Using social mechanisms to turn mobile app users into active tribe members

Humans are by nature social beings. They tend to group and socialize with others that share their interests. It is around these common interests that people meet each other, get introduced to new friends, compete with each other, show off their accomplishments, exchange knowledge and evolve themselves. This basic concept can also be applied to mobile app design. When someone choses to download an app, they do so because they find its context of interest to them and value in its use. It goes without saying that others that download the same app have also identified the same traits, thus forming a group of like-minded individuals, not that different from the society around us. That group of individuals comprises the app’s user base.

Embedding the right social mechanisms within an app, can initiate interactions between its users, not only keep them engaged within the app, but also attract new users too. Different social actions and mechanisms, when timed correctly and placed strategically within an app, can capitalize on the need people have to socialize, and result in a certain boost in the app’s retention.

Let them bring the others in – The promoters

A common approach in gaming is to let users share what small wins they may have with their friends. Once again, the gaming world follows the real world. In real life, people rush to tell their friends about the new purchase they made, or their latest achievement. Share their pride with them; perhaps brag a bit, too. The same applies to apps, where users can easily share their achievements with others, piquing their interests and attracting new users to the app. Taking advantage of the basic human emotion to satisfy one’s pride can be very important in prompting users to share their in-app achievements. Add to that the ability to ask for help from others outside of the app and you will find new users lining up to try out an app. Another common practice in the gaming and apps industry is to “encourage” users to share information about the app in exchange for some sort of in-app reward, having them do the work of spreading the word about the app, across different social circles.

Share a moment of joy

Providing easy-to-share actions at the right time to a user in-app is really important. For example, when using Imgur app and you have seen a funny gif that made you laugh you will most probably click share button if it’s easily accessible, to share it with friends and share that feeling.

Brag about it, show off!

Runtastic, the well-known fitness app allows users to easily share their results/performance in the activity they participated in, with the rest of the world. This will drive their motivation and gain them more support. Once done, congratulations and comments start rolling in. Whose self esteem doesn’t get a big boost of confidence when showered with admiration and appreciation by their peers?

Ask for help

“For better or worse”, a husband and wife promise to each other. Not that different in the gaming world. Users stick with in-app friends through their bad times too. And users will find that giving their users the option to reach out and ask for help from their peers, through simple and easy sharing actions will not only result in them being “rescued” by their fellow users, but also drive more people to the app, increasing awareness and helping acquisition. The Find The Word app uses this approach excellently, by allowing its users to ask for help when they get stuck in a level.

Get rewards for asking others to join

Encouraging users to share an app or send an invite to their social networks in exchange for a reward is a common practise in the apps world. But, like with everything else, timing is everything. The probability of a user choosing to share the app he is using, is far greater if the timing is right. Dangle that virtual coin that the user has just run out of, like a carrot in front of a rabbit, and they will instantly go for it. The dating app happn, for example, offers users free happn credits when a friend joins the app. That seems like a great option when a user has just run out of happn credits, but may be reluctant to go ahead and make an in-app purchase.

Referral schemes as a recruitment process

The introduction of some sort of referral scheme can help the virality of an app and also drive user acquisition. We are working in a similar way at Pollfish. Pollfish is a mobile monetization platform, delivering surveys instead of ads through mobile apps. When we introduced a referral scheme on our Dashboard app in exchange for a boost in earnings, publishers started inviting fellow publishers, resulting in an increase of almost 15% in new partners. As with any successful business, a local customer is always one of the best ways to get qualified leads. In our case, this recruitment approach resulted in publishers bringing new quality partners with a good user base, since that would result in larger benefits for them.

Driving more and more users to achieve a specific goal

Another interesting concept that can attract users to an app is to offer them rewards if a certain goal is reached, such as a specific number of people achieving a goal. This results in exponential increase in app invitations and an ever increasing word of mouth. The DropBox Space Race mastered that concept. The DropBox Space Race was a referral program introduced by DropBox for Universities. For every successful invitation to another university student, users could earn points for their school, and earn up to a staggering 25GB for their personal use. The “Race” resulted in large numbers of invites being sent, since every user would benefit from achieving the common goal.

Let them interact – The socializers

Interaction between members of a group is one of the main reasons for its survival. People need to be able to discuss about things of common interest, ask and get their questions answered, share their emotions and establish some sort of communication, be it active or passive. Providing users of an app the social mechanisms to interact with each other and engage within the app can help retain that app audience, and build on it.

Allow reactions on other user’s content

What good is having an opinion if you cannot share it with others? Liking or disliking another’s posts or actions is one of the most common mechanisms that can be found in social platforms out there. Users are allowed to like content such as status updates, photos, links shared by friends, comments, and advertisements. A reaction like Facebook’s like or any other emoticon can mean a lot both for the one receiving it but also for the one that gives it. A user can use that to show his feelings about a specific update while the sharer will feel satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment, since good news will travel far and wide across the app community and his friends.

Moving from passive to active communication

Allowing in-app chat or commenting on other users actions is also a great way to initiate communication in a group. This takes passive communication one step further. Passive communication is, for example, following the updates or actions of one’s friends.

Allowing users to comment on each other’s actions can spike discussions and engage users in the usage of the app. A good example of that is the 9gag app, where users can easily start commenting and discuss between themselves on every update made.

Allow them to ask questions

Allowing users to go one step further and let them ask other members of an app, questions and receive responses can actually make the app really engaging. Sharing knowledge can easily help resolve problems; StackOverflow, one of the largest online communities for programmers, is one of the apps built upon this notion. It allows people to ask questions and get answers from more experienced users.

Make a community of leaders, followers and observers

Following the previous example, platforms like the one mentioned above, allow users with good expertise to share their knowledge, discuss and get to know each other, while newcomers can easily get advice. Allowing this sort of involvement while allowing others to observe and learn as well, can really help make an app community an active one. Some people will come because they want to contribute, or become mentors and others will come to learn or find solutions to things they struggle with. A solution to be given to every problem.

Social interactions out of the scope of an app

In some cases, even if users are not given the option to communicate within an app, the need for communication is so strong that app users will find a way to create a community, on different channels, outside the scope of the app. Swagbucks, for example, (a really popular gift cards reward app) does not have an active way for its users to communicate with each other. This has driven app users to create active online communities around the platform, on other channels like a dedicated subreddit, forums etc.

Compete or compare – The ambitious & curious

Unavoidably users in groups will at some point try to compete with each other or start comparing their progress and achievements. This is actually a healthy evolvement in a community, when properly controlled. Giving users a way to healthily compete against each other can drive good results and engagement in an app. Moreover, seeing what other people or your friends are doing is also part of an active community. Big social networks were built and are still being greatly used upon this concept!

Let them compete with each other

The use of leaderboards is a really good example of a social mechanism that can retain a strong interest among users in an app. When implemented correctly, leaderboards or other scoring schemes that monitor a user’s app performance within the community can actually drive competitive feelings and make users more engaged in the usage of the app. StackExhange, and StackOverflow in general, has implemented its gamification system around this concept.

Show them what their friends are doing

Another great mechanism that can be used, is showing to users how their friends are doing within the app. Being able to see how their firends actually perform can “bind” them to the app, making loyal users out of them. This is why signing into a platform with a social profile (granting access to social graph and friends list) has become quite popular lately. A great example of this approach is the Spotify app, where users can actually see what their friends are listening to.

Show them what others are talking about

We all understand people wanting to know how their friends are doing, just as well as we all want to keep up with the current trends and news. What is everyone talking about? What is currently trending in a specific app’s world? That was actually one of the main successes of Twitter, with the use of hashtags and the “what is trending where you are” feature. An app’s user base is a scale-down model of society. We all have that one nosy neighbour that knows all the comings and goings in the neighbourhood. Hashtags provide a way to easily find popular updates, posted not just by your friends, but by people in general. That takes users a step outside their existing circle of friends.

There are a number of social components that contribute to an app’s success, that app developers can choose from, when creating an app. Considering the different social mechanisms around and picking the right ones to embed into an app can be a real challenge. App publishers need to make choices that will set in motion the great wheels of app usage and engagement, and add flocks of users to their app. Now, more than ever, it is possible to boost an app’s engagement with all the options available out there: social profiles, achievements, goals, referrals, likes, upvotes and much more. Publishers can use all the help that they can get to allow their users to interact, boast about, communicate, compete against each other, invite friends and further drive their app’s acquisition.