invitees converted / #invites sent)

These viral metrics are useful for measurement purposes but are important as they help you predict the growth of your app.