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5 Ways to Improve Social Engagement in Mobile Apps

lynch-john
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social-apps-mobileMy friend and I recently started a passion project: creating a completely legal way for Facebook friends to play poker on a mobile phone. Two months ago, we were approved in the app store and are now in open beta (we are accepting users, but aren't promoting so we can debug/test/scale).

As of this writing, we have 275 users and are averaging 70,000 total events/month (over 2 months). This user base gives us no delusions of grandeur regarding an IPO, but we are very encouraged by the intense nature with which our initial audience is using the app.

Despite our awkward birthing stage, we have gleaned tremendous insights in terms of going to market with a social app. Below are five most important pieces of advice for app developers looking to create social growth.

1. Be Innately Social

Many websites and apps ask the question “How do we get social?” The notion of getting social seems as nonsensical as a radio program asking “how do we become more television?”

Social is an entity in and of itself. Apps that are inherently social are typically far more likely to proliferate than their peers.

A truly social app is one that will rely heavily/entirely on a friend-connected experience in order to have a positive experience. It may seem subtle, but it requires a paradigm shift that can radically alter the nature and delivery of the application.

2. Use Facebook Connect

Facebook Connect is one of the most powerful login tools available and a near-necessity for social/mobile apps. Facebook’s authentication process is one of the most secure and trusted login mechanisms. More importantly, a Facebook Connect login button sets a specific expectation that the user is entering a social app.

Additionally, Facebook Connect allows developers to access a user’s friend’s data. Think of how difficult it would be to find friends in apps such as Draw Something and Words With Friends with out this vital piece of functionality?

Throughout our development process, we’ve found that users are typically far more likely to heavily use, promote, and share our content if they are logged in through Facebook. As a result, we now try to discourage email sign up by:

  • Communicating to users that they’ll be able to easily find friends.
  • Reassuring users that we won’t spam their activity feed.

We also try to visually promote this idea by giving the Facebook log-in the BOB treatment (“big orange button”)

3. Open Graph: Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should

App developers are consistently faced with the following challenge: should we post to a user’s timeline? Auto-posting is a double-edged sword and a tool that should be used with extreme caution.

The argument for automatically posting to user’s activity feed is simple: friends of the user will see the feed and instantly be exposed to the brand, which can go a long way in accelerating adoption rate. Sometimes, it can be just that simple.

However, it’s important to remember that a Facebook post is a means of self-expression. An app that posts on behalf of a user can end up negatively impacting the image of a brand and the reputation of its user. This is commonly referred to as “hating your customer.”

I can think of no more perfect example than when apps such as Yahoo News or Social Cam post expose the exact articles or videos their users have consumed (a friend of mine was mortified when he realized his entire social network now knows he spends mornings reading articles such as “Faith Hill without Makeup!”).

Social apps rely on the notion of being “cool.” How cool can you really be if you’re openly taking advantage of your users to gain market share?

4. Promote Social Sharing in Logical Places

Instead of making the user a victim of activity spam, empower the user by providing ideal opportunities to share within the app.

Instagram hits it out of the park. After a user uploads and filters a photo, the user is then presented with a series of call-to-actions enabling them to share in varying social networks. This creates a win-win for both the user and Instagram:

  • The user enjoys the experience and builds trust with the application.
  • Instagram benefits from extending the user to self-select images that their Facebook or Twitter audiences will enjoy.

instagram-mobile-sharing

5. Foster In App Communication Between Friends

It’s becoming perfectly clear that Facebook and Twitter are going to be mega-platforms that will bridge connections with other smaller networks. It’s easy to overlook communication methods, but these niche networks have the power to transmogrify into large-scale interest-based hubs.

Create a more socialized experience by allowing friends to communicate in the following ways:

  • Active communication: Chat enabled, image sharing, sending playlists, like/thumbs-up/heart something.
  • Passive Communication: Receive activity updates using news feeds and push notifications.

It’s important to remember that — as a social app — you are nothing more than a tool or excuse for people to connect. Don’t ignore the wonderful uniqueness of the relationships that will be forged within the app!

Conclusion

Every app is going to have entirely different audience profiles. It’s important to focus group early adopters/evangelists to understand and serve the social features they crave.

Additionally, don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions like “what do you hate?” Be sure to tailor the communication methods and touch points to the psychographics of your audience.


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