Measuring The Virality Of Widgets

"How do I make my widget viral?" This is such a common question that I hear when it comes to widget distribution.  But what does the word viral really mean?  The term virality (which is not recognized in Webster's dictionary, but well-documented on Wikipedia) is thrown around almost as much as the word engagement.  Virality can be used to describe the efficacy in distribution for widgets, social applications, email and your traditional word-of-mouth marketing. When it comes to widgets specifically, virality boils down to the number of times that a widget is grabbed from a source and installed to a destination, such as a social networking profile, blog, desktop or Web site page.

There are several components to measuring virality:

· How many times was the widget grabbed successfully?  Success meaning that the visitor went through the motions of using the sharing tools on the widget or copying the embed code and then viewing that widget on the destination Web page or desktop at least once. Having your widget grabbed and installed 5,000, 10,000, or 15,000 times expands your audience reach far faster and broader than inviting them to come to a single web site to view your content.



· How many times was the widget shared successfully? I separate out sharing because visitors can email and bookmark widgets without actually grabbing the widget.  With the opening of platforms across the Web to include the ability to tap into your email address book and "friends" lists, email and messaging through your social network of choice is quickly becoming more viral than ever before.

· SPEED! How fast is the widget spreading? Does the number of widget installs double every n days? How does that compare to other widgets that you have released into the wild?  Keeping track of the "Days to double" is an interesting metric that will trend down over time -- but is a good yardstick in comparing the speed of widget distribution. Segment this metric by time and domain, and you can determine which stages of your widget campaign are producing the most viral spread of your content.

Making your widget viral takes some strategy and creativity, not to mention good content.  Marketers need to create media plans that are proactive in driving their widget's virality.  Once the campaign has launched, the metrics can help determine which seeding strategies (initial placements of a widget) are most effective so that mid-campaign tuning can occur.  Seeding strategies for improving the virality of your widget can include:

· Seeding the widget adjacent to relevant content on your Web site or other sites that can assist in distributing the widget.  Bloggers, affiliates and content partners are a good place to start. Standard components of a good seeding strategy these days include building a Facebook Fan page and ensuring that your widget is registered as an application on Facebook or OpenSocial platforms, such as MySpace, Hi-5 and Google.

· Educating or notifying the user that the content has a viral component and can be shared. Some of the best implementations I have seen include creating pages dedicated to promoting a site's widgets, clear wording around the widget to promote the distribution, and placing the sharing options in a location visible  to the user. You've probably noticed that when you see sharable content in the form of widgets, the widget creator will place a Facebook or MySpace button directly on the widget -- all done with the intent to highlight the sharable aspect of the content and entice the user to grab the widget.

Similar to engagement, it will be interesting to see if a true standard can be developed around virality. The metrics themselves, though, only tell one side of the story. The quality of the virality and how it builds positive brand recognition, direct response, or a channel for you to communicate to your customer, are what matters at the end of the day.
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