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What makes an iPhone app go “viral”?

How do you get people to generate word of mouth traffic about your app? This question is proving to be increasingly poignant with social networking sites continuing to expand and evolve, and the same holding true for the number of iPhone applications available on the iTunes store (now over 30,000).

Approaching the third week since our launch on iTunes, we have learned a thing or two about what seems to work, and what may still need some refining.

1. Create an app that is compelling, original, and promotes return use

According to Apple Insider, less than 5% of applications downloaded from the App Store are still in use after just one month. This can be a discouraging statistic for any developer with ambitions of longevity. Fortunately, for many developers trying to recoup development costs, long term usage is not the primary objective. The first order of business is to entice the user that your app is even worth purchasing in the first place.

When we set out to make PTW, the idea was to create a daily, light-hearted ritual, somewhat akin to a morning coffee or an evening walk; a daily pause if you will to help clear your mind and give you a laugh!

Even before starting production on POOP THE WORLD, we knew that one of our greatest challenges would be in communicating to the market that ours was not of the vulgar variety, containing crass photographs or anything of that nature. And thanks in large part to our design group ENGINE DIGITAL, the visuals associated with our app and the website have really helped us to combat this. Of course, there is still the odd reviewer that will not take the time to go beyond our title and as a result they miss the high level of technology and quality that was built into PTW, and ultimately lump us into the “gag” or “questionable content” category.
Sure that’s not the news you want to see, but at the very least it got people blogging and twittering, and this lead to more articles, which lead to more site visits, and naturally more sales.

Our focus from the start was to create an app that was high quality, and had a certain stickiness to it. Our hope was that this in turn would lead to a heightened user experience, which would lead to repeat usage, followed by word of mouth promotion. To this end we have been very pleased to see people that try the app almost always recommend it, from which we see a certain viral trend beginning to emerge.

2. Build viral design into your app

Now that the app has been live on iTunes for a couple of weeks we’ve been delighted to see that it is starting to catch on. As our app utilizes real time GPS technology both within the app and on the web, we’ve turned into complete addicts when it comes to watching the map to see new users popping up all over the place.

In order to encourage viral growth, we built within the app A) the ability to send iPoops & trophies to friends B) and the ability to View Global Poops and see other people utilizing the app based on geographic location.
One of the challenges we have found with the send email function is that some email filters cause the sent poops / trophies to go straight to junk mail. We are working on a solution for v2 as well as looking into integration with other popular social networks.

3. Make the user feel like they are connected to a global community

The feeling of connectedness and a sense of a global community was another important attribute that we wanted within our application. For this we created a real-time map (View Global Poops) where users can exhibit their unique creations translated into iPoop pins on a map. On the website, the Global Poop Leaderboard takes it a step further and the user can be a part of the global community by logging (pun intended) their poops and monitoring their “rankings” in fun categories such as Most Poops, Tonnage, and Most Recent Poop. By clicking on a username, they can view a particular user’s Trail of Destruction (I know I know, these are a lot of new terms for your lexicon, but you’ll catch on soon enough!).

According to the map we can see a lot of return users and it has been really cool to see it spread throughout various cities, and states. Outside of Vancouver these are the currently the most active locations:

  1. Texas
  2. California
  3. Illinois
  4. Florida
  5. New York

Take Texas for example, the first iPooper we saw from there originated near College Station, then on to Austin, San Antonio, and also Houston. We have also noticed certain users really taking the term “marking your territory” to a whole new level!


Our next challenge will be to receive enough media coverage to give us real viral growth (and not of the swine flu variety).

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One Response to “What makes an iPhone app go “viral”?”

  1. Corey says:

    Thanks for the info. Pretty solid application. It will be interesting to see where the app store is a year from now…


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