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Mobile user engagement apps: Trends & requirements

Study reveals which features, capabilities are most valued in user engagement apps

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The mobile engagement app has emerged as a way to acquire, retain, and monetize loyal user bases. When designed properly, everyone gains from the app. Users are more satisfied, productive, and even safer. Businesses can enjoy larger and more predictable revenue streams. Executed poorly, mobile apps can have low download rates, and become abandoned, forgotten or deleted.

To learn more about how businesses are using these apps and their plans for the future, we surveyed companies across all industries. A high percentage of organizations have already determined they need an engagement app. To date, most of the apps in use are being developed in-house; commercial off-the-shelf versions are up and coming, but not yet well-known. We learned there is still lots of room for improvement and that an important requirement of the apps is to track location.

The Most Desired Features

Interactive apps can theoretically do everything from greeting visitors and providing technical information, to interactively troubleshooting products before the user realizes a problem exists.

According to our survey, the most desirable features involve information sharing, which jibes with the top goal of “informing users.” Other important features include showing maps and location, scheduling, Q&A interaction, in-app purchasing, and providing parking information.

A more sinister way to drive user engagement is to make your apps literally addictive. Tristan Harris describes competition in the attention economy, where companies that lose the quest for user attention go out of business. In his TED talk, Harris explains how Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, and Google use psychological vulnerabilities to keep their users returning and their advertisers satisfied. We recommend being aware of these techniques, but instead offer your users tangible benefits through your app to keep them engaged.

Using The App to Collect Data

Of all the types of data that apps can collect, location is by far the most important. Businesses want to know where their users are and how long they stay there. With this information, they can provide help, understand traffic flows, and improve building layout. After location data, businesses are eager to capture demographics, mobile device details, and purchasing history.

We asked whether the app should engage users before, during or after their visits; 78% of businesses answered “during.” Almost as many, 72%, say it’s important to begin the engagement even before they arrive. And more than half indicated they want to continue the interaction after the customers have left.

An important, but less obvious use of engagement apps is as a source of revenue. Monetization can occur transparently behind the scenes, or can be painfully visible with advertisements or interactive forms that request valuable personal information. Our survey found that sponsorships are the most often used method of generating revenue through engagement apps.

Businesses Are Not Yet Satisfied

There is still ample room for improvement with existing mobile engagement apps; only 36% say they are satisfied with the app they are using.

Today, most apps are developed in-house; only 9% have purchased apps from software vendors. Of those vendors, the brands most often mentioned include: CampusSafe, Rover,  Modo Labs, YinzCam, Roaming Around, and MobileSmith.

Here are comments and advice from IT managers regarding mobile user engagement apps:

“I think everybody uses some form of social media so the easier the app makes it to cross over, the less likely the user will be to leave your app and get sucked into feeds on social media networks.”

“If the organization doesn't have a process for keeping the app updated and relevant the app will not keep public interest.”

“In education, our need is different from a venue/event app. We would like to provide access to class schedules (for students), grades for parents, calendar of events for sporting events, lunch menu, etc. Definitely something worth looking into, but given the lack of educational funding, it's hard to invest in a nicety like a mobile app.”

“Make them bug free and secure, easy to install and remove; be sure it is reliable, and give the user the best information at the time they need it.”

Bob Nilsson is the Director of Vertical Solutions Marketing at Extreme Networks. He has more than 30 years of experience in marketing IT systems to Global 1000 companies worldwide.