Best practices to make your social app a global success

In 2012, Facebook dominated the social networking space on mobile devices, accounting for 85% of usage in North America and occupying the #1 position in most markets. The penetration of other social apps in the west has slowed down considerably due to FB’s dominance, and according to eMarketer, market growth is expected to drop from 50% in 2011 to 18% in 2014. However, in 2013, Asian Newbies such as Line and Kakao seem to have redefined social networking on mobile. With 74 million users in less than 18 months and already profitable, Line, a messaging application from NHN Japan, has adopted a different strategy for acquiring and monetizing users on mobile devices. The subsequent success of Kakao and WeChat from Korea and China corroborate the success of the strategy.

Another interesting trend is that many apps from US and Europe are experiencing slower growth in existing markets and are looking for new expansion strategies. While the idea of “going into the east” sounds exciting, sheer size and opaqueness of some markets can be daunting. So, what led to the global success of Asian apps? And what does it mean for Western app developers? Here are some best practices and tips for your business model:

Multi-country launch and special focus on Asia: Typically, in the past, most communication apps were made for local markets. Most US and European developers have been apprehensive about Asian markets and their ROIs. However, this trend is changing fast. According to a recent App Annie report, the average lifetime value of users in Japan is 3x times that of the US. Japan and Korea accounted for higher revenues on Google Play in 2013 than the US, while China is growing rapidly to bridge the gap.

With the crowded social app ecosystem and saturation of users in key markets, app developers should start expanding rapidly in Asian countries.

1. Aggressive Marketing Strategy: Most communication apps have taken the route of “organic growth” for acquiring early users. While this technique was effective for early movers and established social networks like FB, the market is now way too fragmented and it’s not wise to rely only on organic growth. In the last 12 months, three of the top ranking iOS apps have been displaced by new ones. Developers who are launching new apps or features should seriously consider paid marketing in competitive markets. At InMobi, we work with 90% of the top ranking apps in this category and recommend the following techniques for user acquisition on mobile-

a. Bursts –Post the soft beta launch of your app, the best way to get a critical volume of users in a short time is to go for burst mobile campaigns. Burst campaigns are almost like “network takeovers” that are used to get high volume of users in 6-7 days. Though an expensive way of marketing, the second order effect on virality, organic downloads and momentum works very well for most social apps.
b. Leverage audience and Geotargeting – Combine the burst campaign with an engaging rich media ad that targets specific cities, device, carrier and OS. This technique helps social apps to build a positive spiral on reviews and other social networks.
c. Trial and Error – Test multiple devices, platforms and improvise fast! Have a multi- pronged launch strategy so that you can hone in on the right audience.

2. Customize, Customize and Customize: According to an Asia Survey report by iResearch, customization for markets can lead to very high retention of users. Maximizing interactions, cute designs, flexible UI, customizing for local nuances etc. are a few examples of what resonates well with customers. Line’s success against What’s App in Spain also validates this trend.

3. Monetize fast: Once your app has reached the critical mass of users, focus your effort towards monetizing the app. While Kakao and Line don’t have the same DAUs (Daily Active Users) as Skype or FB, their healthy revenues from streams like stickers, direct sponsorships and virtual currency enables them to expand quickly in new markets through paid User Acquisition.

4. Focus on the right audience: Design your UI in such a way that it appeals to your target audience, preferably young -middle aged users because such users have a higher propensity to pay for in app purchase. Typically, messaging apps in the US focus only on young users that have a lower ROI. Having a larger audience can help developers hedge such risks. This can also be achieved through a portfolio of countries. According to InMobi’s internal research, 60% of social app users in Japan are older than 25 years, and have a higher propensity for in app purchases. If your app comprises of US users only, it’s time to think of Japan as the next target!

5. Leverage Mobile to its best: The new features in mobile devices e.g. camera, microphone, location detection, 24*7 usage, location detection and virtual items have created a slew of new business opportunities which were not possible in Web. Make sure your app leverages all these features to ensure a richer user experience!

According to Techcrunch, Line was pulling in about 300 million yen or $3.75 million per month in sticker sales.

Mahak is a part of the global performance team at InMobi and focuses on strategic customers in North America (specifically app developers) and product roll outs.

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