There are approximately a quarter of a billion apps available for download on the leading app stores, each app hoping for a permanent spot on the smartphone screen.
With many apps offering similar services, how can you make your app stand out from the crowd? How can you best drive downloads and make your mobile app go viral – without annoying your existing and would-be users?
1. Create something with broad appeal
An app that offers practical value is always more likely to become viral. If it solves problems, saves time, or otherwise makes life easier for people, it contains a recipe for success. Value is subjective, so the value your app offers can be humor, professional development, or even shopping tips.
A key to spreading the word about an app – making it easy to describe. The language you use will be repeated by your users. Word of mouth is hampered when apps can’t be explained concisely. Good advice on how to create your app description can be found here and here.
Don’t restrict access
Don’t keep people away from your app by requiring that they register, become a member, or otherwise leave personal information. To become viral, an app needs to be accessible to all and shouldn’t be exclusive.
Make your app intuitive and easy to use and it will rise above the competition. To achieve a good user experience, app owners need to study and understand their potential users.
It’s best to keep things simple. The best way to emphasize the uniqueness of your app is to do away with anything that isn’t necessary. Elements that don’t improve the user experience can be – and should be – left at the wayside.
2. Build a relationship
The more time people spend using your app, the more likely they are to talk about it.
Build relationships with users one-on-one to get them involved. Reach out to users and talk to them. Carefully consider the language and tone you use throughout the app. Occasionally delight a user to make his day. Making people feel cared about can dramatically increase their desire to tell others about your product.
This is true app engagement, the backbone of user retention.
The importance of this is underlined with statistics indicating that dissatisfied customers are more likely to share poor experiences – negative word of mouth, as it were.
Ex: 2048, a popular game that has spawned numerous copycats, is really simple to play but very difficult to win. This created a challenge between users and their friends – a good recipe for virality.
Do something unexpected
Shake things up every so often to keep users interested. For example, fun polls or quizzes not necessarily related to your app or its content can be a pleasant diversion from the mundane. But avoid doing this too often so that it doesn’t become annoying.
An app can stay fresh and engaging if not all aspects of it are exposed to users straightaway. Levels, features, etc. that are shown to users who reach certain levels or do specific actions, creates an aura of mystery – and by doing so, increases desirability of the app.
The popular game Timberman is one such example. As a user’s playing skills improve, costumes are unlocked for the lumberjack. Users keep playing as they try to unlock the next costume.
3. Evoke emotion
When we care, we share. High emotion content is more likely to be shared according to a 2011 study. Get people inspired and excited! When your users are delighted, amused and otherwise engaged with your app, you can more easily encourage them to share it with their friends.
People like to share things that make them look better, feel better or improve their reputation. Hence the popularity of lifelogging.
Playing on vanity helps with virality.
4. Social outreach
Social media sharing means promoting an app on social media networks by talking about and regularly sharing information pertinent to the app. For example, posting cooking tips on a recipe app’s social media site.
Things that are publicly visible and cued by the environment have been proven to generate immediate and ongoing word of mouth, namely virality.
Try to get popular people to help promote your app and related content. Even a small group of influencers can have a huge impact on an app’s popularity. If you don’t happen to know any of the movers and shakers, don’t be shy to reach out to them.
The most viral products are those that work better when shared – or even only work when shared. For example, various communication apps like Skype and WhatsApp lets users communicate only with other users of the app. Waze has merit as a standalone navigation app, but the social element makes it ever so much better.
Apps that are better when shared offers a great incentive for users to invite contacts to use the application.
Having your users advocate for your app is invaluable. Nearly all mobile users use at least one social media site. A vital part of making an app viral is to spread it among as large an audience as you can. When users sign up for your app via a social network, it serves to broadcast to their social graph that they are using your app – and often, what they’ve accomplished with your app (ex: more situps, higher game scores, photo edits).
Image source: UX Archive
Remember, though, not to force registration via a social network. And it’s always best to allow users try your app without demanding that they sign up.
It’s also wise to include the option of sharing content from your app to one or more social sites. This will expand the app’s social influence. The more social discussion about an app, the more people will be inclined to download it.
5. Incentivize direct sharing
Encourage users to share your apps directly with their friends. But reward those who do so. Rewarding users who share your app or its content builds a sense of loyalty and trust.
Never request that a user share your app before confirming that the user is loyal and engaged. Basically, don’t scare off new users by asking them to share the app early on in the relationship with them. Users who have shown a degree of dedication to your app through regular use are more likely to help make it go viral.
Refrain from enabling a user to bombard every contact he has with a request to download. That’s artificial sharing! And it’s a quick way to deflate an app’s popularity.
Consider two-sided referral rewards. Not only the person who shares your app, but let that user provide value to a friend as well by offering an award if downloaded after a share.
Rewarding users who share might not be pure word of mouth, but it can be effective.
It’s important to show gratitude. Not everyone can afford to reward users with cash, and not all apps support in-app rewards. At the very least, thank your users when they share your app with their friends.
Delighted users who appreciate your app will be intrinsically motivated to share it with friends when you request that they do so.
Making sharing easy
Make it easy to share by using one or two taps. For example, “tweetable” content. Remind users that content can be shared with call-to-action icons or buttons (like the Pinterest pushpin). Making content easy to share is important when planning for a viral app.
Make it personal
It’s best to have a customizable sharing experience. Better than just sticking a share button into your app, allow the person using your app to personalize a message to a friend. When that friend receives a personalized request to download an app – it’s more intriguing and will be better received.
An app developer or marketer can consider using their own image to personally reach out to existing users by requesting their help. ZenPayroll (now called Gusto) used actual images of support personnel when asking users for help spreading the word about their product, with great success.
Ultimately, virality is something that should be planned for, designed and built into your app from the start. But even if you haven’t done so, applying the above tips will get your app closer to viral growth helping you to realize the dream of every app developer.