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3 keys to achieving viral recommendations for your mobile app

At my previous company, MoConDi, we enjoyed tremendous success with our MeYou mobile app recommendation engine. The principle was simple: We create an in-app catalog of content, and allowed users to recommend apps to their friends via SMS. For every 5th purchase your friends made, you would receive a free app. At the time, as far as we know, we were the only company doing this, and we managed to achieve a 30% uplift in sales for our clients (see here for an in-depth case study).

Viral recommendations were the holy grail for mobile content, and has only increased in importance as marketing costs escalate and it gets harder and harder to get noticed as an app developer to make money.  Studies have shown that +70% of purchase decisions are based on recommendations from friends. For mobile apps, Nielsen found that after search 63%), friend recommendation was the most important app discover mechanism (61%). So one wonders why so much is spent on traditional marketing – good luck on your ASO strategy with 1m apps in one marketplace – rather than cracking the code on viral recommendations. The answer is that it is hard. What we did at MeYou – viral recommendation with incentives – has not been replicated to any extent — until recently.

There are a few companies popping up, such as Appsfire, Zwapp, and a handful of others that share purchases. However, only Israeli company Buzzdoes have blended incentives into the mix, in a flexible an open platform.  Here is what I like about what Buzzdoes does (say that 3 times quickly), and how it pertains to cracking the viral recommendations code for mobile app developers.

1. Provide incentives

At MoConDi we firmly believe that the prospect of getting free games was a key driver for recommendations going out. Buzzdoes has this integrated, and you can structure this multiple ways, by using their program, which gives out points which can be used for shopping, but better yet – if you are an app store – use it to give away more content. This is how you can turn your top spenders into advocates.  Buzzdoes own research proves this point:


2. Make it seamless

The user experience has to be absolutely super simple. Recommending should only be a few clicks away. At MoConDi we used address book integration and SMS, which worked quite well. These days apps are integrated to not only the phone contacts, but your Facebook friends, email lists and so on – thus making this  a lot simpler.

3. Make it relevant

While providing incentives gets people going, you need to make sure those incentives have relevance. For MoConDi it was very straight forward: Refer games, and you will get games for free. It cannot  get simpler than that. Whether being rewarded with virtual currency has value depends on where and how that virtual currency can get spent.  Also, the incentives you offer are also closely tied to controlling the user behavior and making sure that you are not creating spammers who will send multitudes of messages to their friends in order to get rewards. People in general do not mind getting recommendations, but would perhaps object to daily “recommendations” from a friend.

Of course, there are other options. You can rely on the app stores to do it for you through analysis of friend purchases, like Amazon does. You can look at contextual recommendations, which is a relatively new field and exciting given the amount of context a mobile device can give, or you can pay per install as well, which gives a clear insight into the amount of users you get for your marketing (but not necessarily whether you get the right users or not).  Personally, I would certainly recommend seriously considering viral recommendations like how Buzzdoes enables, as I’ve seen it work – but put some real thought behind how you would do it, learn, then iterate.  Good luck!

Posted in The Business of Mobile.

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