Acquiring users continues to be one of the more difficult parts of getting your app to grow. The number of apps has tripled since 2012 and so have the costs – where you could once get installs pretty solidly at $1 you are now paying $2.50 or more. This creates more pressure on your monetization so that you can generate a strong ROI on those acquisition dollars.
You can try to get featured by the app stores, but these are one-week lottery tickets that need to be supplemented with acquisition or solid word-of-mouth. Here are some other ways that apps are testing to see if they can create the word-of-mouth virality to help them effectively grow.
Creating Viral Buzz
Last month, Adam Besvinick posted about the going cost of getting a frat or sorority to latch on to your app:
From a founder: The top frats / sororities at big schools are being pitched several apps per week and commanding $12k+ to sponsor parties.
— Adam Besvinick (@Besvinick) February 20, 2015
The idea is following up on Tinder’s initial success, where 1) they need a core group of users in close proximity to use the app, 2) they had a USC frat throw a party where admittance was based on people downloading the app.
New York-based developer Knozen has an app where people rate friends like “which one is more likely to do X” and have your friends agree or disagree. But the difficulty was getting a group of users that knew each other to make things work. Instead of getting a frat, they found other startups in New York and offered to give their offices a ice cream cake break if the office got six or more people to sign up. An interesting way to get people a bit involved, but ultimately not scalable.
In each of these cases, this alternative to buying Facebook ads is driven by the need to get a very connected cohort – something that is very difficult to do now on Facebook where requests and invites to your real friends have been suppressed and seen as spam.
YouTube, Twitch and Meerkat, Oh My!
YouTube and Twitch channels were a key topic of conversation at GDC: a favorable review or stream of your app can drive a ton of downloads. Mike Rose of tinyBuild games gave a great in-depth piece about what makes these guys tick (you can see some great writing he’s done on the “The YouTube Effect” for Gamasutra), but it almost exclusively dealt with Steam-based game development, and very few actually review or stream mobile apps.
If you can’t get the attention of the key YouTubers, how about using these tools yourself? These channels (as well as the fledgling Meerkat) do provide you the tools to interact with your audience, get feedback and hopefully hype for your new app. But it requires a dedication to creating content and truly engaging your audience that might be difficult for a small developer to take on.
Side note: Watching Jimmy Fallon and Jim Gaffigan experiment with Meerkat, you can see the power of being let in behind the scenes for a stolen moment with someone or some brand you are interested in. Imagine Taco Bell giving you a sneak peek into their new recipe kitchen, Marvel giving you small snippets from filming the next Avengers movie or EA giving you some insight into a play test. Where Meerkat (or Snapchat Discover) can be interesting to interact for a fleeting moment with an existing engaged fan, a game or app developer can probably get a lot more mileage by giving away free keys to their game and creating videos to share with the press.
Paying Users for Engagement
One of the more interesting ideas I saw at GDC came from a former colleague of mine, Oliver Kern. Instead of paying companies for ad impressions, clicks or installs, his Tiny Loot company empowers developer to pay end users for time spent engaging in the game. Ultimately I’ve talked about how getting someone deep into your game is the best way to retain users long term (see how games are giving more and more “free” play in their freemium games). And a highly-engaged user is one that is more likely to tell their friends about it and/or spend money. If that is the behavior you really desire, then this acquisition model seems to pay for just that.
The Silver Bullet for Word of Mouth
All of these are interesting, but they don’t solve the key issue: Your app has to provide a great user experience that makes a user talk about it with friends in order to create word-of-mouth:
- Tinder was successful because it was simple, people had great experiences and funny stories around it to share with friends.
- Crossy Road had a unique look and simple game play that makes you laugh every time you fail. They harnessed those great end of game “splat” moments to drive about 2/3 of it’s million shares a day.
- Draw Something harnessed user-generated content that got people laughing and sharing images
To me it really comes down to the product. Every so often someone will create that out-of-the-gate viral sensation (notice how all the examples above were simple to use and harnessed humor). For the rest of the time, you have to create an engaging experience and drive the user deep into the game to get them in the habit of returning to your app. The deeper the engagement, the more likely you can drive a higher LTV and afford acquisition.
What alternative acquisition channels are working best for you?