Word of Mouth: The Most Underrated Channel of App Promotion

By Taylor Odgers | April 24th, 2015

With an ever-more competitive mobile marketing landscape and rising costs of user acquisition, app developers would be wise to think outside of the box and consider alternative acquisition channels. Out of all options available, one is extremely powerful: the users you already have.92% of consumers believe recommendations from friends and family over all forms of advertising. Word of mouth marketing (WOM) is seeding a conversation. It’s about getting people to talk about your product with their friends, family, and social networks. While you can’t always control what people are saying about your app, you can make a reference point to frame the discussion.How do you encourage your customers to sell your app for you? User generated content, guerilla marketing, and referral programs are a great place to start. One important note before we jump into things: no matter how great your marketing campaigns may be, nothing compares to a great product. Focus on making a great UX for your app first, then drive conversation. Otherwise all that talk is just going to be smack.

User-Generated Content

Starbucks was able to promote their brand and create buzz through their “doodle on a cup campaign”. Customers submitted photos of their cup drawings on Instagram, with the best doodle made into a template for mugs in a limited collection.


Why it works:

Self Promotion: What’s the best way to get people promoting you? Getting them to promote themselves. Starbucks knew everyone who submitted a doodle was going to get their friends and family to check it out.Competition: Everyone likes the challenge of a competition. What better way to bring people back to your app than by having them constantly check their standings or getting their friends to vote?Trustworthy Content: Your audience is going to see this content as trustworthy, because it wasn’t created by you, but by the people using your product every single day.

App Example

RunKeeper’s fitness tracking app is the business of promoting healthy living. RunKeeper utilizes user-generated content by sharing runners’ success stories on social media. They post before and after pictures, blogs, training programs, and sometimes just funny pictures of “run calligraphy” created by users of their app.



There are many ways you can incorporate user generated content into your strategy. Have users to submit videos of gameplay, create a contest for players to draw new characters, or post success stories like RunKeeper.Here are the 3 rules to follow for user-generated content to be effective:

  1. Align with your app’s core values
  2. Have an incentive to encourage/reward participation
  3. Keep barriers to entry low

Guerilla Marketing

Uber is on point with their publicity stunts. Some of their most memorable ones include the day they turned their service into an ice cream truck (yum), and the latest, street breathalyzers.


Why it works:

Contextually Disruptive: Guerilla marketing grabs attention in ways that are disruptive yet entertaining. By taking advantage of current situations and doing something different you are sure to get people talking. Who can argue with a breathalyzer that they are good to drive?Inexpensive: Pulling off a successful campaign has a lot more to do creativity than large budgets. While some bigger players have jumped on the band wagon, a clever, well-timed stunt can be just as effective.

App Example

Temple Run surprised its players during Super Bowl season by turning the game runner into quarterbacks from the top teams. The animated football players stood out from the traditional app experience, plus it took advantage of an event that was generating a lot of buzz. The pros even got in on the action promoting the game on their own social networks.



There are a variety of ways you can incorporate elements of guerilla marketing into your strategy. Real world gameplay outside a targeted event, social media pranks, holiday game changes, and rewards-based advertisements are all great examples.Here are the 3 rules for guerilla marketing to be effective:

  1. It must have an element of surprise
  2. It must loosely align with your app core values
  3. It must be targeted and relevant

Referral Programs

Airbnb was famously able to scale their business quickly with their refer-a-friend program that gave each new member a code for a friend to receive $25 off their first stay. Referral programs are word of mouth... With a little push.


Why it works:

Helping Friends: Referrals are great because it gives an opportunity for people to help their friends. This earns them brownie points and makes them thought leaders in their circles.Incentives: What was so great about Airbnb’s referral was that it gave both parties incentive to come back and use their product. Having double-sided referrals can bring twice as much traffic back to your app.

App Example

Not surprisingly, Candy Crush did this one especially well. By getting friends to sign up for the app on Facebook, players earned extra lives and those oh-so-important candy crushers. What is so great about this model, is the referral program didn't cost candy crush a thing. Instead of monetary incentives they focused on extending gameplay.



To put a referral program in place for your app you can easily follow the Candy Crush model and give out virtual currency for incentives. You could also reward referrals with unlocked content, or work with another developer to do a player exchange program.The 3 rules for referral programs

  1. It must have a valuable incentive
  2. It must be clearly communicated
  3. It must be easy to implement (simple codes work best)
Obviously, there are many tools out there to promote your app. But at the end of the day, the reputation your app earns will end up being your most important asset. Creating that positive public opinion is the first step - but making it easy for people to talk and share and become your champion is what it’s all about. So get creative and give people a reason to talk!

Taylor Odgers
Taylor is the Community Engagement Manager at Tap for Tap an indie-focused mobile exchange that delivers moments-based ads. When not at her desk she can be found in the office VW writing her next post or running outside. For more indie insights check out the Tap for Tap blog or tweet @tapfortap

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