Build to succeed: 3 Hacks for Organic Mobile Growth from TBH

At TheTool, we believe that with App Store Optimization is an essential part of App Marketing strategy for mobile products. However, achieving great visibility in the stores and improving the conversion of product page visitors to installs is just the first step towards an organic growth. Behind every success story always stands a great product – and today we will try to find out how to build it.

Mobile Growth Hacks by TBH

Following the story of an amazing success of the anonymous teen compliment app tbh, and inspired by a great analysis by Kevin Natanzon of the its phenomenon, we are overlooking the key ingredients of its skyrocket growth in an attempt to find a formula for a lavish and practically overnight success of a mobile app.

The story behind tbh

tbh is an app that was designed primarily for teens, with a simple idea behind: it lets users anonymously answer multiple choice questions about their friends, who then receive the results of these polls as compliments. The questions are all extremely nice and uplifting, like “Super well-rounded”, “Gets better looking every time time I see them”, “Best to bring to a party” and more of this kind. The choices for the questions are the friends from the user’s uploaded contact list.

tbh - anonymous uplifting polls

But what is so special about it?

Well, it has recently scored 5 million downloads and 2.5 million daily active users, got more than 1 billion poll answers since its official launch in the United States in August, just about nine weeks ago. Yes, in only nine weeks. And last week TechCrunch broke the news about Facebook acquiring tbh for “less than 100 million” – the figure remains undisclosed, yet it is fascinating that Facebook is letting the app run and planning to make it the next Instagram.

tbh Growth in 9 weeks

Image credit here and further: Kevin Natanzon

The real question is, how did they do it? The key to tbh’s unbelievable success is the focus on organic growth.

There are many elements essential for mobile apps’ success: the right user acquisition and monetization strategy, perfect targeting, clear branding and value proposition, integrated tools to monitor KPIs from visibility to ROI, just to name the few. But no matter how good your marketing strategy is or how big the your budget, the app won’t go viral unless it’s a product that users love, share and are engaged with.

In order to go viral, the product needs to be designed for growth, and that’s not an easy task. It requires some built-in mechanisms that can stimulate the expansion and not block it on the way. Let’s talk about the efforts that product makers need to make to create successful apps.

Build to succeed: how to make a viral app

There is no such thing as an overnight success based on pure luck. There is always a tremendous amount of work behind it. Before coming up with tbh, the creators spent 5 years and built 14 apps to find out their path to success.

However, if there was a mix of actions that are absolutely essential to building a product that is valuable, well-perceived and engaging, it would be those 3 growth strategies.

1. Collect feedback and insights from users

Without a deep understanding of what are you building and for whom, the growth is impossible. Tbh team prioritized getting feedback from their users and constantly improving their product.

Their product is focused on Generation Z, a target that only few really understand these days. Quoting the investor Josh Elman, “Nikita and his team have figured out a lot about how teens are using products. This is one of the few that’s gotten this kind of adoption, and that should be celebrated”.

Besides the built-in feedback prompts, they have previously soft-launched their app in some schools: “We shipped it to one school in Georgia. Forty percent of the school downloaded it the first day”.

The tbh team has done a great job defining their target, and testing and tweaking the product to find out what their users really enjoy: the feeling of happiness and endorsement they get while being sent the results of the polls with their friends. By testing and adapting their product for the users, they have accomplished something that success is impossible without: love and engagement with their app.

2. Design the product for growth

If you manage to build a great product that your users love, they’ll naturally want to share it. But the viral and exponential growth won’t be possible without the built-in mechanisms that make sharing effortless.

Designing the product for growth is more than growth hacking – it is a deep understanding of user behaviour and providing a seamless integration of sharing mechanism into the product. For instance, products that are “invite only” (or a closed beta) are capable of creating a buzz naturally: people want something they can’t get. It is important to provide this kind of product with an easy sharing option for those who are already inside, otherwise the exclusivity might become an obstacle for growth.

But an initial “exclusiveness” that evokes interest, combined with the invite mechanism, can help creating a viral and powerful product, designed to growth on its own.

Think that this way you won’t need to spend money on user acquisition – just by acquiring the initial users (your future ambassadors), and providing them with an amazing product and a possibility, and even a need, to share it – and your users will take care of growing your users base themselves.

Let’s see how tbh did it:

Address book access

Before the users even start using the app, tbh requires them to provide an access to their contact list. That’s an edgy tactic, but in this case the word of mouth has played in their favor. By providing the access to their contact base, tbh users can send their friends sms with an invite with only one tap.

Such an easy mechanism for inviting, added up to a desire to play it with friends, is encouraging users to share the app with others.

tbh: sms invite system

Rewards + profile links

In tbh, a winner of a poll gets gems. Here comes the gamification: users want to get more gems and to do that, they need to appear as an option in more polls. This simple mechanism based on endorsement and competition encourages the users to share their profile in order to get more followers.

tbh profile sharing

Tbh provided the users with an option to copy and share the profile link in Snapchat account. Easy, but super powerful: after the update introducing gems and sharing trigger on September 1st, tbh hit the #1 position on the Top Charts in just 2 weeks.

Their users have converted into the growth drivers.

3. Create triggers for retention

The third essential component of a successful and viral product is retention. In order to achieve a high retention, the app must have triggers, both inside and outside, to encourage the users get back to the app.

tbh Push Notifications Update

In order to get retention, the product has to win a place in users heart. To make them want to come back to your app, you need to build triggers that evoke interest, as in the case of tbh are the push notifications provoking the curiosity of what gems their friends are getting.

The update introducing gems, with integrated triggers for retention and growth mechanism, has been published on September 1st, when the app was at its lowest point.

Here is what happened after (download data from App Annie):

App Annie: tbh Installs

Tbh team has found that something that was blocking their product from its full growth. By introducing gems as rewards and creating a gamification element within an app, provided with an effortless sharing mechanism and triggers to retain their users, the app managed to unleash the power of virality, followed by an instant overnight growth.

TL;DR: how to build a successful mobile product

Making a mobile product that the users will love is not an easy task – it requires a lot of research and a hard work behind it. In short, here are the essential steps to follow if you want to achieve virality and unlock the growth of your mobile product:

  1. Make sure your users love your product. Ask for feedback, and make it extremely easy for the users to share their thoughts with you.
  2. Test your product with a small group of people first and perfect it with their feedback.
  3. Design for growth: provide built-in mechanisms for the users to share your product with their network. An “invite only” model, for example, can create a lot of buzz and attract attention.
  4. Make sure it is easy for the users to invite new people. For example, send invites with sms with just one tap.
  5. Encourage users to share their profiles by using the power of gamification. Users will likely share their awards and achievements, and spread the word in exchange for more rewards.
  6. Create triggers for retention – ideally you need to achieve that the users come back to your app even without getting notifications.

Great product + Engagement + Built-in Sharing Mechanism + Retention = Virality and Growth

Do you know other powerful hacks for mobile growth? Share with us in the comments!

How to Make a Successful Mobile App: 3 Hacks for Organic Growth from TBH
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Katerina Zolotareva

About Katerina Zolotareva

Katerina is Marketing and Customer Success Manager at TheTool. She loves writing about App Marketing and Mobile Growth and helping app developers promote their apps! :) Follow her on Twitter or contact via LinkedIn

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