I saw this Mashable graphic in my LinkedIn feed Thursday & I think it’s misleading.
Here’s why: Yes, these apps have the largest reach of all mobile apps. But ‘reach’ is a metric that is most commonly used to measure TV/ mass advertising. It assumes a one-way purchase funnel where repeat/ mass exposure guarantees sales/ results/ brand power. Using ‘reach’ as a proxy for any kind of value in today’s consumer-driven culture is as old, as well, 1980′s sitcoms (though I do love a good Golden Girls episode).
Interestingly, reach can help you with folks that aren’t digital marketing professionals:
Take King Digital – maker of the wildly popular Candy Crush, whose stock debuted at $22.50 a share (NYSE: KING). The day of it’s IPO, the stock fell more than $2, and currently trades below $20 – leading to a derisive criticism from Forbes, Yahoo Finance, etc. (When the headline is “King Digital Entertainment’s IPO Sets the Wrong Kind of Record“, you know it’s bad).
So what might be a better measurement?
Start with people. We’re emotional creatures. Yes, we make rational decisions, but fundamentally, we gravitate to brands, products, experiences, and people that engage us. Whether it’s a good feeling, an excitement, a passion or habitual compulsion, it’s nevertheless engagement.
Most mobile app advice columns define engagement as: “getting what we need and getting out of the app quickly!” While this is no doubt an important element, pure utility misses the larger context of the world we inhabit.
So what elements make an app truly engaging?
5 ENGAGEMENT PRINCIPLES FOR MOBILE APPS
1. Personal 2. Sociable. 3. Value-Add. 4. Communal. 5. Bridge between online & offline.
Let me dig a little deeper:
1. Personal: You want an app that feels like an extension of you – it’s why we personalize our ring tones, home screens and phone cases. Look at how instantly personalized the We Heart It or Pinterest image collections feel: They tailor the type of content fed to us while adding related suggestions to create a personal, yet not-too-intrusive browsing experience.
2. Sociable: Really good apps incorporate an element of sharing – not just an add-on Facebook like or tweet notification, but some element of inter-connectedness between users in the online world. Think: Foursquare‘s point total comparisons between you and your friends.
3. Value-Add: This isn’t limited to being useful, it’s about adding a usefulness to your life you wouldn’t have otherwise. Giving you some benefit (time, money, pleasure, convenience) you wouldn’t get otherwise.
My favorite app for this is the Delta App. Besides advance notifications and automatically checking me in for return flight segments, the app will also add me to the upgrade request list automatically. If I call a Delta rep from the app, they automatically know my name when they answer the phone…that kind of customer-first functionality and utility drives my desire to use the app whenever I can.
4. Communal: An engaging app also creates passionate communities of users and advocates online and offline. One that I admire?
Lyft – the car-hailing service based in San Francisco. You can argue that apps like Uber are just as just as value-add, but the Lyft app makes everything seem more connected by incorporating sociable, personal and bridging the offline and online.
As you add money to a driver’s suggested fare (tip + fare) a balloon rises higher and higher; transforming tipping into a fun activity. You rate drivers or riders with stars & leave reviews as you are paying (the reviews are an update they added based on community feedback). The added security of seeing public ratings and reviews increases the value-add way beyond what Uber does.
Offline, the Lyft community is as passionate as they come. Pink mustache drivers just have more fun (it helps that they’re a ton of folks earning extra income outside or or in place of full-time jobs). And fellow commuters/ citizens believe in their small business-makes-good ethos. At the airport, another commuter literally applauded me for using Lyft as I exited the cab.
5. Bridging the offline and online: You can incorporate all of the elements above, though to be truly engaging, an app that creates a richer experience IRL or blends our offline and online experiences cements it as an engaging app.
One that fits the bill for me? The Citibike App in NYC.
Yes, the app has a few time-lapse bugs, but if you’re riding from one station to another, it gives you real-time information ahead of time if there are bikes or docks available at the station you’re headed to. It can track your ride time so you know if you need to dock your bike. You can absolutely use Citibike without the app; but using the app in conjunction with your annual bike rental just makes your experience richer.
Now given all these criteria – what gets my vote as an engagement all-star?
***** INSTAGRAM *****
1. You can take a photograph and morph it just for you. You can be a voyeur without someone knowing if you’ve seen their images or not. By following your friends or photos you like, your Instagram is personal.
2. You can share at large or to a few friends. You can “heart” or comment your friends’ photos. You can grow your digital following. The app seamlessly connects with other social networks.
3. Value Add: You can improve the look of your photos beyond what your smartphone allows with a few swipes and menu options. Your photography seems better – or perhaps more bragworthy with the addition of the #nofilter tag.
4. By requiring approval of people to see your photos, you can create circles of ‘private communities’ to share family/ friend circle photos. Or, take a move of out of ilovetexasphoto‘s playbook and rotate ownership amongst passionate Igers to create a truly communal, robust, rich, diverse feed.
5. With hashtags, Instagram is one of the easiest channels for marketers to use to gather user generated content. It makes contests easier to enter, participate in and enjoy (bridging your offline experience with online participation).
Need more proof on how engaging this app is?
Windows Phone’s #2InstaWithLove Campaign
Witness how Windows & Nokia leveraged consumers’ love of Instagram (see below) to influence them to create an app for the Microsoft OS [Full disclosure, Nokia USA is a client]. It wasn’t because of Instagram’s large reach. Rather, it was a result of the active voices of Nokia fans who wanted their favorite (read: most engaging app) on the Nokia phone.
Add up all of the elements above and you start to see that maybe ‘reach’ isn’t the end-all-be-all in the mobile app world. I’d argue engagement provides a truer, longer-lasting measure of value – for consumers and brands alike.
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