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In-App Communities: A Guide to Ensure Retention Through User Empowerment

Deniz Taşyürek
September 29, 2022

If you're trying to get ahead with your app, you face stiff competition today. There are simply too many apps out there, and the number is only growing. As a result, many users tend to switch between apps and quickly move their attention from one app to the other. Today, there are around 8.93 million apps on the market, with app abandonment happening frequently. Specifically, 25% of users abandon an app after one use, with the number dropping after one use but spiking with 11 or more sessions. This abandonment rate makes it crucial to do what you can to retain users as much as possible. If you want to differentiate yourself and maximize user engagement and retention, one effective solution is to build an in-app community. When you grow an app community, you'll be able to grab and hold users' attention and prevent them from leaving. 

In this guide to in-app communities, we'll explore why you need them, how to get started with in-app communities, some of the challenges you might face along the way, and some best practices for building them.

Why Does Your App Need a Community?

There are many benefits of developing in-app communities. Modern mobile users are seeking mobile experiences they can be a part of actively, particularly Generation Z, which is a generation that desires agency. The following are some reasons why you should build an in-app community.

1) It Helps You Build a Two-Way Communication With Users

When you build an in-app community that connects with users, you'll be able to facilitate two-way communication. You can encourage users to give feedback regarding the usability and functionality of the app and implement their suggestions. You can ask about their experience and what improvements or changes they would like to see. Showing that you value users' input will further drive retention and engagement. Additionally, you can give users the chance to communicate with each other to build a real community among your user base.

You can also give your users some tips and tricks for using the app and getting the most from it.

If people feel like they're truly interacting with the developers behind the app along with other users, this can go a long way in making them loyal to you over competitors.

2) It Strengthens the Sense of Belonging

When users become part of an in-app community, they'll feel like they truly belong. Many users, especially younger generations, are always seeking a sense of belonging when they use certain technology, whether it's social media or an app, or both. If you can create a community within your app that imbues that sense of belonging, users will keep coming back to you to continue being a part of that community. 

Through certain interactions, users will be more inclined to use your app more consistently. 

people bringing likes and hearts-on-a-smartphone-in-app-community-concept
Satisfied app users

3) Users Look for Authenticity Instead of Curated Brand Content

If your app only feels like a platform for your brand as opposed to users, you may turn people away. Instead, opt for authenticity in the form of genuine expression. 

Give users the ability to express themselves within your app, offering them the ability to develop a personalized experience that speaks to them. Give them the chance to change the functionality of the app based on their preferences, along with the design. This will help change the overall look and feel of the app for individual users, which will make it more authentic. People won't feel like you're simply trying to advertise a brand and sell it to them. Instead, they'll see that you care about giving your users a unique experience that's tailored to them.

4) In-App Communities Give Users More Options to Engage With the App

When you build an in-app community for your users, you can give them plenty of ways to engage with your app that go beyond the core functionality.

For example, you can integrate a messaging feature that gives users the ability to communicate with developers. They can instantly ask questions or express concerns and get feedback in a convenient solution. 

Users can also create unique profiles within the app that allow for additional expression. They can use this profile to share images and information that's unique to them and makes them feel like they're even more integrated into the app. 

Depending on the app, you can also push personalized feeds that promote relevant and valuable content within the app. For example, in a news app, users could have a feed that pushes stories in their favorite categories daily. This would help keep them coming back if they can keep up with the news with optimum convenience through the app.

5) In-App Communities Increase User Retention and App Stickiness

Another advantage when you grow an app community is increased retention and stickiness for your app by offering a consistently fresh experience to users. An in-app community creates a living app that never goes stale as users keep coming back to see what's new.

Users will want to see what people are saying in the community along with any updates that further enrich the app. This will help generate a fear of missing out (FOMO) that ensures more people come back. You'll see this reflected in the session frequency metric when tracking app stickiness. If you notice that the number of daily active users (DAU) and monthly active users (MAU) increases, this indicates good app stickiness.

woman-holding-a-megaphone-on-a-mobile-screen-catching-the-attention-of-people-holding-gadgets-in-app-community-concept
In-app community

6) It Will Help You Maximize Session Durations

You'll also be able to increase session duration for more users when you build an in-app community. While branded communities aren't a new phenomenon, the traditional method for building these communities is to use external platforms. These may include social media channels, Reddit, Slack, Quora, and other popular platforms, which are still helpful. However, these platforms are all external and take users away from your app. Instead, you'll want to give users the capabilities of these external platforms within the app experience.

With in-app communities, you'll be able to keep users in your app for longer periods, which will maximize session durations. They'll also multiply the instances when users take a core action within the app that you assign as the most important event. For instance, if you own a content app, the core action could be page visits, while for a shopping app it could be purchases. 

7) In-App Communities Decrease User Acquisition Costs and Utilize the K Factor More Efficiently

With the help of in-app communities, you can also significantly cut down on user acquisition costs. It costs more to acquire users than retain them, as recent statistics prove. If you build a community within your app that keeps users engaged, you'll encourage new users to join more easily and keep them coming back, which will reduce the amount you spend on acquiring users.

In addition, you'll be able to use the K factor to your advantage. K factor is a metric that paints a complete picture of your app's virality. It works by measuring the number of users each current user helps acquire. If you create a compelling community that people enjoy, they'll be more likely to spread the word about your app and share it with friends and family. Users who are influencers with a loyal following may also encourage their audiences to become a part of your community. 

8) You Can Lend an Ear to Your Community to Better Understand the Expectations of Users

Through two-way communication, you can listen to your community and find out what users want from you. What are some challenges that you can help navigate? What is your app lacking that users would like to see? How can you make the app experience even more intuitive for users? These are simply a few of the many questions you can ask the community when requesting feedback.

Consider using in-app surveys or polls, or simply ask for users' input when appropriate. Users will likely be impressed that you're taking the time to hear them out and further improve your app. Over time, as you implement user suggestions and cater to the community with a solid user experience, you'll boost retention and user acquisition rates even more.

How to Get Started Building In-App Communities

With a better idea of the benefits of creating an in-app community, you might wonder how to actually go about building one. If you're considering growing an in-app community, the following are some of the steps you can take to do so. With the right strategy, you'll be able to develop a strong community without exceeding your available budget.

"Come for the Tool, Stay for the Network"

This is a strategy that developer Chris Dixon discussed on his blog. The concept involves appealing to new users with an attractive tool that eventually leads users to become part of a larger network. New users will enjoy the single-player abilities that your app offers initially, but you can then bring even more value by revealing the app's community features. 

Users will then want to stay longer than they would if you only offered those single-player features. They'll discover the many possibilities that your app provides and connect with both the developers and other users. This maximizes the staying power of your app and its overall longevity.

group-of-young-people-using-mobile-devices-outdoors-in-app-community-concept
App user engagement

Utilize User-Generated Content

Another great way to build an in-app community is to make use of user-generated content (UGC). This involves letting users create certain types of in-app content that connect with users, which could include user-generated feeds, profiles, chat, and more.

There are many types of in-app UGC that you can enable. For example, you can provide users with in-app videos that summarize their various activities and usage. One app that did this is Journo, which is a travel app that amateurs and professionals can use to record their journeys and incorporate them into travel blogs. Users can share their stories and see others within the app to connect with the in-app community, with the ability to view photos, videos, and notes.

You can also allow for other types of UGC, such as user-generated social media content imported from other platforms. This is one of the most popular applications for in-app UGC. Simply enable others to take content from the other platforms that they use and allow them to access it within your app, which will give them even more reason to continue actively using it.

If you can find a way to get users to create and share custom content within and outside of your app, this will help further solidify the in-app community. When you collect UGC, make sure that people can share it within the in-app community. You can do so by creating an entire section generated to submit and share UGC of any kind. You should also create clear guidelines for users to follow, which can help generate more high-quality UGC that you can gladly showcase on other platforms and within the app.

When curating UGC, use certain tools such as Studicus to edit and clean up any otherwise high-quality UGC that doesn't quite meet your standards. You can then use this content to help market your app.

Encourage Peer-to-Peer Interactions

A strong community allows for peer-to-peer interactions between users. This helps people connect with other users and make them feel more like they're a part of something real as opposed to mere app users. 

In your app, you can enable users to communicate with each other via messaging or other means. Additionally, you can allow for a kind of forum within your app to enable users to create and contribute to topic threads. You can even get involved and respond to any posts or replies and use the community's feedback to continually improve your app over time.

This kind of interaction will make people want to continue using your app for much longer if they can connect with a large community of fellow users. They can also follow along as your app progresses and your user base grows, making them feel an even greater sense of belonging over time.

How to Deal With the Challenges of Building In-App Communities

Building in-app communities brings many rewards, but it's not without its challenges. There are many aspects to consider when growing your community and steps you'll need to take to navigate any potential issues you may encounter. The following are some of the areas to cover when building your in-app community.

Adoption

You will need to start by ensuring that users adopt the community features you include in your app. Users will initially want to join your app for the single-player features, but you'll want to introduce them to the social features at some point to get them to become a part of your in-app community.

When you start introducing the community features to users, you need to make sure they understand how these features work. First, make it clear what features are available to users. You can do so with a welcome screen that new users see, or you can introduce these features at a later point via in-app or other notifications. 

Once you let users know about the community features, you can teach them how to use them properly. During this stage, you can provide users with visual tutorials that indicate how to use each feature. These will help ensure users fully utilize each feature and get the most from it. 

You can then encourage users to give features a try using some carrots to bait them. For instance, you might offer an in-app reward for trying certain features, or you might even have an achievements section in the app based on how users interact with various features. These tricks will get more people to actually use the features once introduced to them.

Retention

After getting users to adopt your community features, you need to ensure your in-app community encourages more user retention. Even if your app flourishes at the start, there's no guarantee that this trend will continue in the long term.

Take the social audio app Clubhouse, which saw a tremendous rise in 2020 and 2021. By early 2021, the app had garnered almost 10 million monthly downloads at its peak. However, just a few months later, the app had dropped to around 900,000 monthly downloads. One of the speculated reasons for this app's rapid decrease in popularity among users was the decreased need for social audio. Once the effects of the pandemic began to subside, people didn't flock as much to these types of apps. At the same time, Clubhouse didn't curate an in-app community that would have given the app some real staying power among users.

Another reason why Clubhouse may have failed was because of its lack of moderation compared to other social apps, which we'll explore in more detail. Unlike other types of content, real-time social audio isn't subject to the same kind of moderation as other content. As a result, more users are worried about the security and privacy of their communications.

What an app like Clubhouse reveals is that you need to find a way to become permanently relevant and not merely a trend. If your app has a novelty aspect to it that users find appealing in the short term, your app won't be sustainable. You can avoid depreciation in performance by analyzing your users' behaviors and needs. You can then incorporate these into your app to ensure it's ever-evolving and relevant.

If you can take the right steps to make your app entirely sustainable, users won't leave and you'll continue to attract more of them. This will keep your app from ever falling out of the spotlight due to changing trends and a lack of community.

Moderation

As mentioned, one reason why Clubhouse may have failed was inadequate security and privacy. Today, both of these elements are more important than ever. People are increasingly worried about hackers, data leaks, and other risks that can compromise them in various ways. Reassure your users by taking the appropriate courses of action to keep your app safe and secure. You should also make sure your moderation entails eliminating any abusive or obscene content to make your app friendly for every stakeholder.

When getting into moderation, you can take several steps. Begin by setting clear rules for content within the app. This can function as a kind of "Rules of Conduct" that users can follow. Make sure that any abusive or illegal content is reported and removed based on the rules you have in place. In some cases, you may be able to place content restrictions into tiers. For example, some content may only be visible to users who created it, while other content might be entirely inaccessible.

You should also give users the ability to help with moderation. Keep in mind that you're never going to be able to keep up with all of the content on your app, especially if your community continues to expand to thousands or even millions of users. To help with this, provide some moderation tools for users to help them moderate content. One specific feature to include is a flag feature, which would enable users to flag images, text posts, or other content in the app that violates your app's rules or otherwise offends users. You or your content review team can then review this content and determine whether it adheres to your "Rules of Conduct." You may also integrate a system that automatically restricts access to or deletes content if people flag it enough times.

Another step to take when moderating your app community is to moderate individual users. This will keep the kinds of people who disrupt your community out of the app while forming a healthy community among loyal users. You can divide users into different categories based on their trustworthiness, which you can gauge based on behavior. While new users might not have any kind of trustworthiness, you can classify them into either trusted or distrusted users depending on how they interact with your app and other users. If a user is distrusted, you'll know to scrutinize their content before allowing others to access it.

Conclusion

When you build an in-app community that people love, you'll ensure that users stay with you in the long run. You'll encourage people to keep using your app on a regular basis while continually attracting new users. Your community will truly empower users and help you stand out among a sea of other apps in your industry. At the same time, you'll benefit from a community that you can analyze to help you figure out how to continue improving upon the user experience.

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