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I Have Responsive Design - Do I Need an App?

Written by Molly Talbert | on December 3, 2015 at 8:00 AM

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You spent a lot of time and money on a beautiful responsive website, one that works on all screen sizes, including tablets and smartphones. So why would you need an app for your community? Isn’t responsive design like the two-in-one solution?

There isn’t an easy, straightforward answer to this question, but hear us out. Responsive design doesn’t necessarily make mobile apps obsolete, but mobile apps aren’t the right choice for everyone. First, think about how your community is now and where you want it to go. Do you have consistent engagement and want to try some new tactics? Or are you hoping to boost activity analytics, like the number of logins each month?

Only you can make the final decision on whether or not an app makes sense for your community. Here are a few points to differentiate responsive design and mobile apps:

1. Features, features, features

True, your responsive website is probably pretty slick and navigable when opened on a user’s smartphone. But since it is only opened on the browser (through an app like Safari or Chrome) it isn’t connected to the user’s phone. When a user downloads a native app, the app lives on the phone and can connect to the phone in a very powerful way. Consider these three great connections: badge icons, push notifications and device-specific functions.

If you use an iPhone, badge icons are the red circles that pop up when you have a new text or email (this isn’t specific to iPhones - all smartphones have badge icons). You can set it so members get badge icons if they have a notification, such as a new direct message or connection. These little icons can be mildly annoying but effective for the user; once you see one pop up, it’s hard to ignore! It’s good at drawing people into the app when there’s something to check.

Push notifications are little messages or alerts that pop up on a user’s screen. Have you ever signed up for news alerts? Those are push notifications. In the context of a community, how is this different from emails and daily digests?. First, push notifications draw people back into the app (when they touch the notification, you can direct them to a specific landing page within the app). Second, they are short, concise and don’t get lost in the email clutter. If you have an important, short message to get out, this is an effective way to ensure everyone receives it.

Finally, an app can take advantage of new, specific functions on your phone, like 3D touch on the new iPhone 6s. It adds a whole new layer to your community - it’s more interactive and takes advantages of your phone’s features, making mobile engagement easier. Plus, apps work in tandem with the operating system’s specific tools and features, be it an iOS or an Android operating system. This ensures the best user experience, no matter the screen or platform.

2. Real estate on their phone

Sure, it’s easy enough to queue your community up through the browser. The problem is remembering to do so. The apps’ icon sits right there on the screen as a constant reminder - maybe your user will even place it next to well used apps like Facebook and Instagram! When people are bored, they tend to open and click through apps. In fact, of the time people spend on their mobile devices, 90% is spent on apps compared to 10% on a browser. People have (perhaps unintentionally) trained themselves to turn to apps rather than the browser, so why not tap into that? Facebook has responsive design, but everyone uses the app while they’re waiting in line at Starbucks.

3. User behavior

This ties into the point above but goes deeper into why people turn to apps rather than the browser. People tend to use the web for searching and tasks while they use apps for browsing - and the platforms are designed with that user behavior in mind. This makes sense, right? When you sit at your computer, you have specific work to do and you go to websites for specific reasons. And when do you normally use apps? When you have extra time, waiting in line or on lunch break. That’s when you browse  through newsfeeds, be it Instagram or The New York Times. While responsive design looks good on a smartphone, it is just a re-proportioned version of your website.

A big draw for apps is that they’re made specifically for behavior you’d expect on a smartphone. The numbers speak for themselves: in one year (between 2014 and 2015), time spent on mobile devices increased 35% (to three hours and 40 minutes a day) while browser time decreased by more than half.

In the end, you probably want frictionless access and engagement, right? If the points above seem like they’d help, then it could be worth your time to dig deeper into whether or not an app could enhance your users’ experience.

As we talk about in our 2015 Benchmarking Report, mobile app engagement varies between generic apps and branded apps, so keep that in mind when deciding if an app is the right choice. In our client research, we found a 524 percent increase in mobile activity for a branded app versus a generic app. Not only are branded apps more likely to be used, they also increase mobile engagement 35 percent. It isn’t to say that generic apps aren’t good (44 percent of our clients who use apps have a generic app), it is just one more point to guide your decision making.

Does your community have an app? What happened to your engagement when you adopted one?

Special thanks to Michael Jones of Results Direct for help with this post.

Topics: Engagement

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