It’s Not About Mobile App Download Numbers, It’s About User Engagement

Peggy Anne Salz has blogged about using SMS to help encourage user engagement with mobile apps, based on research by her firm and Tyntec. The white paper she links to is an interesting read, but the message that sticks out for me is when Peggy says:

“The bottom line: app developers need to work out a strategy to increase engagement, not just downloads.”

How many apps do you have on your smartphone or tablet currenty? I want you to check right now, and get a rough number in your mind. (Humour me, it’s worth it to see.)

Now, how many of those apps do you use regularly? Conversely, how many are just sitting there on your device, but you rarely if ever use them?

I have close to 100 apps, and some of my colleagues think I am conservative – they have far more on their devices.  I probably use about a dozen of them regularly. As mobile consumers, we have a lot of choice for content, entertainment and productivity applications, all competing for our attention on mobile devices. We can’t use them all regularly, so we optimize our time and focus on the ones that we like, the ones we find engaging and return to again and again.

While getting people to download and install an app that you have worked so hard to build  is important, Peggy points out that an app’s success is part of a long-term relationship:

“Smart developers understand that selling apps is a serious business. But a raft of research suggests a singular focus on driving downloads is patently flawed. It’s really how well app developers can persuade us to make their app part of our regular routine that will make or break their app business. Winning is all about making the right choices to delight us again and again.”

 

If people merely download and install our apps and then forget about them, we lose out in the long term. Sure, we might get some initial sales, but customers will forget about our brand. They won’t come back to us when they need to have a product or service solve a problem for them, and we as suppliers are lost in the great sea of available apps and service providers. We might lose many of our initial customers for good, and that hurts. When I worked in sales, I worked very hard to have repeat customers – that’s what got me through the slow times – people coming back and asking specifically for me, Jonathan, and spending their time and hard earned cash in my direction.

In her blog post, Peggy points out that using SMS (Short Message Service) is one way app developers can use mobile technology to enhance engagement and app use. With SMS integration, customers are reminded of the app, get notices on new features, and are encouraged to use it in different ways. As consumers, we may have forgotten about a great app, and a reminder once in a while might be what we need to go back. She  provides some examples of how app developers can use SMS: “…to deliver valuable content, drive traffic to the community website, and reactivate users who haven’t interacted with the app in while.”

The lesson for app developers is that app downloads are well and good, but we need to strive for user engagement even more. Peggy makes a good case for using SMS, but what other ways can you use technology and app design to drive continued use? Another area to look at is in your app design. Is it usable and user friendly? Does it solve problems that your customers have in mobile contexts? Is it reliable under different conditions in weather, temperature, lighting, and with different network connections, latency and speed?

I have some ideas on design: Three Keys to Mobile Application Design (and soon there will be much more in my upcoming book: Tap Into Mobile Application Design), and a lot of ideas on app reliability in my e-book: Tap Into Mobile Application Testing. There are others.

In fact, the sky is the limit in mobile app development to explore engagement models. We just need to set our sights on user engagement and be creative with our use of the technology. It is not enough to just build a mobile app or mobile web presence. Long term engagement trumps downloads and installs because that means people will actually use your app more than once, and hopefully engage with your brand, and buy more products and services from you later on. Take the long view, even though we are in a pressure cooker of short term wins on many of our mobile projects.

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