I began learning Java and developing for the Android platform about a year ago. Eventually, I want to make it a full-time career, but for now I still maintain a full-time job as a trainer for a large retailer. With nearly a decade of retail experience under my belt, I have seen more than my fair share of consumer focus group studies, statistics, PowerPoint presentations, and informational training videos on the importance of connecting with customers.
The common theme in all the data and training I have received over the last ten years has been that in almost every case, retailers that take steps to engage with and form emotional connections with their customers end up at an advantage over retailers that do not. These retailers have customers that are more loyal, shop in the stores for longer stretches of time, and spend more money. The customers that are satisfied by these companies would describe their shopping experience as “exceptional” and tend to share the good experiences they have with their friends, family, and coworkers. We call these evangelizing customers promoters.
When I was in high school, my father gave me an old Chevy Cavalier that had sat in his driveway untouched for years. Every time that it warmed up, it would abruptly cut off. The car would start again, but once I put it into “Drive,” it would shut right back off again. I would have to wait for the car to cool down and drive in tiny stretches. When I took it to a nearby mechanic, he could have told me that there was an expensive problem with my transmission or cooling system and I would have believed him. Instead, he popped my hood, wiggled some thing, and fixed it instantly. He also sent me on my way free of charge. His honesty won my loyalty, and every time someone I know has an issue with their car I recommend him. To him, I am a promoter, and he has made a lot of business just from my positive word of mouth.
Customers that shop in stores and have poor experiences, on the other hand, will often tell their friends about the bad experiences that they have had. Perhaps they dealt with a rude or inattentive cashier or noticed that a product they are looking for on the shelf is always out of stock. Whatever the case may be, these customers that say bad things about their experience to others are called detractors. Because bad word of mouth usually spreads more effectively than good, we always say in the office that it takes 7+ promoters to make up for the negative effects of one detractor. A really loud and unhappy detractor can really damage the reputation and trust that customers have with a business.
The third and final type of customers are the ones that shop in the stores and have simply average experiences. They have no stories to tell to their friends. Retailers want to win them over and convert them into promoters, but are happy that they are not detractors.
Applying this to Android Development
It doesn’t matter if you are creating apps for income or for fun, if you want other people to install your application there are some things that can be learned from the big retailers. Let’s face it, at the end of the day the people who are downloading and using our apps are our customers.
Winning Over Your Users
We, just like any successful business out there, want to turn our users into promoters. The more voices besides your own that are promoting your app, the more likely potential users are to at least try it out.
On top of that, we all like to know that somebody out there appreciates and has a use for the apps that we have poured our time and energy into. Users that say good things about my apps in the Play Store always cheer me up and motivate me to continue developing. I had a user leave this review on Google Play just the other day, and it put a smile right on my face:
I have been looking for ages trying to find something like this! All of the other ones are crap. And Really nice interface…GET IT NOWWWWW!
While reviews on Google Play are very important, earning a promoter from a large blog or website can feel like hitting the jackpot for an Android developer. Many of the new apps that I (and many other users!) try out come from reviews that I see on the Verge or Android Police, for example. Even a mention on a big-name website can lead to thousands of installs for your application.
Here are a few ways that you can turn your users into promoters:
Make Quality Apps
First and foremost, your app needs to work. If it doesn’t do what it claims it will do, many users will quickly uninstall it and leave a scathing review in the Play Store. On the other hand, an app that does its job well will earn positive feedback.
Secondly, I recommend spending a good deal of time making it easy to use. Even if the app works, users that cannot figure it out aren’t as likely to leave you positive feedback or keep your app installed at all.
Adhering to the Android Design Guidelines is a great way to get noticed, and ignoring them is a quick way to get blasted. There was a great example of this all over the Android blogs just a week ago. Before the Android Guidelines were in place, Microsoft released a Hotmail app for Android. It didn’t look great, but it did its job and received fairly good reviews in the Play Store:
Last week, to promote their Outlook email service, they released a rebranded clone of the Hotmail app. It is literally the same app in almost every single way except that a few icons have changed. (If you don’t believe me, by the way, Android Police wrote an article on this titled, “Microsoft Releases A Pathetic Excuse For An Outlook.com App Into The Play Store, No Point In Even Installing It“ that breaks it down with screenshots. Droid Life titled theirs “Microsoft Produces the Most Horrible Looking App to Launch Since Gingerbread With Their Outlook.com App.”) If the design guidelines didn’t matter to users, one could reasonably predict the same kind of good reviews for this nearly identical app that the Hotmail app received. The reviews of the Outlook app paint a different picture, however, as you can see below.
Users are looking for the design guidelines in their apps. Violating them (or, even worse, badly porting an iOS app) will create detractors. Take a look at a review that a user posted for the Outlook app:
The only good thing about this app is that it’s functional. Other than that, Microsoft put in the least amount of effort required in its design and implementation. Just use your browser and avoid this app.
The last thing you want is a review like this one this!
Find a Niche
If you are able to create an app that does something useful and fills a unique need, it can earn you a lot of promoters. Android, for example, is unable to sync contact information or profile pictures with Facebook out of the box due to a problem with the Facebook API. Developer Mathias Roth decided to do it himself, and created HaxSync. I love his app; it works, he keeps it updated regularly, and it fills a need for me that no other app for me has been able to. The bigger the need that can be filled, the better, and the earlier you tackle the niche, the better.
If you, however, are creating an app that will be competing in a saturated market (like Twitter clients ), you had better make sure that there is something about it that gets it noticed or stands out as unique if you want to succeed. For example, I decided to tackle the saturated “Minecraft Player’s Guide” niche and I developed a guide that would end up listed with similar apps that had hundreds of thousands of installs. In order to compete with these big players in the niche, I built Craft O to have a better interface and unique features that I think made it stand out when compared to the others. At the time of writing, it has between 100,000 and 500,000 installs, and almost 1,000 reviews in the Play Store. Had my app not been unique in some kind of way, it could have easily been ignored in favor of other, more popular apps. Instead, I have had over 600 promoters say good things about it.
Do Not Anger your Users
In the retail industry, breaking the trust of a customer is the fastest way to earn loud detractors. In 1992, for example, a report on ABC’s Prime Time Live exposed the grocery chain Food Lion for its unsanitary handling of meats and seafoods. The investigative journalists caught employees in the chain bleaching old meats to make them look fresh, repacking expired meats as new, and using nail polish to remove expiration dates from products. This negative press caused them to lose out in many markets, and their reputation for breaking customer trust still follows them over 20 years later.
Even on a smaller scale, customers do not like it when even a single employee or sales person in a store breaks their trust. For example, as soon as a customer feels as if a salesperson is just trying to ‘up sell’ them an unnecessary product to make more money they no longer feel as if the salesperson has their best-interest in mind and they often choose not to do business with that person or company in the future.
Android owners, in a similar way, can be easily driven off when a developer breaks their trust. There are many ways to do this, and the following is a small list of just things that you may want to avoid:
- Selling, transmitting, making vulnerable, or storing their private information without their explicit knowledge and consent, for example, will earn you detractors.
- Serving them ads via Airpush invades their notification bar with advertisements and could taint any positive experience they might have with your application.
- Requiring in-app purchases to complete a game. (Unless it is a game demo – those are ok.)
- Posing as another app to deceive users into downloading yours.
There are many others I’m sure, but Android developers need to realize while that these dishonest tactics might seem beneficial in the short-term (financially, but definitely not morally), they cannot be sustained (financially) in the long-term due to the public backlash in the form of detractors that they cause. (Besides, your reputation should be worth more to you than any money you could receive.)
Listen to Feedback
One of the most common traits I see with good developers is the ability to listen to feedback. While it is certainly true that not all ideas that your users have will be possible, fit the scope of your project (or even make sense or be good ideas), listening to them and at least considering what they are saying is a very good idea.
I like to make of list of all the ideas that my users give me. I automatically include the ideas that I think are good in my regular updates, but I continue to tally the number of times that I see a request for a particular feature that has not yet been implemented. I use that list along with my judgment and vision for the direction of the app to decide what I will be working on in the each update for that app. In fact, in the past if I have used a really great idea that has been recommended to me by a user, I have emailed them a pro-key for the app as a way of saying thanks. This has earned me several promoters, and these kind gestures along with some thankfulness goes a long way for many users.
A friend of mine was reading some old comments about my Debt Tracker app out loud to me the other day as a lighthearted challenge to excellence. I was pleased when I realized that many of the recurring requests for features or bug-fixes that were made early on have already made their way into the app or into the big update that I am working on for it. It feels good knowing that I have developed the skill to give the thousands of people using my app the features that they are requesting, and I am sure that it will show in the promotion that I will receive from the users.
Getting New Users
Following the above advice to win over your users doesn’t do you much good if you don’t have any! If you have created a quality app that you would like to promote yourself to gain users (and hopefully promoters!), here are a few things you can try:
Social Networks are an incredibly effective way to share your apps with users around the world. Posting to Reddit has given many developers the exposure needed to kickstart their apps. Millions of people, including blog writers and potential users, browse Reddit every day, and if you share something that truly is interesting and unique, it can spread like a wildfire. Also, some of the subreddits like /r/Android, /r/androiddev, and /r/androidapps have a high concentration of members that are normally willing to try out your app and give you feedback.
Other networks, like Facebook, Google+, and Twitter are also great ways for potential promoters to find your app, follow you, and receive news on updates. Try to connect with as many Android Developers as you can and give them the same level of feedback that you would like to be given.
If you are following the advice in this post, you can earn a lot of promoters by simply asking your users to give you their honest feedback. One way to do this is to include an option in the menu called “Rate this app” that links users directly to the Play Store so they can give their feedback. This is simple, effective method is not pushy and saves the users the effort of hunting your app down and reviewing it.
Some app developers will occasionally display a dialog that asks the user to rate the app. If done right, this method is acceptable to users. If done wrong, it annoys users and creates detractors, so be careful not to show it intrusively or too frequently. Popular Reddit browsing app, reddit is fun, for example, will occasionally show a dialog that gives users the option to rate, have the app ask later, or have the app never ask again. My experience has been that most users are okay with this method.
Submit your App to a Review Site
If you think your app is up to snuff, there are many websites out there that will give your website a review. My experience is that they are usually overwhelmed with requests and understaffed. Many of them request a payment for a review. I have never tried to submit an app to any of these services, and I would be wary of any websites that ask me for money for a review.
On the other hand, popular Android and tech blogs like The Verge, Droid-Life, and Android Police often showcase apps that stand out to them, and being featured on Android Police’s roundups can give your app a lot of exposure. If its new and you think it is worthy, you can submit your app to them for review. Their guidelines are as follows:
Important: there are 2 requirements in order for the app to be considered, listed below.
- The app’s launch date has to be no longer than 2 weeks ago
- It has to be original, ground-breaking, well-reviewed, interesting, fun, etc – the cream of the crop
Now, if and only if the above requirements have been satisfied, fire up an email to this address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I hope that some of the advice in this article can bring you some inspiration as you are planning, creating, and promoting your applications. If you’ve had any particular success in accomplishing any of these things, please leave some of your ideas and strategies in the comments below. Good luck!