Learning Viral: Viral Emails of Tagged.com

April 10, 2008 - Get free updates of new posts here

There is a crew from Harvard/Stanford that shall go nameless but they pwn viral marketing. For some reason viral marketing is thrown off like the word love at a frat party. The best way to learn viral is to look at the people who’ve done it well. What is viral? My definition is the act of using the site exponentially grows it solely by the user base spreading the product.

Anyways, I will highlight some marketing techniques incorporating viral that we can all learn from.

Viral Marketing of Tagged.com
1- Gender. They show me hot women of different races. How do they know I really prefer type X. I registered as male, that’s why they do this.
2- This is a retention play since I haven’t been to the site in x days. It’s a timed email.
3- The url is tracking my every click or not. a) did I open the email. They know this cause the image loads or not. b) which picture did I click on c) which link did I click on
4- Personal. Customized subject line. noah, meet people faster than ever
5- Action. After I click a link they dropped me on a page with all users that are online. Yay, I can real time talk to other people now.

Hockey stick growth = viral

If you like these I will put out more mathematical ways and techniques of making your product viral. Thoughts?

This is part of a series called “Learning Viral”. For the other posts in the series click below:

Learning Viral: What my Brita taught me about Commitment

Learning Viral: The Leech Method

Learning Viral: Add-on or Natural

Learning Viral: Track Everywhere from Linkedin.com

Learning Viral: The Basic Viral Model

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28 responses to “Learning Viral: Viral Emails of Tagged.com

  1. Mark Jen Reply

    Nice analysis. Remember though, you’re only looking at one side of the equation. The other side is the analytics you need to run to check click through rates and user engagement on the site after click-through. Then you tune everything 🙂

  2. Joe Suh Reply

    Yes – keep it coming. I remember your “consulting” days when you gave Carol and myself a boatload of examples to learn from. These insights are not as apparent to other people as they are to you – share them on your blog 🙂

  3. dave mcclure Reply

    good shit noah. more please 🙂

    (plus let’s crowdsource some of it in the comments, as usual!)

    btw: what do you think of the subject line in the email you got?
    i’m always interested in subject line, subject line, subject line.

    too many people spend WAAAAAAAYYYYY too much fucking time on body text, and not enough time coming up with great subject lines.

  4. Noah Kagan Reply


    So true!!! When I finally looked at #s of opens for the Community Next emails and then to the click-rate back to the site, I cried. It’s embarrassing how low those #s turn out to be. Changing/testing/improving that process improves things beyond multiples over.

    I will write the next article on email marketing tools to optimize virality.

  5. Juan Reply

    Noah, of course I would like to read more stuff about this, cause more than once we’ve to argue about people’s privacy when trying to make an app super viral. A good example is the one you showed, because it is well known that when woman appear, man will click and click, but is it fair to work on any of this kind of technique to achieve exponential growth?

  6. Jon Bischke Reply

    Good post Noah, questions for you (or anyone who wants to chime in)…

    #1 – How effective is including a pic on tracking opens? Isn’t gmail set by default to not display images. I guess it’s better than nothing but wondering if that’s the best way to do it.

    #2 – This is great as a one-time email but doing this too frequently could piss off your userbase (we’ve all subscribed to *those* services). How best to gauge whether you’re doing this…unsubscribes? complaints? just don’t give an eff?!

    Thx! Please write more. 🙂

  7. Ted Rheingold Reply

    Noah, you are totally on it.

    However, what’s going on with Tagged is not virality it’s, um, pronography ;> It’s STD-grade an it’s not likely anyone that isn’t showing woman in their skivvies in adultfriendfinder-style talk-to-me now could have the same success.

    I do think tagged (and you for pointing it out) is brilliant to land people on the page of people currently online so they are not false advertising (assuming you never meet your new online friend in real life) and they are doing an amazing job engaging their audience.

    But I just don’t think it’s safe to compare emails with semi-nudity content to anything else ;>

  8. Anand Chhatpar Reply

    I also remember with Tagged.com, when I signed up for their service, they assumed that my username/password provided for their service was the same as my email password and they used that perfectly guessed fact to get my address book from my google, yahoo and hotmail email accounts, and then, unknowingly, I clicked on a button that sent invitations to all the hundreds of email addresses they had gathered. I felt like I was tricked into it, but I admire the evil genius behind this incredible virality-enabling feature.

  9. karen Reply

    Hmmm…Ted has a good point about the pornography.

    So my suggestion is for ComNext emails from here on out, we do the same thing. Semi-nude pics. Noah–you’d better start working out if you’re going to be half-nude for our people. ;P

    I can see the percentages increasing now…

  10. Noah Kagan Reply

    Great comments / feedback everyone.


    How effective is including a pic on tracking opens?
    Pics are effective at times and others just plain text works. Check out marketing sherpa’s weekly email for great email marketing tips. One thing for many email clients that by default don’t show images is to have a table with colors and text semi-representing an image. It’s better than showing a blocked out section saying image goes here.

    2- How to gauge the effectiveness?
    Best way to gauge is to measure click throughs, ask your users and your unsub rate. Definitely give an eff. i think its 100x harder to get a subscriber than to lose one. IE. keep the ones you have happy.
    Thx! Please write more. 🙂

  11. Noah Kagan Reply


    You have to remember catering to their audiences. People click on good looking people as opposed to naked pics of me in your email:)

    If it was a dog email per se I would put dog bones, sexy dogs or loldog photos…

  12. Christie Reply

    Great info Noah. Tagged.com is a very interesting study. As someone else mentioned my business partner accidently sent out an invite to her gmail contacts…. quite embarassing considering the girl was licking a lolly pop on the cover of site back then. (not sure if this is still true)

    However….interestingly enough it was amazing how many people who received the email signed up for the site!

    Did they sign up because it came from a trusted source (my biz partner)?

    Or did they sign up because of the lure of some hot chick licking a lolly pop?


  13. Yuval Reply

    While the email discussed in the post is an example of good marketing (given the 5 points you raised), and it may be directly related to the traffic rise presented in the chart , I fail to understand why you would consider this viral marketing.

    By your own definition viral marketing will grow the user base and not (specifically) traffic. Are you suggesting this email got forwarded a lot?

    Hope I’m making sense here…

  14. noah kagan Reply


    Great post. This is not direct viral marketing. This is related to the retention of a viral product. Grow the userbase really large and then figure out how to keep them around or get them to come back. A viral part is that when they come back there is a decent chance you can encourage them to invite more people at that point.


  15. terry chay Reply

    Nice post Noah.

    I define Viral Marketing as: the act of people using the product brings more people to using the product.

    When that user brings in more than one user over the time delay of the difference equation, then the growth is exponential, but you can be “viral” without being exponential growth. The other aspect is the restriction of “use the product” which allows you to distinguish between word of mouth marketing/tipping point.

    Disclaimer: I work for Tagged.