How to Turn Customers Into Promoters

The Underlying Strategy of Instagram, Airbnb, Hotmail, Dropbox, Converse and Apple

Everyone wants their gadget, video, blog or product to go viral. Yet companies can spend millions on a campaign with nothing to show except for an unused hashtag.


Getting something to go viral means people must share your product with their social network. We can’t expect people to share something because we want them to. They share it because it benefits them or their friends.


Being shareable isn’t a marketing campaign. It’s not something you can add-on last minute. Being shareable is something you embed into your product—it transforms your customers into promoters.  


How do we get people to share our product, idea or brand? The world’s most innovative companies have a few ideas. And see if you notice the underlying strategy their tactics share.

1. The Social Sharing Secrets

The first secret isn’t a secret; create something so awesome people want to share it. The second social sharing secret is to create something that gets better when your friends use it too.


For example, Instagram received 25,000 downloads on its first day. It went viral because shareability was embedded into the DNA of the photo sharing app.


Firstly, Instagram made a better product. There were other photo sharing apps available at the time, but Instagram added the option of adding filters to people’s photos. This made amateur’s photos look professional.


Secondly, because the photos looked so professional, users wanted to share them with their friends. But for users to share their photos with their friends, they also had to be using Instagram. So people would encourage their friends to download the app. You were encouraged to promote the app because it made your own experience better.


2. The Friendly Bribe

Offer incentives to get people to share your product. Hotmail (email) and Dropbox (cloud storage) offered extra storage to users who referred them to their friends.


This works because we trust something more when it comes referred by a friend, rather than advertised by a company.


Similarly, Converse sneakers have barely changed in 100 years, yet they have a cult following. How do their customers become promoters? Converse provides real benefits to them. For example, their sneakers are popular amongst musicians. So Converse opened a recording studio in New York City where musicians could record for free.


Converse supports grassroots musicians and are rewarded when a few become famous musicians who continue wearing their sneakers for free in magazines, music videos and on tour.


3. The Piggyback

When Airbnb began listing rooms to rent, Airbnb were small and unknown. To get more people to see their listings they simultaneously posted their own listings on Craigslist.


Integrate with somebody bigger. By connecting your unknown product with a brand and product used and known by many, you can gain access to their users. Many companies are willing to do this as you are helping bring traffic and new users to their site.


4. The Humble Brag Effect

Make people who share your product look cool or caring. If you can increase somebodies social status by sharing your product, they are much more likely to share it.


For example, when Apple created the iPod, its sleek design and high price made it an instant status symbol. But a status symbol isn’t worth much when it’s sitting hidden in your pocket is it? That’s why the bright white Apple headphones are genius. They advertise that you own the status symbol of an iPod. The value of a status symbol is when other people see it.


Similarly, when someone shares a charity video on social media, they aren’t only supporting the charity. They’re showing their friends they’re a caring and compassionate person.


The Underlying Strategy

The strategy all four tactics share is their product becomes better when more people use themso to make their own experience better, customers are encouraged to promote the companies.


> Instagram is better when your friends use it because you can share your photos with them.

> Hotmail gives you more storage when your friends sign up.

> The more successful musicians wear Converse sneakers, the cooler the sneakers become.

> Airbnb listings were rented faster when open to more people through Craigslist.

> The more people use Apple’s products the more fashionable they become.


If the four tactics above are each a key to unlock the doors to turning customers into promoters, then the strategy is a master key that unlocks all those doors—and many more doors that haven’t been opened by any company yet.


The next Mark Zuckerberg won’t start a social network—but they probably will follow the strategy of creating a better technology platform and scaling it worldwide. It is easy to copy tactics, so that’s what everybody does—creating a crowded marketplace. But it is harder to copy the underlying strategy and apply it in a new way—and that is why copying the underlying strategy is so valuable.