Virality is the ultimate goal for developers. Word gets out about a new app, and suddenly it spreads like wildfire.
You don’t always need to spend time or money coordinating launch dates and sending out press releases. Your app should be designed for virality, so you can leave the rest of the work to the best marketers: your users. Publicity from happy customers isn’t just free, it’s 100% authentic. This interaction workflow should be built into the app’s experience itself.
Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup, aims for the “the viral co-efficient.” That is, “how many customers will use the product as a consequence of each new customer who signs up.”
So, why isn’t your app achieving this, and what are you doing wrong? We’ll cover six common mistakes developers make when aspiring to go viral with their app.
1. You haven’t found your niche
If you want your app to go viral, it must add value for your users. From the beginning, consider who your audience is and what will thrill them, or what common pain points are. This type of planning should be at the core of your app’s purpose.
Maybe you’re not sure whether to make a mobile or desktop app. Or perhaps you are still trying to find that sweet spot between mass appeal and filling a specific gap in the market.
A viral app offers a unique experience – makes lives easier, solves a problem, provides enriching information, or offers entertainment. It doesn’t matter if something’s been done before, as long as you can do it better for your niche.
There are many app distributors and publishers who can help you position your app for success, regardless of the market you go after.
2. Not enough returning users
You gain new users by retaining your existing ones. The longer they spend using your app, the more likely they are to talk about it, so it’s essential to keep pulling them back in. Users downloading the app should be viewed as a starting point, rather than an end goal.
To do this, your app needs to be valuable to an individual before they start engaging in its social aspects. Why? Because they’re unlikely to share it unless they already enjoy it.
At the same time, a user’s enjoyment should grow each time they use it. Pinterest and Twitter, for example, become more meaningful and satisfying the more users engage with them.
Your app should also include notifications motivating users to use the app. For example, Gratitude Journal reminds users of their unbroken journaling streak, encouraging them to return without being pushy.
You can also let existing users encourage new ones to return. Promote users with excellent scores, content, loyalty, or activity, depending on your app’s content. From there, let users’ competitive streaks keep them coming back.
Suggest other users follow these leaders, and let them create their own private groups, enmeshing them in a peer network and making them more likely to return.
3. Your onboarding is plain boring
Onboarding is a prime opportunity to draw your user in and to gain access to useful information. While some argue that an app is flawed if it requires onboarding, it can be crucial to learning about your users.
Simplicity is more important here than anywhere else: make it easy for your users to get hooked. The flow of screens and required actions should be totally intuitive. Carefully consider your goal before including even the most basic features, like logos or menus. Make sure design follows function.
For gathering information that isn’t crucial to proceed to the next step, some suggest using bait – like an exclusive ebook – for users who provide an email address. Offering a one-click social login also makes it easy for users to link the app with existing networks.
Onboarding can be most useful for apps that really do require some explaining, such as gesture-driven ones, apps that are part of a product suite, or apps that require information input (like basic personal info) to function.
How else can onboarding be a help rather than a hindrance?
It can highlight an app’s greatest benefits, or explain how it integrates into users’ lives. For apps with more complex task flows, onboarding can be hidden within the app and presented if and when users need that information.
Whichever fits best, keep it as simple as possible. Restrict each slide to one concept each, and ensure your information is relevant to its intended device platform. Providing a key of reminders within Settings also keeps things clear.
4. There’s no gamification
Gamification plays to our most basic needs of belonging, esteem, and self-actualisation by creating incentives and competition within an app. This is through a variety of rewards like badges, collectibles, or placing on a leaderboard.
Users have to be motivated, and a structure with gamification integrated accomplishes that. Access to exclusive features – like themes, characters, or discounts – can be unlocked based on scores or progression, so that app value is sustained and grown. Most often, rewards unlocked across several milestones are more effective than one big boon at the end.
Rewards should be linked to the inherent objective of the app. Are you trying to improve user engagement, user acquisition, or user loyalty? Strategically gamify the app accordingly. Moreover, users who succeed should feel they have achieved something special or unique.
Lastly, users have to be able to share their successes, leading to increased customer acquisition. Speaking of which, you’ll never have a viral app if…
5. It’s not shareable
It’s not 2010 anymore, it’s not enough to just slap on some sharing buttons to the end of your app. What will motivate your users to spread the word to their friends?
Apps like RunKeeper have it easy. Users are eager to share ‘vanity content’ with friends – like how often and intensely they work out – to feel good about themselves.
But other kinds of apps can create different incentives. Dropbox offers space increases for referrals, while PayPal paid those who referred new customers. These rewards should be offered at multiple points throughout the app.
Make it intuitive and effortless to for users to share by creating one-click buttons for sharing to multiple platforms. As we mentioned, get users to add friends via social media and grow their network – to mutual benefit – right from onboarding.
6. Users don’t trust your app
Let’s finish with a basic but essential point: users must believe in your app before they’ll share it with their own networks. Dispense with all barriers blocking your users’ trust in the app by promoting transparency in all areas.
Most importantly, users must feel in control. Use onboarding and reminders to be crystal clear about what’s being shared on behalf of the user and obtaining their permission, or perhaps provide a settings panel where they can fine-tune their sharing preferences.
Conclusion: you didn’t build virality into the app’s core
All 6 of these issues result from one mistake: forgetting that apps are born viral. Ensuring users return to and share the app is crucial, so it should be designed with these dual goals center stage. Keep these mistakes in mind, and you’re on your way to finding that viral coefficient.