By: Hillel Fuld
By now, you have most probably heard the ridiculous number of mobile applications available on the various platforms. Apple is leading the way with its 300,000 iPhone apps in the App Store and Google is catching up fast with 100,000 Android apps in the Android Market. Overall, as far as the consumer is concerned, this trend is a positive one. The more selection, the lower the prices, and the higher the standards for mobile apps.
However, when it comes to the mobile developer community, these increasing numbers present a serious challenge as far as jumping on the mobile apps bandwagon in concerned. I mean who has not thought for a second about developing an app and dreaming to achieve the success that the developers of Angry Birds, Instagram, and Cut the Rope have achieved? However, even if one follows the dream of creating an app, how can they possibly compete with such an astronomical number of available apps? What are the secrets to succeeding in this hot space?
Well if you are looking for a shortcut, you might as well close this window now because there really are none. There are, however, some basic steps that when followed, will increase your chances of success, which is translated directly into the number of times people download your app. I must emphasize though, and I will probably say this a few more times by the end of this post, even if you follow the below steps, if your app is not great or does not fill a need/solve a problem of some sort, you need to rethink what you are doing. With so much competition, consumers don’t have the patience to deal with poorly developed apps, and between me and you, they are right.
For the sake of transparency, I must admit, I have never developed an app, nor do I intend on it, but I do often find myself on the other side, with developers asking me to help them promote their app. Here are some of things I tell these developers:
-Keep it simple: If you were participating in a contest or competing for an award of the most sophisticated app, then you would want to overload your app with features. If you want people to download and use your app, you want to do just the opposite. So how does one achieve this simplicity on their mobile app?
There are two possible routes. The first is the preferable one and it involves making an app so intuitive that when the user opens it for the first time, they know exactly what to do. The second option is to create an in-app tutorial that explains the app and how to use it in a clear and concise manner. Whether the tutorial shows up automatically when the user launches your app or requires the user to click on it, is up for discussion, but if the average user will not know what to do with your app, you need to tell them.
Here is the bottom line: you have somewhere between ten and twenty seconds from the time your app is first launched until the user is a fan of your app or if he decides to delete your app off the device and possibly even off of his app collection all together (so he cannot even reinstall if he changes his mind in the future). Hey, no one said it was going to be easy…
-Send out PERSONALIZED Press Releases: Here is a common misconception for you. While new media can be a very effective tool for spreading your word (I believe Gary Vaynerchuk called it “word of mouth on steroids”), it does not replace traditional media when it comes to PR.
Yes, a tweet can go a long way and so can a TechCrunch post but the hard copy New York Times edition is still a pretty effective media outlet. Therefore, I think the old school press release is something you should invest time in, both in regards to its creation as well as dissemination. Having said that, I cannot tell you how fast I delete press releases I get that are clearly templates and the sender does not spend the time personalizing.
You want a shortcut? Here is one. If you want the reader who might be a blogger or a writer for a large publication on or offline to read your press release, start off with “Hi <Insert name”, I got your email from <Insert name or location>, and I hope you don’t mind me reaching out to tell you about something I am working on”. Again, if you follow that template word for word, then you are defeating the purpose. If you want the recipient to spend the time and energy giving your app some exposure, the least you can do is write the email like a Mensch
-Use Twitter: OK, I am probably not telling you something you don’t already know, but Twitter is a very effective platform to help you spread the word and build a fan base. Now, contrary to popular belief, Twitter is not a magic wand. It will not deliver unless you spend the time building up a network. However, once you have created a following of real people who listen to what you have to say, when the time comes to promote your own product, in this case your app, the click through rate will astound you.
Having said that, the amazing thing about Twitter in particular and social media in general is not necessarily that click through rate, but more the domino effect it creates. Whether it is Likes on Facebook or retweets on Twitter, the power of a good product combined with the exposure that social platforms can achieve is unparalleled and unprecedented.
If you have yourself a great app that truly fills a need, and you have spent the time investing in your Twitter community, put it out there then sit back and enjoy the downloads your tweet will bring.
-Build Relationships and Interact: Yes yes, I know what you’re thinking, this whole “engage your community” thing is so cliche already. I don’t disagree (that means I agree for those of you who have not gotten the two negatives equal a positive thing) but if we are talking about getting your app noticed and downloaded, this is a point that must be mentioned.
Look at some of the most successful apps out there and see how the company runs their Twitter account or Facebook page. Rovio (developers of Angry birds), Mike McCue (Flipboard), Kevin Systrom (Instagram), and the list goes on. All these people are responsive on Twitter and do not only spend time promoting and pushing their products, the apps do that for themselves.
If you engage your community, it will not make them like your app, but if your app is already great, communicating with your user base will keep them interested and coming back for more.
-Influencers Can Help: If you are using social media the way it was intended, and if you followed the above step, you are going to be communicating with quite a few people throughout the day. While the people who spend their time on Twitter trying to get a reply out of Ashton Kutcher or Alyssa Milano are total douche bags, one should not belittle the power of a tweet from a key influencer.
To name one extreme example, when Scoble pushed Flipboard (which he did because he truly loves the product, no other reason), the Flipboard servers crashed within minutes. I am not saying the success of Flipboard can be completely attributed to Robert’s tweets but there is no doubt that it helped its popularity.
If you have connected with someone who has a nice following (not necessarily in quantity, more in quality), you might want to get them an early copy of your app. If they like it, they will share it, no need to ask. These so-called influencers are not as dumb as you think, they know you want them to push it and if you have created a superior product, generally speaking, they are willing to play along. Again, all this stands on the premise that your app is great, if it’s not, don’t waste your time pushing it, spend the time developing a new app that is great.
-Research Your Market: This is a crucial step in the process of creating the app and less in promoting it but if you do not have someone researching your market before you develop your app, you can be sure that nine out of ten times, it will get close to zero traction.
A few weeks ago, someone pitched me an idea for an app that he thought was earth shattering. He then proceeded to waste my time by making me sign an NDA and when he finally told me the idea, it took me somewhere between three and six seconds to show him twenty developers that did it before him.
Due to the ridiculous number of apps in the various app stores, there is a good chance someone else had your idea before you, so instead of wasting your time and money developing an app that flings angry birds at pigs to try and kill them, hire someone to look into the market and see if it’s been done before. If it has, don’t try to tweak your idea and one up the existing app, instead use your creativity and come up with the next idea.
OK this post is way longer than I planned it to be so I am going to skip a few key points like using video to attract users or developing a cross platform app, and say that if you follow the above steps carefully and consistently, the chances of your success are significantly higher than what they were before.
Did I miss anything? I would, as always, appreciate your feedback in the comments below or on Twitter.