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Viral Elements That Make Your App Successful

The biggest accomplishment on iTunes and Google Play is an app that has gone viral. It's an app that consumers are eagerly sharing across the Internet, via social media, email, instant chat, etc. For an app developer, it's the best case scenario as word of mouth is much more effective than any paid advertising.

It’s in our human nature to share what we like. We are naturally inclined to inform others about things we encounter. But do we share everything around us? No, we only share and spread the things we consider to be interesting, valuable, and worth our time. 

In this article, we will learn what a viral app is, what viral elements are, examples of viral elements in popular apps that went viral, and what kind of viral element will be best suited for your app.


What is a viral app?

What is a viral app?

A viral app will get people to interact and attract them to engage with it. A viral app is the one that gets shared voluntarily by users because they love it so much that they want others to experience the same joy when they use it. 

An app goes viral through its users when they share it to their friends, on social media, or any other communication channel. The app owner doesn’t need to spend a single dime behind the virality of the app. This form of sharing gets others on-board easily because people tend to ignore and disbelieve paid adverts.

A viral app has certain characteristics that makes it different from other apps. It must have something in value for users to share it to others. The app must enable easy sharing so others can join. It must incentivize users to share the app in the form of various rewards depending on the type of app. Finally, the value of the app must increase with the increase in usage of the app.


What is a viral element?

What is a viral element?

A viral element is a single feature or quirk of the app that makes the app go viral. It can be anything that increases the value of the app in one way or another. The million dollar apps that we always talk about contain one or many viral elements that makes everyone go crazy for them. 

Without these viral elements, your app cannot be successful. It’s not necessary that all viral apps have the same element. In fact, the viral element will differ from app to app. Even apps within the same industry can have different viral elements.

Viral elements are responsible for users to fall into the viral loop. A viral loop is a cycle which starts with the user finding an app, installing it, finding something of value in it that makes him share the app, and finally makes him share the app to his family and friends. The loop completes when a new user joins the app through his referral. 

But simply asking the user to share the app without any incentive or value addition is a flawed model. Only a small percentage of users will share the app and even a smaller percentage of users install the app from these invites.

Instead, app owners must focus on incorporating viral elements into their app that engages the users so the value of the app goes up and they will share it to get rewarded. Even the new users joining will get certain incentives for using the app so the success rate is higher compared to simply asking the user to share the app. It’s a win-win situation for both the users and app owners.


Viral elements in popular million dollar apps

Viral elements in popular million dollar apps

If you wonder why certain apps go viral and become million dollar apps, it is because they have one or more viral elements in them that causes it to go viral. To help you understand these viral elements, we list 10 examples of such million dollar apps and what element(s) is responsible for its virality.

1. WhatsApp


WhatsApp is one of the most popular messaging and VOIP service apps that is owned by Facebook. It is a one-stop app for users to send texts, images, videos, voice notes, contacts, share geo-location, share statuses, and documents.

WhatsApp has over a billion users and there's a good reason why it became so viral and popular in such a short span of time. Since its inception in 2009, WhatsApp has faced many rivals and competitors but it has still managed to remain on the top and widely used.

One of the main reasons is because it was the first app that allowed free messaging on mobile devices. At the time of launch, it directly competed with SMS, which costs money to send but all you needed was an active internet connection with WhatsApp. 

It didn’t stop at text messaging. Gradually features such as VOIP calling and other features were added. What made WhatsApp gain mass adoption was if any of your contacts also had WhatsApp installed on their phone, you could connect with them instantly through the app.

For the contacts that weren’t using the app, WhatsApp made it easy to invite them by allowing them to send an invite link via SMS. Due to these reasons, it quickly became the gold standard of messaging apps and continues to do so even with the addition of a hundreds of similar apps in the app market.

2. Airbnb


Airbnb is an American marketplace for lodging, homestays, and tourism accommodations. Airbnb allows you to find places to stay in a certain location through its app. It also allows you to host your home to visitors and tourists.

Even though Airbnb is not the first company to provide this service, it definitely is the fastest growing app in this industry. There is a reason why it quickly became viral. Airbnb was successful in understanding the market demand and providing a solution for that demand. 

The reservation rates of Airbnb were always lesser than the local rates of a hotel. The Airbnb app allowed anybody with an extra room or free space to become a host. The ease through which the whole process of renting and renting out carried out in Airbnb pulled in a lot of users in a short period of time.

Another area where Airbnb outshined its competitors and gained an edge is they simply didn’t focus on traditional rooms or lodgings. Airbnb allowed you to rent condos, castles, houseboats, barns, mansions, tree houses, and even caves! 

As the user base grew for the app, Airbnb expanded its service to more locations. All of these elements combined made Airbnb a viral app and it’s no wonder the company is evaluated at $38 billion today.

3. Uber


When you think of taxi booking apps, the name Uber first comes to mind. Launched in 2009, it took the taxi service industry by storm. The app connected passengers with registered drivers based on proximity between them.

This simple yet powerful idea along with competitive pricing made Uber popular and viral rapidly. Uber boasts 110 million monthly users and is valued at $45 billion as of November 2019. So, what viral element does the app have that attracts so many users?

Uber rewarded users when they referred the app to others via an invite code. The ones joining the app through the referral code were also rewarded in the form of a free ride. This viral loop continues as the new user will then invite another friend for the free ride. 

Simply inviting them wasn’t enough. Uber had to provide reasons for users to use the app. The low fares compared to conventional taxis made it the preferred service. Along with this, the ability to check the driver’s profile and rate them based on their service has also enhanced the user experience of the app. 

Uber also provided other benefits such as ride sharing, late night service, and constant update on ride progress and location.

4. Snapchat


Snapchat is an instant messaging and image sharing app with a single big twist: the messages disappear after a while. This single feature is the viral element for the app that made it so popular today.

The app allows you to share stories in the form of images and videos that are visible to friends for a limited time. Apart from that, you can send disappearing content individually that gets auto-deleted after they have seen it.

Another viral element of the app is the various filters that it allows you to apply on images and videos. The dog filter especially made snapchat stand out. People would share selfies on other social media of their pics with the filter and it would cause other users to try out snapchat themselves.

The visual interface of the app is simple but very appealing. Snapchat uses rich, vibrant colors with an innovative layout that makes users want to use the app. There are other features that add to the user experience such as shaking the phone to report a bug adding flair to the app.

Another viral element of the app is the streak feature which makes the app popular among the younger demographic. If you message a friend, you earn a streak. If you message them again within 24 hours, the streak builds up. This makes users return to the app and use it to maintain their streak.

5. TikTok


TikTok, originally known as, was launched in 2014 by Chinese entrepreneurs Alex Zhu and Luyu Yang. grew in numbers over the years until it was acquired by ByteDance in November 2017. 

ByteDance already owned an app named TikTok, which was available in China only. ByteDance merged the two apps into one single app and named it TikTok. Today, TikTok is one of the most popular apps on the planet with over 700 million active monthly users.

The app has been downloaded over 2 billion times, users spend an average of an hour per day on the app, and it is used in over 154 countries in 75 different languages. But what caused the app to go viral?

TikTok is a platform that allows users to share 15 second videos with music, movie dialogues, and recordings as background audio. It behaves as a social network because users can follow each other and leave comments and messages.

When you open the app for the first time, you are greeted with a variety of videos from featured content creators. This feature makes it obvious to the newcomer what the platform is all about. Many celebrities, sports personalities, and major brands have joined TikTok to take advantage of the massive user base.

Due to the short video length, it is easier to digest the content on TikTok compared to other music platforms such as Youtube or Spotify. It is evident from TikTok’s success that micro video content is the new norm.

6. FaceApp


In 2019, a photo-editing app took the world by storm. It allowed users to edit their photos by applying filters that made them look younger, older, or even swap genders. This viral app is called FaceApp and is now one of the most popular image editing apps.

FaceApp was launched in 2017 by Wireless Labs for both Android and iOS. But the app really gained virality in 2019 when it made rounds in social media. It added controversial filters that enabled users to change their ethnicity and lighten the skin tones of dark people.

There were also rumours of FaceApp sharing user information and search data making the app gain more notoriety. But the negative press actually caused the app to go more viral and popular. 
FaceApp boasts over 200 million downloads, 86 million users have uploaded their photos in this app, and during its viral phase, nearly 2 million users joined the platform daily. The app became the top photography app in both the Google Play Store and iOS App Store.

FaceApp had the viral element of including its name as the watermark in all images edited using the app. Whenever users would share their photos to other places, others would see the name FaceApp and join the app.  

7. Candy Crush Saga

Candy Crush Saga

Candy Crush Saga is an app that needs no introduction. It is the most popular successful casual-puzzle game of all time. The game is so influential, it is credited to have given birth to a whole new genre of puzzle game.

At its core, it is a very simple game with a very simple objective. The main objective is to clear all the jelly by matching jellies of the same color. The lesser moves you take, the more points you score.

The game has a very attractive interface with visually appealing design elements making it an enjoyable experience to play. All of these may have increased the popularity of the game, but there is a viral element of the app that isn’t talked about often.

There are lives in the game that allow you to continue playing the game. When you have lost these lives, you are given the option to either spend money to continue or share the app with 3 of your friends to continue playing the game.

With the game being so competitive, most users would rather invite 3 friends than quit the game and this is the viral loop that made this app go viral rapidly. By rewarding users with in-app benefits in return for sharing the app to friends is the recipe for success for Candy Crush Saga.

 8. Tinder


Tinder is the world’s most popular app for meeting new people. The platform allows you to match up with people who are close to your location. You can customize the type of people you want to match up with by filtering your search.

With 26 million matches per day, and over 30 billion matches to date, Tinder’s popularity is unmatched for. It has no competition that can match its numbers in this regard. Tinder has tons of great features that has made it so popular. 

Tinder was found in 2012 by Hatch Labs. It uses a double opt-in concept that acts as its viral component. From the list of potential matches, you are able to swipe right for the users you want to be matched with, and swipe left to pass. 

The swipe system is anonymous which means the users who were left swiped by you would not be notified. If you right swipe a user, and they right swipe you too, it results in a match and you can engage in a conversation with them.

Tinder’s innovative system is responsible for revolutionizing the dating game. Tinder app has been successful in lowering down the barrier in meeting people around you and hence the app has so many active users.

9. Spotify


Spotify is a digital music, podcast and video streaming service that provides access to music from artists all over the world. Just installing their app will allow you free access to millions of songs. 

All you need to do is sign up using your email or Facebook account and you can get started. The major viral element of this app is the vast collection of music that’s available and how it’s all free to listen to.

The app is well designed with an intuitive interface and is easy to navigate. The audio and video quality of Spotify is great and optimized for data usage. Spotify allows you to connect with your friends and share your collection with them and also follow theirs.

Spotify has a lot of features that keep the users hooked and brings in new users. This includes smart playlist, Spotify connect, Spotify pets, Spotify kids, and Spotify stations. Due to all these incentives, Spotify has become a pioneer in the streaming industry.

Spotify has over 285 million monthly users, with 44% of these users using the app on a daily basis. There are over 50 million tracks available on the platform, with the market cap standing at $35 billion.

10. DoorDash


DoorDash is a popular on-demand food delivery app based in San Francisco. It was founded in 2013 by Tony Xu, Stanley Tang, and Andy Fang. DoorDash is the most popular food delivery service in the US, offering the greatest selection of restaurants, with over 300,000 menus across 4000+ cities

There are many food delivery services for consumers to choose from but people keep returning to the ones that offer the most benefits and incentives. DoorDash is among those who are able to retain old customers while bringing in new users.

With features such as contactless delivery, improved maps, dual rating, and live tracking, DoorDash is the preferred choice for food delivery service. DoorDash is worth over $800 million with over 55 million app downloads. 

DoorDash’s referral program is the viral element of the app. When an existing user invites someone to use the app, they get credits which can be used back in the app. Up to 25 customers can be added using the referral link which makes it very enticing for the user and encourages him to invite his friends to the app.


What viral elements can you add in your app

What viral elements can you add in your app

So far we have seen what a viral app is, what a viral element is, and the viral elements present in million dollar apps. But what kind of viral elements can you add in your app to make your app viral?

Simply adding viral elements without careful planning or strategy won’t ensure success for your app. The short answer is you must add those elements that match with your industry. We have also learned that simply asking your users to share your app won’t make it go viral.

There needs to be some sort of incentive for the user to share your app and get others to join. In this section, we will list certain viral elements that you can place in your app and get it to become popular.

Social media sharing with an incentive

Social media sharing with an incentive

We have discussed how simply asking users to share your app is not an effective way to get your app viral. You can place attractive social sharing buttons, but if you don’t give the users any motivation or benefit, they won’t oblige.

For example, if your app is a game, you can offer in-app benefits for sharing your app to their friends. If the user has completed a certain objective, give them the option to them to share it on social media. This will give them a sense of accomplishment. 

Ask for reviews

Ask for reviews

The goal is to ask users to rate or review your app without being demanding or pushy. If you ask nicely for positive reviews, most users would gladly give you one. The app stores promote your app when you get positive reviews, thus increasing the popularity of your app and being viral.

Avoid interrupting the user in the middle of an action so that it doesn’t disrupt their flow. Make sure you don’t spam these messages as the user might get irritated. Asking for reviews with a personalized message will increase your chances of getting a positive response.

Reward your users

Reward your users

Rewarding is a psychological mechanism that works great in all walks of life. With apps, it is no different. Rewarding both the user who invites and the new user who joins the invite is a recipe for app virality.  

The type of reward depends on the type of app you have. For example, for taxi booking, online grocery shopping, and food delivery apps,  discounts through referral programs works great. For games, you can offer in-game bonuses and rewards. Offers like buy one get one free also motivates users to use your app.

Provide value in your app

Provide value in your app

Through social media sharing, rewarding, and reviews, you will pull in a lot of users. But to make them stay and use your app is equally important. The longer your app is used, the better. People will talk about your app, and word-of-mouth is the best promotion for your app.

For this, you need to provide some value to keep the users engaged in your app. You can do this through valuable features. Also, use notifications to remind users about your app without being spammy. 

Design the app for people’s needs

Design the app for people’s needs

Sometimes, simply focusing on the user’s needs is enough for your app to go viral. If you provide something of incredible value, users will flock into your app. For example, there are countless messaging apps. But there is a reason why WhatsApp is the most popular among them.

WhatsApp focused on the user’s demands and needs and focused on improving on those areas. They didn’t introduce any fancy features but continue to remain at the top. Since it makes the people’s life easier, the app will continue to grow in numbers.


What we have learned is the million dollar apps that go viral doesn’t happen by mistake. There is careful planning and strategy that revolves around choosing the right viral elements. The takeaway message is this: if you cannot find any viral element for your app, it cannot be successful.

The app market is saturated as it is. There are over 5 million apps in the app store. You need the appropriate viral elements to make your app stand out and entice users to install your app. If you cannot find any viral element for your app, find similar apps in your niche or industry that went viral and analyze what they’ve done. You will surely find something that works out for you.

Royex Technologies is a mobile app development company based in Dubai. We have worked with more than 300 clients globally since 2013. We have developed over 50 mobile apps of all kinds so we have the skill and expertise to deliver you a quality finished product that will grow your business. For more information please visit our website at or call us now at +971566027916

About the Author

rajib roy

Rajib Roy

Rajib Roy, a seasoned industry professional with 18 years of experience in developing groundbreaking tech projects. With six published books available on Amazon, his expertise is recognized worldwide. Rajib Roy is the visionary CEO and Founder of Royex Technologies, leading the way in innovative solutions.