In this duel guest post, Kate O’Loughlin (left in lead image), strategy manager at Rufus and Leah Franco (right), strategy manager at Initiative, take a somewhat scientific approach to what makes a successful app…
While the word Shuffle may conjure up memories of late 2000’s viral dance moves, it now has a totally new meaning.
The launch of Shuffles (by Pinterest) in August caused quite a stir. Unlike the Gen Z version of its parent company, Shuffles doesn’t include boards or pins but rather is a space for people to make art with inspirational images sourced from the Pinterest image engine.
The digital collage app launched through an invite-only system using codes. Codes originated with select creators who then offered codes to their communities – eventually we saw comments and requests for Shuffles codes spread across the interwebs. Immediately, we were intrigued.
After searching deeper for a code than even Da Vinci himself, it got us thinking. Many apps come and go, so is there a winning strategy for launch longevity?
We identified three ways to group social media apps and of course provided our totally unsolicited opinion…
Model one: block
Selective, invite-only platform. Avoids a mass awareness launch and just goes with a select few influencers/tastemakers to drive groundswell. Why is this so appealing?
K: I love the feeling of getting into a club that’s rejected a bunch of people at the door and being able to brag to my friends. I know that says a lot about my character, but I like to feel a part of something!
L: Nah it is totally natural; FOMO is real! It is such an interesting way to launch the platform given that the strength of a social network is usually in its breadth.
K: I think this model is great because it drives natural hype. I was practically trading Shuffles codes like a currency on TikTok when it launched. The downside is that trends die. I mean it’s physics – what goes up, must come down. While the immediate buzz is massive, there will eventually be a lull in the hype. Clubhouse (audio-only social forum app), which also launched through an invite-only system, got 10MM downloads in Feb 2021 but only 900K in April 2021 (Forbes). Beyond the tech-bros that get frothy about the idea of any new platform, apps using this model clearly do need to eventually invest in more traditional brand building strategies to sustain growth. So, what do these more traditional approaches look like? Let’s move to model two…
Model two: beg
Often the newest and loudest kid in the playground. Big platform trying to get users from anywhere. The challenger taking on the Goliaths. But also, a way to continue momentum after you have cultivated a small, dedicated following.
K: It’s classic media theory that you maximise your 1+ reach at launch to anyone who could potentially download your platform. We see platforms offering a better/more authentic (cringe)
version of anything else available, just asking you to PLEASEPRETTYPLEASE download the app and ‘try for yourself’. This feels like an obvious launch approach, but at the same time potentially the hardest. With what is now such big, historical players in market it feels near impossible for the little guy to get their voice heard.
L: The past few years have seen plenty of scandals for social media, so it feels like every platform is begging us to forgive and keep using them. It’s classic playground politics – you want people to think you are cool, but the act of telling people you are cool makes you even more uncool. When you’re begging people to join your platform, you risk coming across as desperate.
K: This does feel like the best long-term strategy so long as there is enough of a hook to keep people on the platform and talking about it. Alternatively, you can just continue to spend the big bucks and hope for that top-of-mind presence.
Model three: borrow
Almost a combination of block and beg, but with finesse. Using a curation of everyday influencers from one social platform to get people to move to the launching platform, and in doing so borrowing another apps audience.
K: It’s a smart approach but it’s risky because there’s a chance the audience you are borrowing won’t care about what you have to offer. To use the borrow model effectively it’s important that you really understand your platform and the ideal target audience otherwise you’re at high risk of rejection.
L: This just makes me think of Google+ in 2011. I remember there was a massive push from the top creators on YouTube to get people to use it. It never took off. You have to play a bit of a long game here. Start small. Use people with small, but dedicated communities. Leverage their tight knit social networks to give your platform more of a selling point. If all your friends are on it, why wouldn’t you want to be on it? BeReal did this well by paying college students to download and get some buzz generated. It took a couple of years, but they are starting to get some traction.
So which model is vibe checked?
Ultimately while early adopters fuel initial audience growth, they only go so far at making a platform successful. Advertising dollars amongst a bigger and broader audience are needed to help an app thrive. Successful social platforms house more than a select few, but rather create communities of advocates that are continuously sharing content for long-term success.
However, launching using a scarcity mindset approach (the Block model) creates potential to drive a disproportionate share of cultural conversation. To genuinely cut through against the social clutter and have people asking to join your platform is not to be taken lightly given brands are fighting for just two seconds of attention from consumers.
Sorry Byron Sharp, but maybe launching with high mental availability with limited physical availability may be the way forward.
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