It’s no secret that social communities are at the heart of some of the most successful internet businesses in history. 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 generated a huge amount of conversation amongst tech communities, with many developers and entrepreneurs struggling to understand how a young company with $0 in revenue could justify such an enormous valuation.Instagram was just the start. In subsequent years, Facebook has gone on to acquire WhatsApp for $19 billion, and Snapchat has grown to a valuation of between $10 billion and $20 billion (depending on which article you read!).What is most admirable is the confidence which these business owners have in their communities. For example, prior to its acquisition by Facebook, it had been reported that Whatsapp rejected a bid of $10 billion from Google, whilst Snapchat rejected an acquisition offer from Facebook worth $3 billion.It’s clear that the valuation of these companies is not determined by their revenue. What’s far more important is the scale and engagement levels of the user base with in the product itself. Facebook understand this better than anybody else, and this is proven by the fact that Instagram is now probably worth 10 times what they bought it for.However, you don’t need to build the next Snapchat in order to generate significant value from a social community. Of course, everybody dreams of creating a billion dollar viral network, but I don’t think enough developers realise the value that a community could add to their existing product(s). At Sport.com for instance, we currently have 30+ health and fitness apps, which have received over 45M downloads and register 2 million MAU. Early last year, we decided to make social integration a main priority within our products. After months of planning and hard work, we launched ‘fitNshare’, a community which enables users to gain motivation and inspire each other through progress photos throughout their fitness journeyIn this post I am going to explain the effect of integrating social features into our applications, what we have learnt, and how you too can gain value from developing your own community.
The primary reason for building a social community into our apps was to try and improve user engagement and retention. In June 2014, Localytics reported that 23% of users only open a sports app once after installing it. This is a daunting statistic for health and fitness developers, and it just highlights how big a challenge retention really is.
But why is life so tough in the sports category? Well, firstly there are a lot of very talented developers working on genuinely great applications, which makes the category very competitive. This means that if you don’t offer immediate value to a user, they can easily discover another high quality solution. Secondly, personal fitness requires willpower from the user themselves. Typically, not every user sticks to their fitness plan, and this has an effect on retention rates.We saw social community as a key tool in combatting the retention challenge because it is withing the human nature to seek interaction with others. In exploring the importance of user psychology in our products, we discovered that having fresh, community-submitted content each time a person logs in really does make a difference on how frequently they visit your app.So, what effect has the fitNshare network had on retention within our apps? I think what’s important is that users now return to our apps for reasons other than just to work out. More and more users are logging on to check in on their friends’ progress, and to be inspired by others who are striving for similar goals. Ultimately, 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
Every developer wants to know as much relevant information about their users as possible. Knowing and understanding your users enables you to build a more engaging product with targeted content and better features.For example, we have discovered that women prefer indoor activities such as yoga, whilst men are more interested in outdoor activities such as cycling. By combining this data with basic user information which we gain upon sign up, we are now able to recommend more relevant activities to our users.There are significant benefits for marketing teams too. When linking your usage data to specific user demographics within your app, you gain a far better understanding of which user cohorts are of most value to your product, and this is invaluable data for your acquisition campaigns.As an example, since implementing fitNshare across our network we have learned that females make 43% more in-app-purchases than males, despite males 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 now adjust user acquisition budgets accordingly in order to get optimal results.
Stand Out From The Crowd...
As both the Apple and Google Play stores have matured, competition has increased significantly. In the health and fitness category, from calorie counters to smart alarm clocks, consumers now have a phenomenal choice of high quality applications to choose from.We’ve actually found our social community to be a significant differentiator for our products. So many applications now have very similar features to one another, but one element which you can't replicate is a community.
Tips For Building Your Own Community
The last year has been a fascinating journey for us, and we’ve learnt a huge amount about the impact of social on mobile. However, these 3 key points in particular have stood out for me:Firstly, it’s vitally important to know which assumptions you are making when building your community, and to test these assumptions wherever possible. In many cases, the data we have received back from our users has been different to what we anticipated, and as a result we have had to adjust our product strategy.One of the best examples I can remember was when we were deciding on a sign up process for the community. I know this is a question that a lot of developers ask themselves when building a social layer to their product. Do you support social sign on, email, or both? Well, in our applications we have given the users the choice between Facebook, email, or no details at all (this results in limited features).Our assumption was for Facebook to be the clear favourite, however we soon learnt this wasn’t the case. From the 1.3 million sign ups we’ve had since summer 2014, only 20% have been via Facebook. Email sign up turned out to be much more popular than expected, with 50% of users opting for this sign up method, while only 30% choose to enter no details at all. The important thing to remember here is that no 2 apps are the same, so you should always test a variety of sign on methods before jumping to conclusions.Secondly, we have been surprised (in a good way!) by the adoption rate of fitNshare. Organic growth alone has seen us reach well over 1 million users in just under 8 months after launch. Whilst we have not run into any scalability issues thanks to having existing resource, when building a social community you need to ensure that if things do go better than expected, then you can manage the demand.Finally, I can’t stress enough how important it is to pay close attention to the engagement of your user base. How often are users sharing content? How many interactions do they make with other members of the community? What key actions enhance retention? You need to identify your KPIs as early as possible, and have the ability to track these accurately.Be on the lookout for any correlation between user engagement within your community and engagement on your core product. For example, if the aim of your community is to increase retention, regularly check to see if who are your most engaged users and see if you can get these users to interact with your core product. Ultimately, it is important to create a community around your app in which the company's values and those of the community are shared.