We continue in our quest to reach the final goal of our top ten tips for creating a mobile startup, arriving at part two. Following on from wonderful top ten tips for your mobile startup, this week we tackle the community. What is it and why is it important?
“And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families”. Margaret Thatcher, 1987
Roll forward a few years and unless you have been hiding in quite a remote cave, you will have seen the world of crowd funding arrive and develop for a wide range of businesses, creating a new set of economic families. Kickstarter now has everything from mobile apps to Christmas glow in the dark t-shirts. Luckily not all are funded, but the best are. Involving the community of users that might take up your app is a great way of starting the development of your mobile app. If you still need convincing, let me run through some of the key questions mobile startups tend to face and see whether the community can help with any of that. Here goes:
- What devices and which versions do you need to support? – the community can help.
- Which features should your mobile app have? Ask the community.
- Who is going to download your app from day one? The community. If it is there.
- How will you know what bugs and issues need fixing in your app? Ask the community.
- Why will you be able to charge users for your app or service? Because you asked the community.
- How do we answer the quest for world peace? Ask the…hmn, maybe just get Kevin Bacon on that one…he seems to be able to connect everyone these days. Or that lovely Van Damme Man, he seems to build bridges everywhere.
Hopefully are all now all down with the community. They have turned up. The stage is lit. What to do, what to do…practically, there are three useful steps to take now to start engaging with them over the mosh pit, with / without leather trousers:
- Online community engagement tools
- Community engagement website
- Test community recruitment
1. Online community engagement tools
There are a variety of great customer / community engagement tools around product support. Uservoice, GetSatisfaction and other similar services such as UseResponse and UserEcho aim at providing an independent service to owners of product and services, to support their user community. Suggestions, amends and ideas for developments and improvements from users are all allowed to have their voice here with one main difference. The clever part is driving users to vote on their favourite amends to allow the business owner to review the current app then start to plan for the features to roll out over time, to satisfy the needs of the community.
Most services included here have APIs available too so they can be embedded within the actual apps themselves e.g. the UserVoice iOS SDK. This means that app users can engage with you as a business owner without having to leave the app and more importantly without leaving negative comments on the app store and rating you badly. By providing a community and support service easily to the app user, as they are using the app, the barrier to interacting with you is set very low and engagement is much higher.
2. Community engagement website
Once again, there are again a variety of different services you can choose from including the hosted Launchrock and KickoffLabs or even a WordPress powered solution via Launcheffect App . All of them have a common goal, which is to provide one central point for users interested in your app project to register their interest before you launch. Typically this fires off their details into an email newsletter, for you to send out details at your will, but also this tends to include social media links as well so the users can choose how to keep themselves updated. Design-wise the idea tends to be less = more, with the intrigue being built up by large background images and esoteric marketing strap lines to tease the user. Often this is because Jorge the ROCKSTAR DESIGNER still hasn’t work out which shade of teal your app icon needs to be and wants it to be featured on http://iosicongallery.com/ as soon as possible. While all that is being decided, best probably to keep the design and layout simple as you can always update this over time to match the app as it develops.
I would advise here, if you have diligently followed my previous step and established a presence on any of the community tools I mentioned, to simply link out to that here instead of embedding it. Why? Well, users can be unpredictable and can create content at will at a speed that is terrifying and strange in equal measures. As a result, you don’t want to put off new app users, potential funders, advertisers and beyond by showing off the extremes of your user community, but you still want to have them involved. Keeping this on a separate site as well allows community members to feel a sense of ownership over the content and means the feedback or interaction should be more informal and truthful. This might be painful but it is also beneficial in the long run to provide you with greater insight into what your users are thinking about your app at that time. Starting this process early and getting your URL up and running as well provides additional SEO benefits as well. If you have a working title for your app project that there could well be competition for, starting the holding site allows you to start capturing some of that traffic as well as allowing you to collect analytics about site visitors. If you do have a name or brand decided, even trademarked no less, you can add your app name into the store before you have even cut a line of code. As long as you follow up with the real app in less than 180 days in Apple Land or forever if you are in Google Land; you can leave that there as a placeholder to make sure nobody else produces an app with that name.
3. Test community recruitment
The third and final strand I am suggesting is around establishing app testers from within your user community. Hosted services were set up a few years ago to use the Apple iOS features for O.T.A distribution of apps to users, the leaders being TestFlight and HockeyApp, whereas bug trackers such as BugSense, Crittercism and Applause also handle some of these elements. The main aim of both is to allow you to test your app with your community during a beta or pre-live release. In both systems, you set a recruitment link here and here, on both systems respectively. You can then send these links out to your community however you wish, for them to sign up to. When they sign up, you will then get a copy of their UDID to pop into your provisioning profile, but more importantly information about their level of iOS and also their device. You can then login and see what kind of split you have across both of those elements, to check whether you are supporting all of them or whether you actually need to! Once you issue the app to those users, their feedback and more importantly app crash logs, will be invaluable to help you improve the performance and quality of your app before it goes live in the iTunes store.
These services include Android as well as iOS platforms, but luckly Android only apps could well use the new Google Developer service for beta testing, rolled out first at the Google I/O Conference in 2013. This provides you with a range of advanced tools to do rollouts for testing, including:
- Community engagement – setting up a testing group via Google Plus or Google Group
- Alpha and beta stages – providing flexibility in rollouts
- Staged rollouts – giving apps to percentages of your group over time
- All running through Google Play – for ease of access and use
- Crash reporting as standard – all included for free
There is also a limited automated testing service in open beta from Amazon for its Android / HTML Appstore - currently it doesn’t involve community engagement but watch this space. I am sure as they have figured out those drones, that will be the next amend on the cards. Subscribe to our blog for updates as we unpick these top ten ideas and give advice and guidance about how to tackle these in your startup. Next week? Come with us and learn how to, “Work out how to measure success before you start”. If you have any questions or want us to cover a particular area in a future post, leave a comment below and we can follow up. Thanks y’all and see you next time! [Image credit "Bike outside house" - Florian Klauer via Unsplash ]