Well it was only a matter of time before Slide and rockyou pushed things too far. Facebook’s crackdown on aggressive viral tactics has exposed a key vulnerability of these businesses. Facebook has banned some apps and shut down two of the three most important viral channels for others (invites and newsfeeds). And according to this TechCrunch article the growth of these apps has been dramatically squeezed as a result.
Despite their mistakes, both rockyou and Slide should be recognized for their pioneering role in advancing viral marketing. Through metrics and iteration both companies have achieved unprecedented user growth rates. This rockyou presentation from April ’08 (http://assets.en.oreilly.com/1/event/3/Design%20Learnings%20from%20Viral%20Applications%20Presentation.ppt) describes their growth as resulting from the “Rise of open platforms + laser-like focus on metrics and viral channels.”
But after today it’s clear that this growth sits on a shaky foundation. I believe there are three key lessons all online marketers can learn from Slide and rockyou’s challenging situation:
1) Don’t get too aggressive. When the key driver of your business is engineered virality, it’s tempting to keep pushing the envelope. Eventually you will cross the line and become annoying – particularly if it can be perceived that you are tricking users into inviting their friends. Some people will always be annoyed by viral tactics, but monitor this “annoyance” closely to ensure it is a very small minority.
2) Building your business on one or two social networks puts you at the mercy of these platform owners. Slide and Rock You have worked hard to diversify their platforms, so they will probably weather this storm. Rockyou even makes a good case on slide 8 of the presentation (mentioned/linked above) that they can help drive the overall growth of the platform.
3) Try to aggregate loyal users on your own website. It may seem so 90’s, but I think this is one of the key issues with the rockyou and Slide business models. By not offering a compelling trail back to their own websites, they have very little control over their relationships with users. At Uproar.com (in the late 90s) we used a viral widget with a smooth customer acquisition trail from our 40,000+ syndicate websites and even paid partner sites a bounty. While this was more expensive in the short run, we “owned” the users and could work to extend their loyalty and lifetime value – ultimately building the biggest gamesite on the web. This approach seems more sustainable and defensible than the current Rockyou and Slide approaches (though the growth rate was certainly slower).
Hopefully we can all learn as much from rockyou and Slide’s setbacks as we have from their viral successes.