Review of Viral Loop

Viral LoopIf you are interested in using the Internet to grow your business virally, then Viral Loop: From Facebook to Twitter, How Today’s Smartest Businesses Grow Themselves is a must-read.

I bought this book as part of my search for the “Not to be missed” books of 2009 (in preparation for the second annual business book awards).  And I’m glad I’ve gotten to it before the end of the year because I believe that it is going to be my bible for helping small businesses build their brand and business online.

Viral Loop literally dissects and breaks apart the code behind what makes some businesses and ideas go viral and others go fizzle. The first sentence of the book had me completely hooked.

“Two Heinekens into a lazy Tuesday afternoon, James Hong, a twenty-seven-year-old dot-com refugee from Mountain View California, was listening to his roommate, Jim Young, a Berkeley graduate student in electrical engineering, wax on about a woman he had spotted at a party the previous weekend. Young, also twenty-seven, insisted she was a “perfect 10.” Hong didn’t believe him. He knew his roommate had a thing for “goth,” while Hing’s own tastes were more Abercrombie & Fitch. What the world needed, they agreed, was a metric to reliably rate someone’s looks.”

This book was not only educational, but really entertaining. That’s because the author, Adam L. Penenberg, is a journalism professor and assistant director of the Business and Economics Program at New York University. He has written for Fast Company, Inc., Slate, Wired, and a series of other well known magazines. And you can tell that he is an expert in explaining highly technical information to an audience that needs to learn and understand it, but doesn’t have the time or the inclination to do all the research that’s required to get there.

How to Read Viral Loop

The book is broken up into three major sections:

  • I Viral Businesses: Penenberg gives context to the viral business model by going into detail about the grandfathers of the viral business model:  Tupperware, Mosaic and Ning are just a few. If you’re thinking about using a viral model, you’ll want to pay attention because each of these stories holds a key to the foundations of a good viral loop.
  • II Viral Marketing: This section continues to lead the reader from the basics of viral marketing and shows you how these same principles are applied to other businesses. Perhaps the most striking thing to me about this section is how perennial a good business model is. In this section the key story is about Hotmail and how they used the “home party” idea as inspiration to spread the word about Hotmail by placing something in the footer of their e-mails.
  • III Viral Networks: This is where everything you’ve read before comes into play. This book is not for the weak-at-Internet-strategy-heart. In this section you learn about building an architecture that can sustain the masses that will throng to your site if your viral loop is good enough.

You’ll want to read this book slowly and surely page by page, chapter by chapter so that you can be sure to get every bit of viral history, company story and business model.

Why Read Viral Loop

At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, you can’t afford to run a business in this economy without reading this book. The historical perspective combined with the real-life stories and wrapped up in the high quality story telling that Penenberg brings makes Viral Loop a must read for 2009.

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Ivana Taylor About the Author: Ivana Taylor is CEO of Third Force, a strategic firm that helps small businesses get and keep their ideal customer.  She’s the co-author of the book “Excel for Marketing Managers” and proprietor of DIYMarketers, a site for in-house marketers.  Her blog is Strategy Stew.


Ivana Taylor Ivana Taylor is the Book Editor for Small Business Trends. She is responsible for directing the site’s book review program and manages the team of professional book reviewers. She also spearheads the annual Small Business Book Awards. Ivana publishes DIYMarketers, where she shares daily do-it-yourself marketing tips, and is co-author of "Excel for Marketing Managers."

8 Reactions
  1. Ivana,

    I enjoy your book reviews. Now I have to add another to the reading list! 😉 The excerpt got me thinking if it described the site called “hot or not”?

    I will mention this book for Kalle Blomqvist (a.k.a Charlie Bloom) of I think it will be a perfect match for his sites NetBachelor & NetBachelorette.

  2. I agree! I am a small business owner. I read the book. I am so glad I did. It really makes you stop in your tracks and ask yourself, how am I going to capture the full power of the web. If you don’t need it yourself then you must get it for a friend or relative who can use it. They will thank you forever.

  3. Well, it looks like my holiday reading list now includes Viral Loop. Just wondering, how much does it get into the details of how the entrepreneurs executed?