Virality is every product maker's dream. It's the perfect acquisition channel. It's what we all strive for.

It's the Holy Grail.

To me, chatbots have the greatest chance of going viral. They're usually social, sometimes fun, they live on a platform that begs for you to share stuff (Facebook Messenger, Kik, etc.).

So, let's talk chatbot virality. How does it work? Is it worth it? What can be done? I will throw in some definitions and concepts, so anyone without a marketing background can enjoy the article.

In the spirit of this topic, if you wouldn't mind sharing this article with your friends, family, social following, dog, that would make me very happy... :)


What is 'virality' and why is it amazing?

Let's catch everyone up first. Those of you who know, feel free to skip ahead.

Virality is, in its essence, a form of acquisition. You've all heard of videos 'going viral' or games 'going viral'. A viral product, whether it is a video, game, or a chatbot, spreads like wildfire.

Something within that products makes people share it, talk about it, invite others to it.

Why is it amazing? Because it's free acquisition!


Let's say you build a product and spend £100 to attract 1 user. This user pays you £5 per month to use your product. The £100 you spent was all the money you had. Now you need to wait 20 months (20 x £5 = £100) to have the fund to spend on a new acquisition blast.

Now, imagine every user you acquire attracts another user from her circle of friends. Every £100 you spend now attracts two users paying you £5 each per month. You can now spend another £100 in 10 months instead of 20.

Now, imagine this user attracts three other users from their circle of friends. You get the picture.

Virality is a very good thing (unless you go viral for the wrong reasons).


Word of mouth versus virality

This may get political, but I believe word of mouth is a form of virality. I know I'm not alone in thinking this, but I am also aware that many of my marketing peers don't agree.

To some, a product can only be 'viral' if word about said product is spread in the context of using it. Confused? Let me run through an example.

Consider Twitter. Twitter is great (hey, follow me!). However, Twitter would be pretty pants if you were there by yourself, tweeting away. Within the context of this product, you need to invite others to use it. If you don't, you're all alone.

Now consider Buffer. Buffer is a social sharing tool (a bit more than that, read their page to know more). I love Buffer. But you know what? I don't use them. I love them for their culture, their blog, their customer service. And I talk about them all the time -- case in point, this article. This is word of mouth.

So, Buffer is not viral while Twitter is? I don't necessarily think so. A great company culture or product will create virality.

All this to say, if your chatbot goes viral based on being amazing (i.e. word of mouth) as opposed to based on a specific feature (i.e. 'official' virality), rejoice; you've done it!


Chatbot virality: the easy, the good, the maybe-not

Now that we're all caught up on the wonderfulness of virality, let's focus on chatbots. Though chatbots are new, they are products like others. You should, therefore, see if injecting a bit of a viral loop into yours makes sense.

I want to focus on three approaches to virality in chatbots.


The easy: group chatbots

Group chatbots live on, you guessed it, groups. On most messaging apps, you can create a group for you and your friends or family to all engage.

A group chatbot can be invited into your private groups. There, everyone can enjoy the value of the chatbot by engaging with it. This is an extremely effective way to build virality into your bot.

This is what the guys at Roll did.

Roll is a Kik chatbot. Invite it to your group and ask it questions like '@roll, who should pay the check at the restaurant tonight?'. The Roll bot will reply with a random name pulled from the list of group participants.

Easy, simple, useful; super fun.

Roll grew like wildfire. In 30 days, they had over 500,000 users. The secret? Groups! Groups are full of people (duh), all engaging with your bot, finding value, then spreading to their other groups.

Read more about Roll's story from its founder, Ryan. 

PS: This is a form of Pull Product Virality (PPV), if you want to get more technical. It sort of works in the same way as the Twitter example above. If you don't have other people to use it with you, you're going to feel pretty lonely (and end up paying all the restaurant checks).


The good: built-in features and amazing UX

The best way to build chatbot virality in a non-group environment is to build an amazing experience. I'm sorry, peers, but this trumps any viral feature anyone could ever build.

If your users have a tremendous experience. If they love it from start to finish. If they get huge value from using your chatbot. They will share it. There is almost no way around it.

To build an amazing experience, think of your conversational UX. Factor in your One True Goal. Get your users from A to B as quickly and efficiently as you can.

This is our focus with most of our clients. We don't start their bot with the intent of building some super cool feature that will make the users share. We build it to satisfy a demand (which our client has identified) in a way that makes sense to the user.

The second best way to build virality in your chatbot is through features. This can be as simple as a share button.

In our work with Unilever, we embedded social shares into some of the actions Monkey would take. For instance, each day Monkey would share a joke to all its users. Below that joke was a share button, allowing users to share it on Twitter or Facebook.


This did really well in terms of virality. Users were sharing the jokes every day, on top of which we hard-coded a link to the chatbot; thus bringing new users.


The maybe-not: company-facing chatbots (and more)

Not every product needs to go viral. At least not in the ways explained above. This is where the concept of word of mouth takes a different turn from the simple viral concept.

For example, you may not want your company-facing chatbot to go viral. There is little sense in an HR chatbot going viral. You don't necessarily want the whole world to know about your internal HR bot.

However, do keep in mind that a company is, essentially, a tiny community. If you work in a large company, you will want 'internal virality' kicking in. Make sure you build enough of an amazing experience that employees tell the other employees to use your epic HR chatbot instead of calling your staff for the 12th time today.

Finally, you may not want to build virality into sensitive or personal chatbots. We often work in the health industry, building chatbots that help get diagnostics by sharing personal information. Is this the right place to invoke a viral loop by 'sharing with friends'? Probably not.

In all instances, though, whatever you are building, you can always make the user experience amazing enough that people will talk about you. It may be a whisper (in the case of a health-sensitive chatbot, for instance) or it may be a loud tweet; you should always strive for, at the very least, this type of virality.