Social media has fundamentally changed the way we interact with our friends, portray ourselves and view the world, in general. On one side of the spectrum, we are increasingly sharing our lives and experiences with family, friends and complete strangers. It is a personal affair that tests an individual’s social limits and comforts. On the other end of the spectrum lie those producing content with the sole intent of capturing our attention. They do this for business, for gain, for pride, for fun, for fame and a host of other reasons. In many ways, social media is this generation’s billboard, commercial, door-to-door salesman. It has become a powerful marketing tool for those whose goal is to get as many eyeballs looking their way.
Needless to say, when social apps were released marketers were giddy with excitement. Marketing on apps means a heightened intimacy with the audience. Instead of being confined to users’ screens, companies can now get their marketing material in the palm of their users hands. But as social media guru Gary Vaynerchuk says:
“Marketers ruin everything”
So how then can a mobile app development company ensure that their social media app is the one that sticks? For every Facebook and Twitter that rises to the top, hundreds lie broken and abandoned on the wayside. What are the characteristics of these top social mobile apps, and more importantly, how do companies wield them to maximize exposure and public interaction?
While some may claim any number of factors that are responsible for a social media app success, it really only boils down to three in most cases. The first of which is the ability to communicate privately. Social apps with private messaging integrated within them are more likely to succeed than those without. The reason for this is pretty simple, people are social creatures and like to communicate with others. While the preference of communication may differ from person to person, it doesn’t change the fact that people like to have their thoughts, ideas and stories heard. Baking in a private messaging service gives people the tool to share their stories with each other in confidence. And, by including such a thing within the app it ensures that people are constantly using the mobile app.
One of the ways that people can share their story is through visuals. Making sure that a social app is designed with native photo and video content in mind is essential to its success. Storytelling is no longer confined to written words in the app world. Indeed, the ability to produce photo and video content can be thought of as the evolution of storytelling in the digital space. Mobile apps that give a user the ability to take photos or shoot videos natively (through the app itself and not through a third party standalone app) make for a better app usage experience, but also increase the amount of time being spent on the apps themselves. By granting the user access to any number of photos or videos from other users, mobile app developers are not only forging communities of users, but they basically integrate the app into their users lives.
Finally, a social app must allow its users to share URLs to online content. This is in the same vein of thought as giving the user the ability to share thoughts, ideas and interests with their peers or their audience. When users share URLs or online content to their peers and audience they are not just sharing interesting things with each other, they are turning the social app into a news aggregator. This subconsciously forces users who like to stay informed on certain subject matters to constantly check the social app to ensure that they do not miss a beat. Once again this enforces usage and further strengthens the bond between the mobile app and the user.
Now this is all well and good, except that Vaynerchuck’s line rings in one’s mind. The success of these three characteristics would tempt marketers to just include every single feature in existence to a social app. After all, if the above three properties are able to generate so much user attention, then just imagine how much more can be gained when all features under the sun are put into play. Surprisingly (or maybe unsurprisingly), this “everything but the kitchen sink” approach tends to backfire and user retention decreases drastically. The reason for this comes in the form of “paralysis by analysis”. When given too many options, users tend to take longer amounts of time to decide on a course of action. Sometimes, the plethora of choices can lead to confusion. In both cases, users lock up, lose interest and eventually abandon the mobile app.
Focusing on a very small handful of features that work harmoniously with each other is the way to go. Don’t believe it? Just ask the like of Snapchat, Instagram and Reddit. Social apps and platforms such as these cornered the market on a specific feature. They polished it, presented it perfectly, then grew a cult following. They tend to add or change features very slowly and only if it is deemed absolutely necessary.
When people talk about Snapchat, they often think about the images or videos that will be erased after a limited time, but take a step back and it is the app’s ability for users to message each other directly that has made it into such a big hit. Instagram is a place where users can present the world with pictures and videos of their lives, but it was the ability to produce such content chronologically that initially got people’s eyes looking its way. Reddit dominates the forum-esque space of social apps thanks to its trending contents. The only black sheep is Facebook which can be thought of as a hybrid, composed of several main features. However, the social media giants real strength comes from gathering information about their users, knowing and caring about their preferences, and then constantly implementing small tweaks and pivots to ensure that users are engaged correctly.
Much of social media apps success comes from their ability to simplify a complex network of individuals. Giving so many people, so many minds and ideas a place to congregate, share stories and connect means that users will be active on said apps. Likewise, simplifying the way the app is used will also increase activity. Simple and intuitive user interfaces make it possible for people to quickly share messages, have conversations, show images and videos, with very little instruction to do so.
Companies looking to get their message and branding to the populace would do well to identify the features that engage the greatest amount of their core audience. And, if mobile app development companies do it correctly, such an engagement would not only ensure that they get their marketing material to a potential customer, but they would also gain considerable amount of information regarding those consuming their products or services. Creating a profile of the ideal audience is one thing, but gaining feedback in near real-time is where social apps really shine for companies.
Yes, it is a way to sell, but more importantly it is a way to listen to the needs and wants of users, audiences and clientele. Seen in this way, social apps are indispensable for companies looking to expand their reach and create a strong following.