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Surprising Data About Viral Growth Through Social Media

Published: January 26, 2009

Author: David Rodnitzky

I’ve written several times about my experiences launching and growing a networking group (Online Lead Generation) on LinkedIn. What started with 60 friends in the lead gen industry in March 2008 is now a 4500 member, worldwide group, apparently one of the 1% largest LinkedIn groups on the planet.
My assumption about the growth of this group has been that it would see “hockey-stick” growth. In other words, membership would grow slowly at first until there was a critical mass of members, at which point the virality (network effects) of the group would kick in and I’d see a huge spike in weekly membership requests.
And this is what I anecdotally observed to be happening – it seemed that the number of applications was increasing each week. Well, nerd that I am, I decided that to really assess the growth curve, I had to get some real numbers in front of me. To wit, I downloaded an Excel sheet of the date of every member’s admittance to the group and then created a graph showing the progression of growth. Here’s the chart:

As you can see from this chart, the slope of growth is basically constant. There is a slight uptick about three months after inception, and then a significant uptick in mid-December, but beyond that, the growth is very constant. Moreover, I believe the growth that has been achieved in the last month is not organic but rather the result of global changes within LinkedIn (specifically, LinkedIn has started to include a list of “recommended groups” when you login to one of your group pages). So other than a bump right after the first three months of existence, the growth has been steady ever since.
This really surprises me. I’ve always assumed that viral growth was exponential in nature. I’m not a viral marketing expert, but perhaps this suggests that there are different types of virality – some steady and some exponential. I’d be curious to hear the opinion of experts in the space.

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