Having an app go viral is the dream. Once we all start making our own apps, we go to bed at night staring at the ceiling and dreaming about what it would be like if we woke up tomorrow with a viral app, $10,000 richer. I’ve spent plenty of my own nights falling asleep imagining what it would be like if I were worth a million dollars next months because my apps went viral.

Well, luckily for all of us, making your app go viral isn’t totally up to chance. Every app that goes viral has a few easy design essentials in common. Not every app with these design essentials will go viral, but no app without them won’t be.

  1. Add incentives to share in your app.  Apps go viral when people share them because their friends are sharing them, but there has to be someone who shared first.You can kick off this sharing with an incentive built into the app.  For Farmville, this is new plants or faster growing crops.  For Uber, this involves giving ride credits to people who get others to sign up. For Acorns, you get an extra $5 to invest. “Share” buttons are seen as obnoxious, but everyone wants additional benefits.
  2. Prompt people to share your app.  Hey, you can’t get what you want if you don’t ask. If you want users to share your app, ask them to. For instance, when you win the game 2048, it prompts you to share your success with your friends on facebook. Make sure to ask at the right time - don’t ask ten seconds after they’ve opened the app. Ask two or three minutes later, after they’ve had a positive interaction with your app.If possible, ask them to share positive things about the experience. For games, this makes sense - post your high score.  Perhaps for to-do lists, it could be prompting the user to post about having completed the most tasks in one day they ever have, to let their friends know how productive they’ve been today.  Get creative with your prompts to share.  (You could even combine the share prompt with a referral code).Some people feel skeezy about asking people to do things like that. I did for a long time. But it’s not skeezy - how are the users going to know what you want if you don’t ask? This can be compared to asking for a raise at work - you can sit around and hope your boss will notice your work and proactively give you a raise, but you’re going to get it a lot faster if you say “I’ve been doing a good job,” and go ask for one.
  3. Have pre-written share content. I’m going to be polite and assume my reader hasn’t been to college - In college, people often need referral letters to get an internships and take advantage of university resources. These referrals need to come from professors, notoriously busy people. They request that students write their own referral letter and provide it to the professor, so that the professor need only sign it and return it.Assume all your users are as busy as this professor. They may or may not be, but no matter how busy they are, their app is not a priority to you. If you want them to do something for you, make it as easy as possible. Pre-write any posts you want them to share, and don’t require them to do anything other than click “Okay.”

By no measure are these guarantees that your app will become popular or viral. But if you give users every chance to share your app, there’s a lot greater chance they will.