Web 2.0 Is Velcro

Viral Hooks, Loops and the Return of 'Sticky'

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David Armano David Armano also writes the popular Logic Emotion blog.
As a veteran of the 1.0 Web movement, I still suffer from flashbacks when hearing the word "sticky." The notion of creating a "sticky website" was the holy grail of digital marketing back when the web was still in its infancy. The new holy grail, as we all know, is "viral." But now Silicon Valley has own version of contagious marketing, which as far as I can tell was first documented by an individual named Andrew Chen. Andrew's reference of "viral loops" was penned in July 2007 and was recently quoted in a Fast Company article:

"Chen calls a viral loop the 'most advanced direct-marketing strategy being developed in the world right now.' And make no mistake: Viral expansion loops are about marketing, just not in the traditional sense. 'Nothing can be truly viral unless it is good,' [Union Square Ventures' Fred] Wilson allows. 'You can create a crappy application, build viral hooks in it, but if it's bad, then nobody will follow the viral channel, and the company will go out of business.' But if you create something people really want, need, or merely enjoy, then your customers will grow your business for you."

In Andrew's original blog post, he then asks, "what's the viral hook in your product?" And this is what brought it all home for me. Velcro, as we all know, is a simple and effective invention that has permeated millions of products and replaced more antiquated ways of making things stick. The science of Velcro is simple. One side of the material is composed of thousands of tiny "hooks," while the other side is made of just as many "loops." When the hooks engage with the loops, they stick. When pulled apart, they un-stick. There's a reason why millions of children's footwear has been replaced with this material -- it's effective, easy to use and it works.

And that's why Web 2.0 is Velcro. Marketers, designers and developers alike are scrambling to figure how two things:

1. What are the viral "hooks" that capture people's attention?
2. What are the viral "loops," which create infinite engagement that spreads like wildfire?

The Web 2.0 landscape is full of examples that try to deliver on these principals. You Tube would of course be one of the granddaddies of them all. We provide the hooks in the form of user-generated content and the loops are formed through a combination of sustained engagements with the web application plus all of it's portable and distributed manifestations. Ning, the web service that allows its users to create their own custom social networks, is counting on the concept of viral hooks and loops to take their company to the next level.

In the same Fast Company article, Ning's founders talk about the company benefiting from a "double viral loop": "Only Ning, [co-founder Marc] Andreessen declares, benefits from a 'double viral loop,' which spreads two ways, because every network creator is a user and any user can become a network creator."

But back to the idea of Velcro, marketers need to keep in mind that the best viral loop may actually be the good old-fashioned concept of continuous engagement. Each time I go to the Apple store, there's a pretty good chance that I'll talk about my experience there based on how Apple's employees engage me. From the genius bar to checking out without standing in line to my paperless receipts delivered via e-mail, the Apple retail experience has become like Velcro to me. When I'm engaged, I'm "stuck" to the brand. The minute I disengage, it's back to going about my business -- but I usually tell some people about it and of course the brand becomes part of my lifestyle.

But Apple is only one example, each time I watch "The Office" on Hulu, or choose Netflix over Blockbuster, I engage with brands in ways that stick with me. I'll come back, do it again and spread the word. And others will do the same.

Digital marketing's current state of affairs is a bit heavy on the "hook" side. When Dove's Real Beauty video went viral it was a huge success, but where was the sustained engagement -- the other half of the Velcro equation? Where were the viral loops? Web 2.0 is Velcro. It's all about engaging on our terms -- where and when we want, and the new "sticky" can be simply defined as engagement over the long term. In other words, is it a reoccurring part of your life -- or isn't it?
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