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

4.3 out of 5 stars 49 customer reviews
ISBN-10: 1401323499
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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 (October 13, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1401323499
  • ASIN: B0040RMF7U
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,515,507 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 Forbes.com, 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

Top Customer Reviews

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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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
As an artist always reaching for exposure, I'm always interested in how others are making the web work for them. So I was excited for this book.

The Viral Loop is a collection of case studies of companies that rocketed to the top using viral loops as promotion. Everything from Tupperware to Hotmail to Facebook. Viral loops are easy enough to understand. The created products that aren't much good unless your friends are doing it too. So you spread the word.

And a lot of the company backgrounds are interesting. There's a lot of background intrigue covered here, but mostly stuff you can find in other books. It makes a good primer for each company's story though.

The problem I see is that most of the companies profiled are reaching a maturation stage. And the things they didn't to kick start their virality won't work as well now. Like RockYou posted six times on MySpace and took off from their with thousands and millions signing up for their service. Not exactly something that will work these days.

He does go into the new ad unit of "time" rather than clicks and that's very interesting. I would have liked to have seen profiles on some up and coming companies and what they're doing right now to grow their business. There's a few profiles of companies that didn't work out, like Bebo. But I really wanted to see what didn't work about businesses that didn't make it. That's way more educational than "Omidyar publicized AuctionWeb (Ebay) on Usenet groups and what's-new sections of websites."

This book is not a waste of time, but not all it could be either.
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