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Viral Loop: From Facebook to Twitter, How Today's Smartest Businesses Grow Themselves

3.59  ·  Rating Details ·  540 Ratings  ·  79 Reviews
Many of the most successful Web 2.0 companies, including MySpace, YouTube, eBay, and rising stars like Twitter and Flickr, are prime examples of what journalist Adam L. Penenberg calls a "viral loop"—to use the product means having to share it with others. After all, what's the sense of being on Facebook if none of your friends are? The end result is a business that spread ...more
Published October 17th 2009 by Tantor Media (first published October 1st 2009)
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May 21, 2011 Robert rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My initial thinking was that this book would provide reasons for the viral spread of something. Rather it turned out to be more about the stories behind products and ideas that gone viral. That still proved very interesting and seems to reinforce the concept that there is no specific 'formula' for what makes something go viral.

The book provides some interesting insight into many of the products and services we know well, such as Netscape and EBay, that have grow from humble beginnings into multi
Nov 28, 2011 Patrick marked it as did-not-finish  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook
I'm not sure if it was the narrator -- probably the most annoying in the history of audiobooks -- or the content that made me pull the plug on this one. Said content was like some strange time-warp to 1999 where the internetz was gunna revolutionize everything all god's children were gonna own their own submarines. Isn't there enough of this BS out there already? Whatever. But to believe this twaddle you need to be without critical faculty, without sense of history and utterly devoid of common s ...more
Kevin Suitor
Viral Loop
by Adam Penenberg

Adam Penenberg wrote the book Viral Loop to help us understand why things go viral, and how you can do it for your business.

Building a “viral business” isn’t a new concept. Tupperware has selling plastic containers since 1948 by employing a viral loop. The entire model is predicated on current salespeople bringing in more salespeople.

But there’s a big difference between making a viral video and building a viral business. A viral business builds the virality into the
Feb 10, 2015 Alex rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: business
The book is ok. If you read this thinking that you are going to get real insights on how and why things go viral, you're not. The reason that I gave it 3 stars and not less is because despite this, the book is still pretty interesting and entertaining. Just don't think you're going to come out the other end with a deeper understanding of virality.

Rather than write my own review, and because I'm lazy, I'm going to quote someone else's review from This guy pretty much nailed it on the
Craig Rowley
Oct 26, 2014 Craig Rowley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Viral Loop was an entertaining read with some quality guidance on how one might get their own Viral Loop started for their business. It continues to amaze me that large companies continue to ignore simple guidance and learnings from Silicon Valley startups. However, a great point from Penenberg is that companies who fail to scale, will fail completely. So, I've learned to interpret the "pause" as a potentially smart move... but hold for too long and the waiting will become procrastination and wi ...more
Sep 21, 2015 Jeff rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting read, offering some good stories about how companies have been stunned by viral growth patterns and also how certain companies have deliberately strived to seed things to grow in viral "loops." My only criticism was that there were frequent wording and/or pronunciation errors in the audio book I was listening to. I did not cross check with the printed book, but a key word in the book is "virality" which is often mistakenly said "virility" (quite different) by the performer, and simil ...more
Abhijeet Jain
The "title" and the "cover design" mend the perfect impression , good enough to make the book look exciting and promising.

But unfortunately the book wasn't any good (atleast to me) , except few of the stories like that of Tupperware , others couldn't make stick to the book.

I believe its the narration of the author which was boring 80% of the time and infact the language he used wasn't quite gripping , the book would had been far better if the terms and language used was aimed at ordinary reader
May 03, 2015 Sunny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
From Tupperware to Facebook, Adam covers almost every noticeable contemporary viral loop that have touched us. A sneak peak into how the new software app startup think and use the virality coefficient is also fascinating. A successful viral loop is a self multiplying, self powered machine that starts after attaining a certain number of people and then doesn't stop after that. Harnessing and mobilizing this loop can provide a classic hockey stick curve of exponential growth. The new marketing phe ...more
Apr 19, 2010 E rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Intriguing guide on how to use the Web’s amazing viral potential

In 2000, the “Naked Scientists,” a group of Cambridge University physicians and researchers who popularize science, satirically described the viral path of an odd growth industry: Elvis Presley impersonation. At that time, more than 85,000 Elvis impersonators actively performed around the world, “compared to only 170 in 1977 when Elvis died.” The Naked Scientists jovially argued that, at that rate of growth, “by 2019, Elvis imperso
Jan 14, 2012 Jay rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: business, audiobook
Reading this now, with a few years age on it, the examples seem quite dated and beg the question "What happens when a company built as viral flames out", as a few of the examples are long gone. The most interesting example was taking the viral story back to Tupperware, partly because that story is not as oft told as, say Facebook. I did find it funny that when discussing brain functions, where you would normally quote an expert, the author quoted Al Gore. I found that disconcerting, a bit more p ...more
Feb 03, 2010 Desiree rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really liked this book! Mostly concentrates on web 2.0 type companies and other corporations that have influenced most of our lives in the recent past, like Google, eBay, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, etc....

Great stories of how these companies started and spread, some like wildfire, virally through the net. A current book, not about failed companies that never survived the dot com bust earlier this century. The usual strategy is for companies to get big and get bought out, bringing untold riches
Book Calendar
Viral Loop From Facebook to Twitter How Today's Smartest Businesses Grow Themselves by Adam Penenberg

This book is about the network effect. The idea is that for every person that is added to a communication platform like email, telephones, and the internet, the number of potential connections increases exponentially. In its earliest form, it was used by Tupperware to sell products, or people creating chain letters. The book basically says that the network effect is good. I disagree with the idea
Shawn Morel
Apr 07, 2013 Shawn Morel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Short version, I generally liked it. It's accelerated and framed some of my thinking in the area. I think you have to look at it through the right lens though.
Longer version. I was frustrated by his treatment of a few different things.
Section 3 on viral networks was the strongest. The viral marketing section was touch and go - I think he just lacked a basic understanding of mass media.
1) His need to infuse a larger drama that he did a poor job of crafting a narrative for
2) His understanding of t
Mar 16, 2010 Carrie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Useful and interesting book about online businesses that have exploded in growth at an exponential rate. Penenberg distills some commonalities among these businesses while also sharing lots of examples and details of of how the likes of PayPal and Netscape got going.I'm not a big fan of the general lingo of most business/marketing books, which always seems a little breathy and light on theory and making connections to bigger ideas and themes, but that could just be my bias.

My favorite chapter w
Franco Arda
Oct 03, 2011 Franco Arda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Some say that in order to understand today's viral business models, one should read a book on virology or epidemiology. Well, thanks to Penenberg's book, that's not necessary anymore.

Some critics of this book argue, that the book could have been condensed to only a few pages. I tend to agree. Penenberg spends a lot of time giving detailed background to the genesis of some of the most famous Internet companies today. For some readers, this could be a bit boring. But that's like criticizing a Ferr
Feb 08, 2010 Kelsey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was really informative. I enjoyed reading it and learned a lot about viral companies and how things spread over the internet. It provided a lot of really great examples of how the internet started and grew into the phenomenon it is today. It also was interesting to see the similarities between the creators and founders of all these internet companies.

It was also interesting to read the back story behind the rise of the internet. I saw it from the consumer/user side, so it was nice to
While I did learn a few things from this book, I feel that it is inaccurately named. Seeing it on my library's online catalog, it looked a lot like a guide to growing your business. However, this is really more of a comprehensive history of businesses who have grown using viral marketing. Therefore, this book really wasn't that helpful to me.

However, Penenberg does a great job of compiling an interesting history of the viral loop. I'm not a "techie" and can barely function on my own computer and
May 02, 2014 Dave rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Penenberg explains and illustrates how the most successful social networking companies grew so fast, earning millions or billions for their founders. Claims to have application to NFP’s, however, all of the success stories had to do with for-profit companies that motivate users with money, sex, or entertainment.
A tech book on how not only internet things, but how certain businesses have grown organically. There was a whole section dedicated to Tupperware, which I thought was really interesting. Definitely more of a history book then a how-to, which I always kind of like more in this industry. I find all this sort of stuff interesting. There was chat on Ebay and Paypal, which was interesting too and how while both kind of hated each other at the beginning, they kind of need each other now to survive. An ...more
Amy Denim
While extremely interesting and informative on the history of viral loop businesses I did not find the subtitle - From Facebook to Twitter, How Today's Smartest Businesses Grow Themselves - reflective of the contents. I now know a lot about some of the fastest growing and most successful business in the world from Tupperware to Facebook and lots in between, but not exactly how those businesses grew themselves besides having a great idea that they luckily figured out how to spread the word about ...more
Remo Uherek
Dec 20, 2014 Remo Uherek rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great book, recommended by Facebooks Head of Growth (he gives this book to every new employee). If you are in the online business it's a must-read. Great overview how viral companies work. Loved the company stories and cases.
Richard Sparks
Well, I was hoping for more... This book tells you a lot of stories about companies that have benefited immensely by setting up their products/services in a way that spreads it quickly to new users. From Tupperware to Hotmail to Facebook, the fastest growing products happen when customers spread it to others simply by using it. Unfortunately, much of the stories are how those companies dealt with scalability issues caused by rapid grown. I was looking to find step by step insights in how to dupl ...more
Jan 01, 2014 Ninakix rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-2010
I would have given this book 3/5 if it weren't for one thing: it's clear that the author doesn't actually understand that much about internet companies, which turns out to not be that much of an impediment until he begins to mention how Google is in a tough spot because - well, basically, the internet is a scary place. Yes, the internet is a scary place, and that makes it true that searching the larger internet does have some risks, but there are some benefits to that, you know. Anyways, what wa ...more
Mar 28, 2016 Shawn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I talked with my children about the need to understand math. All of these start ups had a math wiz. Understanding the viral trend makes me laugh at all the new pop ups during my internet use.
Aug 08, 2014 Jenny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
interesting backward glance; start ups some of which are today's big names..... PayPal etc.
the whole question of how to get something to go viral, but that is probably a historical notion by now?
Abhishek Kona
It is an outdated book, the business models of twitter / facebook have changed. The author does a lot of hero worship. Not a book worth reading in 2015.
Feb 17, 2010 Sam rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Verdict: mosty unoriginal, but pretty readable accounts of some good valley/startup history. A good telling of the HotOrNot story in particular. The book relied too much on second-hand sources from Andrew Chen’s blog and Sarah Lacy’s Once Your Lucky, Twice Your Good.

Fun factoid on eBay history. According to the book, eBay stood for “Echo Bay”. The site, orginally called, Auction Web, was launched on labor day wekend in 1995. Omidyar ran it as a free service, during his nights and weekends, until
Sadok Kohen
This book was a disappointment! The stories have been told a thousand times and none of them are relevant to building viral loops today. If you didnt read any Valley anthology before you might find this book entertaining, but if you want to learn how to build viral loops dont bother...
Aug 11, 2016 Amit rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent read, indeed!

Apart from techniques to hack growth, it also has some very interesting stories about some famous startups! The PayPal, NetScape, Ebay stories are really fascinating to read!
Arun Subhash
Jun 14, 2013 Arun Subhash rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Its a good book that gives the reader an insight into the Viral business models. The business terminology used in the book is very simple. It provides a in-depth details of the origins of viral marketing i.e. the Tupperware era (1950-1960) to the modern day Viral Networks(e.g. Facebook , Youtube etc.). The author has neatly arranged various viral trends in the following groupings :

1) Viral Businesses - e.g. Tupperware, Ponzi Schemes
2) Viral Marketing - e.g. Hotmail's Viral marketing techniques
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Adam L. Penenberg is a journalism professor at New York University who has written for Fast Company, Forbes, the New York Times, The Washington Post, Wired, Slate, Playboy, and the Economist. A former senior editor at Forbes and a reporter for, Penenberg garnered national attention in 1998 for unmasking serial fabricator Stephen Glass of the New Republic. Penenberg’s story was a watersh ...more
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