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Hands on user engagement training: Get your app users hooked


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So, you’ve decided you need an engagement strategy, you are right! Now the question is which in-app events/activities should you use exactly? How to start taking actions that will uplift your revenues. Here you have a very practical training on how to build your engagement plan and campaigns

If you haven’t yet read our engagement strategy training, now is a good time, as it is the first in the sequence, and can help fill some of the blanks.

There are several engagement activities and techniques out there, some are a lot more advanced and complicated to execute than others. In the purpose of being methodical, we will start with the “must use”, basic tools. In the following trainings we will dive into the more advanced tools and techniques (for those who have practiced and successfully implemented the techniques we are discussing here).

No professional mobile app engagement work can start without two prerequisites:

  1. Implementing an inbound analytics solution – You must have an idea of what’s going on in your app. You should be able to identify segments of users, defined by usage trends and demographics. With no knowledge at all, you might be totally blind, probably not even able to define your baseline engagement levels, set goals and review the results. If you haven’t already implemented an inbound app analytics solution that’s OK. In our upcoming engagement training we are going to look at some inbound analytics options, so you can make a decision on who to work with.
  2. Implementing communication tools – e.g., push messages capabilities, Facebook login etc. In this training we will talk a lot about building relationship with your users via existing communication channels… if none of them exists, well, then we have a problem. Here to, in our next engagement training we will discuss some off the shelf communication tools you can easily integrate into your existing code (an SDK implementation).

For the purpose of this training, I would like to keep using the use case example we started to look at in our engagement strategy training.

Just a reminder: In this example, the app presents a 25% active user rate (monthly, based on the total install base). The active users are logging into the app 8 times a month and the user LTV stands on $9.6.

For the purpose of this training we have set exact engagement goals (as you should, too):

  • Goal 1: Increase active users rate from 25% to 40%
  • Goal 2: increase active users’ monthly logins to 12 (instead of the current 8)

Reaching these goals will increase my user LTV from $9.6 to $11.9, that’s a 24% increase!! This is a very easy calculation, using this Excel template that I have built. You can use it too!

Now, I have decided to start with the following segments, based on usage trends (each of you will need to define your own usage trends and how you want to segment them):

  • Users who have installed the app but never used it beyond the initial login
    • Goal: Get them to login again and give the app a more serious try
    • we will call them segment #1
    • Remember, Localytics claim that 26% of apps are never used more than once – there can be a real impact here on goal #1
  • Users who logged in up to 3 times, but didn’t come back and are now inactive (“sleeping users”)
    • Goal: Get them to come back and give us a chance, again
    • Get them filling a survey about the app when they are back – to learn what made them leave in the first place
    • We will call them segment #2
  • Users who are moderately active, they logged in more than 3 times, and we definitely want to encourage them to use the app more often
    • Goal: Get them to use the app more regularly
    • We will call them segment #3

So really, my work is cut out for me:

  1. I must first work on establishing communication channels with my user base
  2. Then I should  work on increasing conversion from installs or inactive to active users (so I have more contributors to my bottom line)
  3. In parallel, I should work on increasing the number of logins per moderately active user (increase my user LTV). The more users engage with my app, the more ad impressions (+ in app purchase chances not in our example but generally speaking) are generated.

Basically, I have four key tools to help me reach out the defined segments, pushing for my engagement targets. I can either build these tools myself (coding… but no one does it by himself anymore), or I can use an external SDK of a 3rd party provider (will discuss existing providers in more depth in our next engagement training).

 Tool #1: Push messaging

You are probably already familiar with push messaging, but I still want to go over it briefly. Push messaging is a mechanism that enables you to send messages and information to users who have installed your app, without the app being open. This can be done as long as the app was downloaded and the user hasn’t disabled the option of getting push messages (yes, some people do that). Yes, bear in mind that some users disable push messages, so not all your users will necessarily receive your push broadcast.
Different push messaging providers enable different formats (Later… remember?).

Another important note: Abusing this tool might result in more and more of your users disabling this feature or even worse, uninstalling your app. Therefore, it’s crucial to use push messaging smartly, and in moderation. Time or location sensitive information for example is perfect for push messaging.

Take a look at the screenshots below. Push can look a bit differently on different operating systems and have a slightly different UX depending on the push provider you are using. Some advanced push techniques can even present push notifications that look like a banner.

Push messaging on Android

Push messaging on Android

push messaging on iPhone; Click to enlarge

Push messaging on iPhone

 Tool #2: In-App messaging

In-app messaging is a mechanism that enables you to send messages to your users once they are inside the app. Here too, different vendors offer slightly different capabilities, which we will discuss in the next training. In-app messaging is used for promoting specific usage or features of the app, ask users to do something, tell them about something new, etc. The idea is to direct users while they are in the app to the most addictive features, the most profitable screens, in-app events, etc.

In-app message promoting specific usage/feature of the app

In-app message promoting specific usage/feature of the app

In app message encouraging in-app purchase

In app message encouraging in-app purchase

Tool #3: Email (yes, you are reading correctly)

I do mean the “traditional” old fashion tool. Many app developers don’t bother collecting emails. They just rely on getting the email addresses via their Facebook connect integration.  But, be aware, with Facebook’s anonymous login just around the corner (it’s currently in Beta), you risk losing all Facebook personal info of your users. Pretty disturbing. Why invest in collecting emails? Well, email can definitely be used to get people go back to your app, reminded about the app, etc. It has to be used right, as it has its issues (no tool is perfect, right?). Generally, email engagement and conversion rates are still higher than any other channel. In Facebook, for example, after getting users to like your page, you will still need to further invest (ad money) in getting them to engage with your page content (FB has recently changed its algorithm and getting users to engage is much harder now, rumors say that only 2% of your Facebook fans will be organically exposed to your posts). Twitter, as another example, is so instant that it’s easy for your messages to get lost. So email, like any other channel still has its advantages. It’s not that I am against all other communication channels, it’s just that I don’t want this one to be discarded and forgotten, as it can be beneficial to use.

People are not that happy many times to share their email address. Therefore, you will need to get creative in getting them to share their email address. This can be done using the two tools mentioned above, combined with a strong promise to get a desired goodie in return for sharing the email address. We will demonstrate this later on.

Tool #4: Social channels

Social channels are a must. You can use them to announce breaking news, promotions, contests, or any other engagement activity you come up with. You can also target your existing users through your social networks (conditioned that you’ve invested in converting users to social fans, followers and so forth). One example is using engagement ads that can bring them back to the app using deep links.

Facebook engagement ads - examples

Facebook engagement ads – examples

In short, once your users follow you on your social channels, you increase the likehood of their engagement.  Hopefully, your social users can also serve as your ambassadors by sharing your content with their communities. This is really the Holy Grail as it becomes a free acquisition channel, but acquisition is not our main business here, so let’s move on. How do you convert active app users to followers, fans and so forth?  Similar to email addresses collection, you will most likely need to offer something good (an incentive) in return.

There are MANY additional tools that can be used to increase user engagement: Personalization, tool tips within the app, retargeting techniques, and more. Some are more complicated and will be discussed in future engagement trainings.

Push and in-app messaging become available, naturally, only after a user has installed your app. In other words, these tools are usually the initial communication tools you have at your disposal. These are the tools that can serve you in building and maintaining your communication channels (aka email addresses and social follows).

Your mission here, among others, is to plan, build, and optimize your available communication channels, so later on you can easily start encouraging your users to engage with the app.

To conclude this section – first set your engagement goals, then start with the four above mentioned tools. Use one communication channel to build up another one and so forth. Make sure your users are connected to you in as many channels as possible. This is an ongoing process – and a never ending one. However, once you have set the infrastructure, it kind of continues automatically.

Let’s look at some practical campaign examples:

 Some campaign examples

As a reminder, our prerequisites should be taken care of by now:

  1. Inbound analytics solution is fully integrated so you can know what you’re up against.
  2. Push and in-app capabilities are fully implemented within the app, so you can communicate with your existing user base.
  3. The two are integrated, meaning the analytics and the messaging mechanisms can feed of each other’s data so you can run specific campaigns to specific segments.

A general and important comment: I believe there are two ways to approach engagement activities and campaigns. You can start with a relatively small sample out of your user base (sorted by the segments you want to approach, and still big enough to be statistically valid). Once you have measured and improved your engagement activities, you can generalize your campaigns to the rest of your user base.

This approach means that you are a bit slow (as only after you’ve analyzed the sample campaign result can you move on) but it has some important advantages you shouldn’t ignore: First, it will help you determine the communication channel/copy/type of offer that works best for you. Also, you won’t be running a potentially unsuccessful activity on your entire user base/segment. This approach is also less risky financially (first you measure ROI using a small budget, and only then scale).

The second option is to start with the entire user base, and simply assume that the campaigns that you run will indeed increase engagement in the long run. This approach is a bit riskier, but it’s faster to show an impact (hopefully a positive one), in case you are under time constraints. Sometimes you just have to act fast, and you can’t afford the slow impact of a risk free, slower marketing activities. In these cases you might want to go with the second approach.

I personally would always prefer to start with a sample of users, if possible. That’s my style.. I wouldn’t want to risk having a bad impact on my entire user base. I would want to see the response rates and impact before risking large marketing budgets. I would rather having valid and established use cases when presenting the reasoning of engagement campaigns to my team and co-workers. Yes, it’s slow at the beginning but I believe that you can catch up in the long run. You get a chance to iron out problematic issues in this pilot stage, and you will hopefully run smoothly when you scale. That’s my personal take, but again, if you are under time or financial constraints and you need to show a trend shift fast, then it may be better for you to go with the entire user base from the start.

I have also prepared for you a high level engagement plan template, so you can view things and plan while you see the big picture, to make sure everything you do is tightly tied to your overall goals.

Now let’s look at some campaign use cases, assuming we have decided to start with a small sample.

Use case 1: Open new communication channels with your users and get dormant users to get back in the app

Let’s start with collecting emails. The same type of activity can be done for collecting likes or follows in social channels.

  • Use push notification to ask people for their email in return for some free goodie. Clicking on the message should navigate the user through a deep link to a dedicated landing page within the app. In there, they will be offered to enter their email and unlock a certain goodie (make sure to follow the spam rules). If you can’t use a deep link, that’s OK, Just make sure that when the users click the push message the app opens and once the splash screen is gone, the landing page with the offer appears (as an app landing page or a popup). Here are two optional copies:
    • “You can now unlock a new level (or feature…) worth $xx for FREE” – only after clicking the message do the user learn that they have to share their email address in order to unlock the new level (with a double opt in to verify the email address…). OR
    • “Share your email to unlock a new level worth $XX for FREE” – this is the more transparent option. It may hurt conversion though. You can always start with one and switch to the other… just make sure to measure.
  • If you don’t want to use a push message for this purpose, you can do the same using your in-app messaging mechanism. In this case, just make sure to bring the message up in a logical place within the usage flow of the app, as early as possible, if you want conversions.
  • This type of activity has two purposes. It’s designed to collect email addresses as part of our opening communication channels goal, but it will also bring users into your app (remember our engagement target of increasing level of active users from 25 to 40%?).
  • For more active users it’s better to use in app messages rather than push messages (they visit the app quite often so why bother them with a push). Push is more relevant for dormant users, those that are not that active, or not active at all (segments #1 and #2 from our example).
  • This activity is less optimal for segment #1 (new users, installed, logged in once and didn’t come back) as they are not that familiar with the app yet, and it may even put them off. There is a good chance they won’t be able to necessarily understand the value of the offered goodie/incentive…
  • My advice is to not use this exact campaign more than once in the life of a user (push for email in return for an incentive). You can always keep the offer live within the app, but don’t promote it again via push. Remember we talked about not abusing our communication channels in order to keep then effective over time? This is it…
  • Measure results – this is where we look at the conversion rates of the campaign: How many emails/likes/follows did we get? How many people clicked on the push or the in-app message? Which copy worked better? What are the conversion rates? Etc.
  • If you want to use the same type of activity to boost FB page likes or Twitter follows– it’s recommended to use a different sample or to wait a while before you send another push to the same users who got the previous one. By wait a while, I mean define a rule to follow, let’s say, 5 logins from last campaign before you pop up another push message. Yes, make sure some time passes by (e.g., don’t pop up another message the next day, even if the user has logged into the app 10 time since he had received the first push)
  • So over time, significant portion of your active users sample should convert to emails, to social follows, likes’ etc.
  • Once you have your campaign results (on the sample), you should have an idea as to:
    1. How your users respond to this type of activity
    2. Which channel works better (whether you used push or in-app messaging)
    3. Your success rates with gathering emails, likes or follows (you might find out that your users are more receptive to one request than other requests)
    4. You should also identify (by trialing) the best locations to pop us such in-app messages (e.g., immediately after the splash when the app is opened, or presented in a logical place within the app’s usage flow

 Use case 2: Push campaign to segment #1 (installed the app, logged in only once)

  • Use push messaging to share with segment #1 (a sample, remember) info of the best feature of the app – use your inbound analytics solution to identify this most used feature, mostly likely that’s the reason they have downloaded the app – remind them! Here are two copy example (thinking of the dog meetup app from the previous training), one with incentive and one without. You will need to try and see which one works better.
    • “Your dog is tearing down the house? Click to find dogs in the hood to hang out with.
    • “Your dog is tearing down the house? click to meet up with dogs in the area + unlock free new dog’s theme “
  • This time, you can repeat the campaign every few weeks (not to be too pushy), because as long as the target users don’t come back into the app, you really have nothing to lose.

Use case 3: Push / in-app campaign to segment #3 (moderately active users)

If you remember, one of our engagement goals from our use case is to increase the level of engagement from 8 logins a month to 12 logins a month.

  • For the purpose of this use case, when targeting the moderately active users segment, it’s more effective to reach them through in-app messaging, rather than push messaging. They tend to visit the app so you can reach them there, when they are in the right mind set to listen, so no need to use a push message. An exception is time or location sensitive campaign, or personal info and messages. Then you should use push, to make sure you capture their attention in the right context/time.
  • How do you get your moderately active users to use the app more often? Here are some suggestions:
    • Update your users on what’s new within the app – to get them curious about new features and improved UX. It also creates the (correct) impression that the app is updated, and well-thought of, constantly making improvements to the user experience
    • Tell them about the app’s best features / most used (“did you know that 80% of our users use this and that”)
    • Every now and then incentivize them for being frequent users – e.g. change the app theme, add an appreciation icon… use your imagination!
    • Again, be smart about the frequency of those messages. Abuse, remember?
  • It’s always good to trial different messages and offerings so you can see what works best. Then you can easily scale the more effective campaign to the entire segment of your base.

Hopefully, by now, you have a better understanding of how to craft your engagement targets (after analyzing your baseline status – discussed in our previous engagement training) as well as the basic tools that you have at your disposal and how you can leverage them with your key segments of users. It’s important to understand that great engagement work can have a wonderful “side effect” of leading to actual user acquisition. According to Apptentive word-of-mouth from friends and family account for 50% of new iOS app discoveries and 41% of new Android app discoveries.

If you make your users into app ambassadors, you can end up saving a lot of money in the long run on acquisition and advertising campaigns – as your organic growth will be sustainable. In this scenario you will have the ideal conditions to decide if and when to boost your acquisition efforts – only when it makes sense from a cost vs. user LTV point of view.

To keep your engagement work focused, keep your eyes on your goals. Keep thinking: “how do I increase my user LTV by moving the needle on my level of active users and rates of activity levels”.

In our next, upcoming training, we will look at selected 3rd party vendors who provide the necessary tools to support effective engagement activities.

Tsipi Joseph
Tsipi is one of Co-Founders, a mobile expert and a mentor. Over 10 years of experience in the mobile and marketing industry: Director of Marketing at Telmap, Comverse and marketing professional development director at the American Association of National Advertisers.
Tsipi Joseph
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