The Secret To Facebook's Viral Growth

Facebook users know how addictive the site is but how has the company been able to continuously attract new users? The primary way Facebook has been so effective at growing is that they enable users to import all of their contacts via email. It’s become the standard tool for instantaneous growth however many companies fail to get it right. Facebook however has mastered the art of the “viral loop” and there is a lot to be learned from the company’s success.

Facebook’s Focus On Viral Growth

As Mark Zuckerberg highlighted at last week’s Startup School, “Facebook, by definition, is a viral prodcut.” For the past few years the company has experienced explosive growth. So what was the initial source of this growth? I’ve already suggested that the contact importer is the primary source of growth, and at Startup School, Mark Zuckerberg told the audience about the impact of the contact importer:

There are lots of sites now that try to include a contact importer. For a lot of them it doesn’t make sense. It wasn’t actually until a few years in, that we started building some tools that made it easier for people to import their contacts. There was a huge amount of organic spreading.

Twitter has also included a contact importer which has resulted in massive growth as well, however keeping users at the site has been much more of a challenge for the company. Many sites including Tagged.com and Reunion.com have abused the contact importer in order to unknowingly spam a user’s friends when they import their contacts to see which of their friends are already on the site.

Suggested Users To Get People Engaged

While Facebook has tried to avoid spamming users, the addition of the suggested users feature has taken contact imports to a new level. Not only does Facebook encourage new users to add their existing friends as soon as they register but the site also encourages existing users to add their friends who just registered. The result is that new users become engaged quickly.

The quicker that Facebook can get users to post photos, add friends, and start communication, the quicker they can ensure new visitors become lifelong users. As Facebook increases their mapping of the social graph, users become increasingly locked in to the site. With Facebook pulling in users at a feverish rate and driving those users to become engaged as quickly as possible, the company has created the most effective “viral loop” in the world.

Others Try To Duplicate Facebook’s Success To No Avail

Facebook’s model is extremely effective and it’s not surprising that many other startups have taken note of the company’s model. However very few companies have even come close to duplicating Facebook’s early success. Twitter has come closest, attracting tens of millions of users in under a couple of years. Twitter has ended up losing many of the users after registration though because most users don’t become instantly engaged and just don’t understand the product.

That isn’t to say that Twitter still doesn’t have a shot though. Nobody would dispute Twitter as a dominant force in the social web. There are still many years of competition ahead and as Facebook races toward 400 million users, both companies are hoping to be the first company who attracts 1 billion users. Achieving 1 billion users would also prove that “viral loops” truly have no limits.

-Import Contacts Screenshot-