It is a jungle out there in mobile communications. The mobile application markets are particularly chaotic. How do you know which Sudoku app is right for you when there are literally thousands of Sudoku apps out there? Thousands on each mobile platform: iOS, Android, Windows Mobile 7. Thousands.
With every seemingly insurmountable online/mobile/content challenge that has emerged over the last two decades, smart entrepreneurs have recognized a corresponding opportunity. Google? Google emerged out of a need to sift through and evaluate the deluge of internet content developed during Web 1.0.
In mobile applications this is where market research, filtering technology and social networking come in. Instead of an anonymous algorithm, researchers are turning to your social networks for inspiration–finding out what works from people in your network that you trust. It seems like a natural and healthy progression. In an age when consumers are increasingly leery of advertising and have many channels to turn to in avoiding commercials, these consumers are also increasingly connected to each other.
This is the third article in a series exploring social network trends in online commerce and how some Seattle companies are navigating the landscape.
Part of the social commerce challenge is nicely summed up by Scott Blanksteen of the AppStore HQ, a Seattle startup founded in 2009 with the purpose of helping users find the right mobile apps for their needs in the increasingly overcrowded app market.
“How do you cut through the noise? While there might be a couple of thousand Sudoku apps, and most of them are even free, you don’t want to download 400 or 500 just to find the right Sudoku,” he says, and points out that a lot of the traditional star reviews are useless.
“They literally pay people in China to write five-star reviews. And the one-star reviews? Those are from your competitors,” Blanksteen says.
Enter AppStore HQ. AppStore HQ tracks about 500 blogs and web sites focusing on apps to identify the good, the bad and the ugly of the app world. The reviews make the service different from a search engine. Additionally, by tapping into registered users’ activities, AppStore HQ can help users find apps they might like based on their online habits and their friends’ preferences.
“We combine what people are blogging about and talking about on social media with the filtering technology to give you personalized recommendations based on which apps you have liked and which you have disliked and come up with some suggestions for apps you might like,” Blanksteen says.
While AppStore HQ has figured out how to find the best apps and how to match those to their users, they are still trying to make it easier for users to find AppStore HQ–and that isn’t as easy as it might seem–even when it is your business to have people find the content that you want them to find.
One avenue are traditional search engines where AppStore HQ will show up in a search for apps. Once users are on the site, they can share the site with their friends or tweet about it, which AppStore HQ encourages.
“We don’t spend money on advertising, so we try to make sure we are findable on search engines. We definitely use social media marketing and play with Twitter so people are aware of us on Twitter,” Blanksteen says.
AppStore HQ also has its own Android app that can be downloaded and then shared via social media.
“We are partly relying on search engines and partly on viral referral,” Blanksteen says, explaining that the specific avenue users take to arrive at AppStore HQ partly depends on how experienced they are with using smart devices.
“At first, many use the iTunes store, the Android Market or the Windows Marketplace. Then they often start asking friends instead of searching, and friends share what they like,” Blanksteen says.
Currently, AppStore HQ does not collect any demographic information on their users, but Blanksteen’s experience and gut feeling is that the ways they find apps and use apps depend both on age and experience. Where younger and more experienced users typically find apps by peer-to-peer marketing, older and less experienced users more often turn to traditional search–either online or in the device marketplace.
“We don’t collect any demographic information right now, but I would love to. That would help us customize the site and target audiences,” Blanksteen says, noting that one of the major challenges right now is evaluating and implementing features they would like to add to the site.
It is all a matter of money. Registering with AppStore HQ is free for users, but the company charges developers in a way that is akin to the way search engines charge customers for showing up in search queries as sponsored results. AppStore HQ has a network of more than 100,000 registered developers, and also charge companies that want to connect with developers to advertise on the site. AppStore HQ also allows developers to showcase their apps by running promos on the AppStore HQ site.
“Developers of premium apps, those that cost money, want people to try them, but why would users pay when there are so many that are free? Developers can make those apps appear ‘free’ without changing the cost by using limited time coupons, free use for the first 500 who sign up, a coupon of the day that is free for 12 hours and so on. Developers pay to use that platform with us,” Blanksteen explains.
Is there a magic formula? Probably not, but when it comes to search and mobile applications, there is certainly room for good ideas and strategies. No one strategy will fit the needs of all application developers. One thing is certain: Marketers are leaning more and more on our networks and investigating ways that these networks can be harnessed for their power of persuasion.