As an iPhone and Facebook developer myself, the panel at GMIC SV on user acquisition and virality really hit home. It’s really hard to have a successful app if you have no users. I was lucky that Campus Maps (www.GetCampusMaps.com) went viral at the University of Maryland, but even now I am having difficulty gaining traction at other universities. Some ideas were offered during the panel discussion on “The Holy Grail for Mobile Apps: User Acquisition and Virality”, moderated by David Cao (President, GWC US) and panelists Baudoin Corman (VP Publishing of the Americas, Gameloft), William Siu (Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer, Storm8), Bryan Trussel (Co-Founder and CEO, Glympse), and Vinny Lingham (CEO, Gyft).
The core takeaways of this panel were to build a great product, and iterate quickly.
The panelists agreed that rapid iteration is a great approach, for it gives the app a much larger chance of success. This is because it is difficult to gauge reception of an app, graphics, or features without real market testing. By seeing what works and what doesn’t, the lagging features can be culled and the good features enhanced. Map rotation was one such example of this in Campus Maps – I thought it was a must-have feature to have the map rotate to face the way the user is looking. Users disagreed however, and I quickly rolled back the feature. If you do not listen to the market (and do what is best for the customer!) users will stop recommending your app to other users and the product’s virality can take a steep decline. I believe Zynga is one example of placing profit over the customer’s best interests and desires.
Sometimes an iteration is so great that the core of the product changes. Pivoting isn’t always a declaration of failure, but can be an infusion of innovation into the product and approach. For me, the logic is simple. If the current approach is not working as well as expected, try something else. In the words of Vinny, make your app “worthy of people’s time and they will tell others about it”.
Another approach to user acquisition and virality suggested by Baudoin Corman is to create a community. By interacting with press, bloggers, and customers, the product can gain a loyal user base in addition to better understanding users needs.
It’s difficult to know what will go viral before releasing it. William Siu touched on this with his comment, “Things are always changing. You won’t know until you try it out.” To me, this is a cultural cornerstone in Silicon Valley. Release. Iterate. Repeat. It’s a simple but successful approach that works time and time again.