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3 Features to Look for in an Online Community App [Research]

Written by Julie Dietz on June 8, 2017 at 8:30 AM

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We’ve heard about the importance of mobile for years. Everything needs to look just as good on a smartphone as a laptop, whether you use responsive design or an app. But which is better? An app or responsive design?

Responsive design is essential for any website (don’t buy a website theme or work with an agency that doesn’t support it) but you should also consider that 90 percent of time spent on mobile is spent in apps. So if your association or business wants to make engaging mobile users in your online community a priority, an app is the way to go.

Not all apps are created equal, however. Just think about all the apps you’ve given up on because they were too complicated or boring. To make your online community’s mobile app successful, you need an app that incorporates your users’ favorite features and characteristics.

To help guide your app choice and development, you can access a large body of research about popular app features. One recent report published by Google highlights the characteristics that users found most valuable in all their favorite apps, regardless of type. Look for these same three features in your online community app to provide the best mobile experience possible.

1. Usability

At 61%, users rated ease of use as by far the most valuable feature of their' favorite apps. And, according to Google’s research, ease of use isn’t just about the tools in the app.  It includes navigation as well.

When choosing and designing an app for your online community, put usability first. The app should be intuitive, making it easy for members and customers to learn how to use it quickly. Incorporate clear, simple navigation so users don’t get frustrated searching for content. Some common navigation options include:

  • Inbox
  • Discussion forums
  • Events
  • Announcements
  • Blogs

Above all, make sure that the tools in your mobile app make it just as easy for users to participate in your community from their smartphone as from their laptop. Everyone from technology experts to less tech-savvy newcomers should enjoy the experience.

2. Content Updates and Notifications

People don’t want to see the same thing every time they open an app, which is why the most popular social media sites show you new posts first. Make sure your app has a similar ability to highlight new and updated content.

In Google’s research, people described this app characteristic as having “new things to explore.” Therefore, in addition to showcasing recent content, make sure there is recent content. If your online community already has an active, vibrant group of contributors, this will be easy. Your all-star members will likely keep most conversations going without help from your organization. You can top that off by regularly posting announcements and uploading new documents to your file library.

Expert Tip: Keep an eye out for an increase in online community engagement after launching your mobile app. If your app does its job and makes mobile participation easier, you may see a jump in activity once members download your app and use it to engage even when they’re not at a computer. That can be an influential win to report to your executive team or board.

3. Personalization Settings

Google’s research found that smartphone and tablet users like to customize their apps to get the best experience. Provide personalization options in your own online community app to meet those needs.

Begin by empowering members to use your app to join the communities they’re most interested in, sign up for newsletters, and get notifications about discussion threads. If possible, provide even more customization by allowing members to get notifications for all discussion threads in a community, opt in to real-time notifications only for threads they’ve participated in, or opt out of notifications completely.

Notification settings are particularly important because they allow users to stay up to date and connected to your organization without being bombarded with messages that aren’t relevant to them.  Any personalization tools you can provide, however, will improve the user experience.

Bonus: Support for a Large Range of Content

Not only do users want new content to explore, Google found that they want a range of content types to engage with.

Choose a feature-rich app that supports a variety of content including blogs, discussion forums, private community emails, event information, and calendars. There should always be something new and helpful for your users to find, along with different ways to access the information. For instance, one user may prefer to read about updates in a blog while another may enjoy a recorded video announcement. Choose an app that can accommodate both users and fill it with the appropriate content.

Explore Your Mobile App Options

Regardless of whether you’re working with a private member community or a customer support portal, your app needs to meet users’ expectations. The first place to look for such an app is your community provider. The best online community software vendors offer mobile apps that create a great member experience on smartphones and tablets. Some even offer event and event community apps as well.

Talk to your online community provider either during the software selection phase or after you’ve launched your community to find out what app options are available and compare them to other vendors. When you find the right app for your organization, you can build a community that consistently provides relevant, valuable, and updated content for users on any device.

Download your copy of Higher Logic's 2016 online community benchmarking study.

Topics: Communications, Online Community Software, Member Engagement

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