Xtra Internet Thoughts

Viral Growth vs Followers | Is Seth Godin Reading My Blog?

Well, I can’t be sure beyond a reasonable doubt, so you be the judge. On Feb 2, I published this post entitled Viral Growth Trumps SaaS Churn, which makes the simple case that the best way to fight churn (exponential decay) is with virality (exponential growth). About two weeks later on Feb 15, Seth Godin published this strikingly similar post on viral growth entitled Viral Growth Trumps Lots of Faux Followers, which makes the simple case that the best way to fight faux followers (exponential decay) is with a viral idea (exponential growth).

seth godin viral growth blog post

Hmmmm…great minds must really think alike!

First I should say, I love Seth Godin’s stuff. I’ve snagged way more of Seth’s stuff than vice versa, for example SaaS Do #4 Craft a Compelling Story is completely Seth Godin’s and is the main topic of his book All Marketers Are Liars (and, is listed in the Chaotic Flow Worthy Reads blogroll). Believe it or not, my wife Christy is currently reading Seth Godin’s latest book Linchpin as I write this (and highly recommends it). But, IF Seth Godin really is reading Chaotic Flow, I think at the very least a pingback or comment is in order. C’mon Seth, share the love.

As an avid admirer of all things ironic and self referential (like…uh…viral growth), I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to examine this particular case study in light of itself. So, I am proposing a second order derivative viral growth vs. big followers principal of Seth Godin’s first order derivative viral growth vs. faux followers principle of the original viral growth vs. churn principle.

Highly Connected Followers Trump Viral Growth

Seth’s principle that Viral Growth Trumps Faux Followers claims that it is better to spread a good idea to a small group and rely on the strength of the idea to move it along through viral growth than it is to spread a mediocre idea to a big group of faux followers by brute force, because their interest will soon wane and your idea will eventually die out. I’ve recast Seth’s depiction of this principle in the chart below.

seth godin viral growth

Seth’s viral growth vs. faux followers chart shows how many people are talking about your idea at any given time. This version, which is more in line with the original viral growth vs. SaaS churn post shows the total number of people who have heard of your idea.

There is an underlying assumption in Seth Godin’s viral growth model that when removed is the source of this new principle. Seth assumes that all your followers are created equal, such the viral growth rate at which the idea spreads is constant. That is, I tell two friends, then they tell two friends, and so on. But, what happens when just one of your followers is an outlier that taps into another huge group of followers. Say, like…uh…Seth Godin. Or, Oprah. Let’s call this the Oprah Chain Reaction, as a recurring case of the Oprah Effect. Here I tell two friends, but one of them happens to be Oprah Winfrey. And, one of her friends happens to be Seth Godin, and so on. This principle is shown in the chart below.

seth godin viral growth 2

Even if your idea is kinda stupid, influential followers may pass it along wider and faster
than a good idea that is waiting around for the hockey stick takeoff of viral growth.

In all fairness, I should note that this “new” viral growth vs. BIG followers idea is itself highly derivative. This Oprah Chain Reaction is really just a new name for a very old idea. It’s not what you know; its who you know. Or, recast for the fast paced world of social media…

It’s not what you tweet; it’s who’s following you!

For example, the original principle of viral growth trumping churn is an OK idea, but realistically the math is over 200 years old, and it isn’t like viral growth is going to improve your sex life or cure baldness (in which case Seth Godin and I would both be all over it!). Unfortunately, Chaotic Flow’s number of followers is much closer to 1,000 than 100,000, so viral growth appears to be the only option to widely spread an idea, even if it is just OK. Wait a minute! Seth Godin on the other hand is a VERY connected guy with lots of followers. So, let’s take a look at what happened when this just OK idea made it into his network of followers. Whereas the original viral growth vs. churn post has a measly 19 retweets at current count, Seth’s viral growth vs. faux followers post has a whopping 1,392 retweets (and climbing)! As another measure, let’s take a look at the results for the Google searches on viral growth and viral growth trumps.

seth godin viral growth 3

Because Seth’s Blog has so many more backlinks than Chaotic Flow
he has more Google juice to spread the word with or without viral growth.
Hence, his post goes straight to the top of search results for viral growth.

seth godin viral growth 4

Seth Godin’s followers retweet his posts to Google ubiquity.
So, search results for viral growth trumps are swamped with syndicated retweets and refeeds.
It is so cool that Google cut that deal with Twitter!
Chaotic Flow readers…GET WITH THE PROGRAM
and retweet those posts!

This is all in FUN with the primary intent being to get a giggle or two (especially from Seth Godin). Chaotic Flow is written to be read, used and reused in any way my much appreciated readers see fit. My only goal is to help Internet executives build better companies. The more cool Internet marketing ideas I help push along the better, original or otherwise. So Seth, and all you Internet marketing pundits out there, keep doing what your doing, but you gotta ask yourself this: Are you ready for a throwdown?

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