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

by Adam L. Penenberg
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)

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Book Description

October 13, 2009 1401323499 978-1401323493 First Edition
Here's something you may not know about today's Internet. Simply by designing your product the right way, you can build a flourishing business from scratch. No advertising or marketing budget, no need for a sales force, and venture capitalists will flock to throw money at you. 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 it, you have to spread it. After all, what's the sense of being on Facebook if none of your friends are The result: Never before has there been the potential to create wealth this fast, on this scale, and starting with so little. In this game-changing must-read, Penenberg tells the fascinating story of the entrepreneurs who first harnessed the unprecedented potential of viral loops to create the successful online businesses--some worth billions of dollars--that we have all grown to rely on. The trick is that they created something people really want, so much so that their customers happily spread the word about their product for them. All kinds of businesses--from the smallest start-ups to nonprofit organizations to the biggest multinational corporations--can use the paradigm-busting power of viral loops to enable their business through technology. Viral Loop is a must-read for any entrepreneur or business interested in uncorking viral loops to benefit their bottom line.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this clear-eyed collection of case studies, Fast Company contributing writer and NYU journalism professor Penenberg examines the engine driving the growth of web 2.0 businesses like Flickr, YouTube and eBay to Facebook and Twitter: the viral loop. The concept behind a viral loop is simple-in order to use the product, you have to spread it, thus creating massive, user-driven growth cycles-after all, Penenberg explains, social networks like Facebook are worthless to a user if one's friends aren't also using the products. Viral loops are nothing new, of course, and Penenberg has certainly done his homework, tracing the concept back through its analog roots via entertaining and enlightening anecdotes about companies like Tupperware, which used "parties" to turn ordinary housewives into an army of sales reps, to Charles Ponzi-yes, he of the Ponzi scheme, a viral scam recently taken to historic levels by Bernie Madoff. Penenberg truly succeeds, however, in showing how the viral loop has found its groove on the Internet, fueling a wave of billion-dollar companies all built on word of mouth-and, of course, user clicks. Solidly researched and briskly-written, Penenberg at once captures a great business and tech story, as well as a defining moment in our online culture.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"Penenberg has unlocked the secret to the most successful digital businesses. An indispensable read."—Robert Safian, Editor-in-Chief, Fast Company

"Instead of entrusting your business to a guru with an agenda and a ghostwriter, you should be turning to a pro journalist like Adam Penenberg, who understands the way media and money interact, has the critical faculty to engage with these phenomena in an unbiased fashion, and the technical facility to explain them to you in an entirely engaging, informative, and actionable way."—Douglas Rushkoff, author of Media Virus and Life Inc: How the world became a corporation and how to take it back

"Penenberg discovers the perpetual motion machine for business and marketing. . . . Buy this book. Catch a virus. Make a fortune."—Jeff Jarvis, author of What Would Google Do?

"If you want to understand all things viral, this is the place to start. Penenberg's reporting gives us a ringside seat to some of the biggest viral success stories in history, from Tupperware to Ning."—Dan Heath, coauthor of Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

"One of the most astounding things about the Web age is how the best advertising is often no advertising at all. Penenberg masterfully explains how this works with case studies of products that were designed to spread. Every product can use a dose of this technique; this is the book to get to learn how."—Chris Anderson, author of Free: The Future of a Radical Price

"Adam Penenberg's lively book opens a window to all of our futures."—Ken Auletta, author of Googled: The End of the World as We Know It

"In tight engaging prode, Penenberg captures the essence of the ever-scaling power of the virus. It's not just for geeks anymore."—Seth Godin, author of Tribes

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion; First Edition edition (October 13, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1401323499
  • ISBN-13: 978-1401323493
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #494,265 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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 watershed for online investigative journalism and portrayed in the film Shattered Glass (Steve Zahn plays Penenberg).

Penenberg has published several books that have been optioned for film and serialized in the New York Times Magazine, Wired UK, and the Financial Times, and won a Deadline Club Award for feature reporting for his Fast Company story "Revenge of the Nerds," which looked at the future of movie-making. He has appeared on NBC's The Today Show as well as on CNN and all the major news networks, and has been quoted about media and technology in the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, Wired News, Ad Age, Marketwatch, Politico, and many others.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
30 of 35 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I'm an Internet entrepreneur and very keen to learn new insight into viral marketing. In short, I was very disappointed with this book. Contrary to the title of the book, this book offers NO insight what so ever on viral marketing. It offers neither an anchoring framework as in "The Long Tail" by Chris Anderson nor witty / penetrating analysis as in most articles in The Economist.

Without all the gossipy & anecdotal stories, this books will be 30 pages at max. Examples given (Hotmail, Ning) are so over done in terms of unnecessary contextual details (e.g. Ning's founder once dating Marc Andreassen, TMI on Hotmail and Microsoft negotiation) that I felt like reading a newly created business section from National Enquirer.

I still managed to read 2/3 of the book hoping for some insight and found none. If the book was titled "Viral Marketing Success Stories: Hidden Factoids", I would not have been disappointed but probably never bought it either.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Penenberg deftly explores the viral growth of businesses through a few historical stages. Tupperware is a good early example, but the book really takes off when he delves into the dawn of the web, a period the author has a tremendous grasp on. He knows this history and the people who shaped it as well as anyone, and brings to it a shrewd analysis that carries through to the more current examples. Unlike too many other books in the category, it is extremely well-reported.

For someone who grew up alongside the Internet, reading the book gave me a richer understanding of the developments that brought us to the current stage. It's impossible not to notice that without a Web there is no Mosaic there is no Netscape there is no IE there is no Google there is no Myspace, Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, there is no whatever's next. Every one of those businesses grew in a strikingly similar way. Which means that the next ones will as well; a powerful lesson for anyone working in the digital space.

Viral Loop is a rare business/tech book that looks back lucidly at the past, is astonishingly relevant to what is happening TODAY, and won't seem the least bit dated in the coming years--if anything, I bet it'll seem prescient.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Who said business books have to be boring? October 22, 2009
As a marketing director who has been challenged to grow my business rapidly -- and in new distribution channels -- I found this book to be an excellent resource. Penenberg writes about some of the most spectacular success stories in business history, all of which grew incredibly fast by incorporating what he calls a "viral loop." As he puts it, companies such as Skype, Facebook, PayPal, and eBay, grew because their users spread their product for them -- with no need for a marketing budget!

But this book it's not just a bunch of boring case studies. Penenberg tells GREAT stories. Even if you aren't interested in marketing or business I bet you'd like this book. Viral Loop is challenging--it's not dumbed down by any means--yet it's really fun; it's informative but also entertaining. I defy you to read the prologue with the founders of HotorNot and not laugh out loud in spots. Who said business books have to be drab and
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Start from Scratch and Ride the Viral Loop March 18, 2010
Viral Loop, the Power of Pass-it-on by Adam L Penenberg
Sceptre/Hodder & Stoughton, 2009
Book Review by Georgy S Thomas
The word viral has its origins in medicine. But there's some divergence between how it's understood in the physical world and in the virtual world. Most people do not spread viruses intentionally in real life. But online, while there are harmful viruses designed to make users unintentionally spread them, users also enthusiastically spread the word about sites they dig, a process referred to as going viral. When a company grows because each new user begets more users, it's said to be powered by the ``viral expansion loop''. Viral business models are not entirely foreign to the physical world. Amway and Tupperware are classic examples of companies which have virality imprinted in their DNAs. ``Virality is, however, better suited to the frictionless environment of the internet, where enough clicks can project a message to millions of people.'' Adam L Penenberg notes that during the past 15 years, a few of the world's marqué companies ``started from scratch and then rode a viral loop'' to unprecedented success. Through this book, the former Forbes journalist and professor of Journalism at New York University, is attempting to tell us how they did it.
But first, a listing of the shared characteristics of viral expansion loop businesses:
* Web-based: The internet is their natural turf.
* Free: Users consume the product for free, at least initially.
* Organizational technology: Only users create content. Promoters merely provide the tools to organize it.
* Simple concept: Easy to use.
* Built-in vitality: Users spread word purely out of their own self-interest.
Read more ›
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Needs Updating November 3, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Decent narrative history of viral loops, but outdated and generally not worth the time required to flip through its pages
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Save your time January 15, 2013
By michalu
This book is a compilation of tabloid style stories of successful entrepreneurs who happened to build businesses that went viral. No in-depth analysis just easy read for teenagers. This could be easily summed up in 10 pages. I found it complete and utter waste of time - mainly because you hardly learn something new nor will it expand your knowledge in any useful way.
The title is there only to sell as word "viral" sounds hot these days.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Read for anyone interested in Start-ups
Adam's an incredible writer that has a unique way of navigating through the complexities of building a business. Read more
Published 2 days ago by Pablo Brown-Rodriguez
2.0 out of 5 stars Possibly, I expected something different.
I ordered and audiobook version of "Viral Loop: From Facebook to Twitter, How Today's Smartest Businesses Grow... Read more
Published 4 days ago by Xena
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Much Insight but Beautiful Read
Noticing the title, I automatically assumed that this book was going to share insights on how to build a viral business. Read more
Published 8 months ago by J. Louis
1.0 out of 5 stars Ooof
Terrible purchase. Get all the same information from reading some blogs or engaging more on twitter. Not worth the time/effort.
Published 9 months ago by Tom Simon
5.0 out of 5 stars Exciting & totally insightful
The book presents the history of virality from physical products like Topperware to web era services like myspace, facebook & twitter. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Dima-Okojie Idemudia
4.0 out of 5 stars More about the stories than the reasons
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... Read more
Published on May 21, 2011 by Robert D. Crane
5.0 out of 5 stars 10+ Stars!! Read this book before you make your next move in biz!!
Wow!!! How I wish I read this book all the years that I've been struggling with Internet biz. If you are serious about making it in today's biz, whether online or offline, read... Read more
Published on April 28, 2011 by Billy
5.0 out of 5 stars Virology for Business People
Some say that in order to understand today's viral business models, one should read a book on virology or epidemiology. Read more
Published on April 18, 2011 by Franco Arda
4.0 out of 5 stars Viral Marketing: What is it, How to do it.
Viral marketing is perhaps THE key marketing objective of savvy Internet firms, both large and small. This book - while FAR from perfect - is the best overview to the topic. Read more
Published on November 26, 2010 by Jason L. Mcdonald
4.0 out of 5 stars Know your viral dot com history
This book is truly fascinating. The book covers the origins, the rise and fall of several dot coms.
The author, interestingly, starts with Tupperware, a company that has... Read more
Published on November 21, 2010 by Vivek V. Chandran
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