Your product strategist has delivered an awesomely designed, truly engaging news app for your media company. You are live in the App and Google Play Stores — but now what? The five-star reviews should start rolling in, right?
After all the ramp-up to execute your mobile strategy, it can often be a depressing reality to discover you don’t automatically get an audience.
It’s easy to look at an app as simply a one-and-done means to an end. But for your mobile product to reach its full potential, your work isn’t done. It should be thought of as more than just one of the “to try” initiatives on your list of ideas for 2016. Rather, it should be thought of as an investment that needs long-term nurturing.
Apps are products with a relatively short shelf life once available for download. You could fondly compare them to Tamagotchi, the egg-shaped digital pets popularised in the 1990s whose chirps and beeps were a constant reminder of their need for your attention and upkeep in order to thrive.
The comparison might be a little strange (there’s now a Tamagotchi app, by the way), but the fact remains: Many media apps are decommissioned not long after their initial launch once it becomes clear how much recurrent investment is needed to make them popular and keep them alive.
Ensuring you have staying power and a payoff on your mobile investment is two-fold: It’s one part long-term audience building and retention, and one part ongoing software planning and development.
So if you’ve just launched a new app in the App or Google Play Store (or if you’re trying to figure out what to do with the one you already have), where do you start? What to do once the post-launch hype has cooled?
Here’s a list of areas to explore that should give you an idea of the continuing effort required to maintain and grow a smartphone product for the long haul:
1. Analytics: Third-party analytic platforms are important to audience understanding (and therefore development). They run the gamut from entry-level to amazingly powerful.
The one that will be your go-to will really depend on what you want to achieve. Flurry is simple to use and free, and you can create funnels and view event paths. For more powerful analytics, platforms like MixPanel offer user-based tracking, so you can follow the use case for individual identified users.
Don’t be overwhelmed by this Big Brother view of your audience. Use these numbers to determine where they’re getting the most value.
You can also use this information to set ROI metrics that are outside the ordinary, such as measuring success by actions your audience takes that add enjoyment to the experience or increase their time spent. For example, read about how we discovered a correlation between a specific feature and long-term audience retention with our own app, Transit 360.
2. Push notifications and re-engagement: With analytics software like MixPanel in place, you’ll be able to stem audience attrition by targeting lost cohorts with notifications directly to their smartphones.
If you have users who downloaded and faithfully used your app for a few days but then dropped off, you can re-market the experience to them by identifying them through your analytics and re-engaging them through direct offers or calls to action.
3. User testing and feedback: Don’t shy away from reading those less-than-perfect reviews. Your most vocal critics offer valuable lessons in product planning.
Take cues from negative feedback to explore pain points in your app, and survey or A/B test your audience on potential improvements. Involving your target in product planning ensures you have an app that meets their needs.
If you don’t have the resources to poll your audience, leverage employees, friends, and family. Even a small sample size offers insight.
4. Develop a product roadmap: When it comes to most loyal audiences, there’s probably nothing worse or more frustrating than an app that suddenly becomes broken or buggy.
Apple and Google update their operating systems at least once a year, if not more, not to mention updates from any third-party platforms you’ve integrated. This means you need to refresh your code on a frequent basis.
Your product roadmap should look ahead to more than just maintenance and support, however. Feature planning and future releases should be on your radar. Maybe version three should support additional device form factors like tablets, expand to a new operating system, or adopt some of the latest mobile technology (like Apple’s peek-and-pop with 3D touch or Apple Watch).
Don’t forget to communicate your updates and future plans to your users via the App and Google Play Stores to build brand equity.
5. Grassroots and digital marketing: Some apps are so pervasive that it’s easy to forget they, too, had to start from scratch.
Tinder’s success story is a perfect example of how explosive growth came from a simple bootstraps grassroots marketing effort — throwing frat parties. The company “hacked” into its target audience directly, signing up hundreds of users at the college parties it hosted, which drove positive word of mouth.
Creating the app’s own Web site or running cross-promotion with complementary mobile products can leverage word-of-mouth momentum and drive awareness online.
So build it, and they will come. And, with additional effort and a commitment to a long-term outlook, they’ll keep coming.