In April 2012, just 18 months after its initial launch on the App Store, Instagram was acquired by Facebook for $1 billion in stock and cash. It was an acquisition that sent shockwaves through the tech community, with many developers and entrepreneurs strongly questioning the sky high valuation of such a young company, with $0 in revenue.
In subsequent years, WhatsApp has been acquired for $19 billion (again by Facebook), whilst Snapchat has grown to a valuation of between $10 billion and $20 billion, depending on which source you read.
What’s perhaps even more remarkable is the amount of money these companies have turned down too. WhatsApp for example is reported to have rejected a bid of $10 billion from Google, whilst Snapchat also rejected an acquisition from Facebook worth $3 billion. This just shows how confident start ups are in the value of their own communities.
The value of these companies is clearly not determined by revenue, but instead by the scale and engagement levels of the user base with in the product itself. Facebook know this better than anybody else, with Instagram today being worth probably 10 times what they bought it for.
With this said, you don’t need to build the next Snapchat in order to gain huge value from a social community. Sure, everybody dreams of creating a billion dollar viral network, but in reality, integrating a social community into your existing application could still bring you a number of key benefits.
At Sport.com, we have 30+ health and fitness applications with a combined monthly active user base of over 45M million users. In early 2014, we made developing a social community a main priority. The result of our work was ‘fitNshare’, a network where users can gain motivation and inspire others via progress photos throughout their fitness journey. In this post I am going to talk through our experience from the last 12 months, what we have learnt, and how you can gain value from developing your own community.
The Retention Challenge
First and foremost, our number one goal when building our social community was to increase user engagement and retention across our network. In the sports category, retention in particular is a big challenge for developers, with Localytics having reported that 23% of users only open an app once after installing it – which is a very daunting statistic.
User retention is one of the biggest app marketing challenges for developers, and is particularly prominent in the sports category. Firstly, competition is incredibly high, which means if you don’t offer immediate value to a user, they can easily try another product. Secondly, personal fitness requires commitment from the user themselves. Naturally, not every user sticks to their fitness plan, and obviously impacts retention rates.
However, it is human nature to seek interaction with others, which makes social communities valuable tool when looking to increase retention. Having a user see fresh, community submitted content each time a they log in really does make a difference on how frequently they visit your app.
Fundamentally, in the case of fitNshare, users now return to our apps for reasons other than just to work out. They check in to see how their friends are progressing, and to be inspired by others who are striving for similar goals. The end result is that since adding a social layer to our products, we have seen an average increase of 35% in day 30 retention across our portfolio.
Users now visit our Fit Woman app for social/motivational reasons alone…
Understand Your Users
The second key benefit of building a social community around your application is that you can learn a huge amount of additional data about the users within your product. As part of your sign-up process you can gather additional information beyond just a user’s email address, and then use this data to enhance their experience with your app.
Having a deeper understanding of how different cohorts of your community use your application adds a lot of value to your product development decision. For example, we’ve learned that women much prefer indoor based activities such as Yoga, whilst men prefer outdoor activities such as cycling. This data has been fed back to our product team, and now we have a much clearer understanding over which exercise to showcase to each user in order to gain maximum uptake.
Also, being able to link your usage data to specific user demographics within your app adds a lot of value to your user acquisition campaigns. For example, since implementing fitNshare across our network, we have learned that females make 43% more in-app-purchases than males, despite makes taking 18% more actions per session. The data on in-app purchases is of particular interest, as knowing which demographic monetises best within our apps means we can adjust user acquisition budgets accordingly in order to get optimal results.
Finally, as the app stores have matured, competition has increased significantly. In the health and fitness category, from calorie counters to smart alarm clocks, consumers now have a vast choice of applications for the majority of their needs.
However, social community is a large, and to some extent underestimated differentiator. Yes, lots of apps have the same features, but you can’t replicate a community. Introducing a social offering to your application is a very effective way of standing out from other, similar products in your category.
Building your own community
We’ve learned a huge amount over the last year, more than I could every summarise in one blog post. However, 3 key points in particular have stood out for me.
Firstly, always be aware of your assumptions, and test them wherever possible. A lot of the data we have had back from our community has been different to what we had expected, and we have had tweak our strategy accordingly based on what the actual data has told us.
One of the best examples of this has been in selecting a method of sign up for the community. This is a common question faced by many developers that are looking to add a social element to their product. Do you support social sign on, email, or both? Well, across our applications we have given the users the choice between Facebook, email, or no details at all (this results in limited features).
We had expected Facebook to the clear winner here, but we soon learnt this wasn’t the case. Out of the 1.3 million registrations we’ve had since summer 2014, only 20% have been via Facebook. Email sign up is actually much more popular it would seem, with 50% of users opting for this sign up method, whilst only 30% choose to enter no details at all. Again though, each app is unique, so you should always test a variety of sign on methods before arriving to any conclusions.
Secondly, the rate of adoption of our new network has surprised us. With absolutely no paid promotion or marketing of the new community, we have grown to well over 1 million users in just under 8 months after launch. Whilst we have managed to the scale with our existing resource, when building a social community you need to ensure that if things do go well, you can handle the demand.
In fact, fitNshare has proven so popular that we are now going to launch it as a standalone product – so be prepared for your community to outgrow your existing product. If it does, move past, and give it attention it deserves to enable it to grow.
Finally, you need to closely monitor the engagement across your user base. How often are users sharing content? How many interactions do they make with users? You need to identify your KPIs early on, and track them religiously. Keep a close eye on any correlation between user engagement within your community, and engagement on your core product. For example, if they aim of our community is to increase retention, regularly check to see if the most engaged users within your community then go on to become more engaged with your core product too.