Engagement -- it’s that golden word everyone talks about and one important sign of a healthy community. Part of creating member engagement -- discussions, content creation, connections -- is removing all the barriers you can. For optimal engagement, it’s important that there’s as little friction as possible, which isn’t as hard as you’d think.
Beyond being a buzzword and a broad concept, engagement does actually affect your community’s bottom line. In our 2015 Community Benchmarking Report we looked at data from 80 organizations with online communities, and compared those overall averages and medians from MGI’s 2015 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report.
From our analysis, we found that, overall, organizations have a 22 percent member renewal rate. But if you look at just organizations with active online communities, the renewal rate soars to 78 percent. That really shows the power of engagement.
To truly engage all members of your community, you need to consider their mobile experience. Is it easy to access your community on a smartphone or tablet? We’re well past the days when desktop users outnumbered smartphone users -- smartphones eclipsed desktops back in 2014. Ignoring mobile just doesn’t work anymore. If you want a successful community, members need to be able to access it easily and quickly from their smartphones and tablets.
In our Benchmarking Report, we examined mobile apps and their effect on engagement -- and we learned that mobile apps are good engagement tools for several reasons.
First, native mobile apps live on a member’s phone and integrate with that specific phone’s features, like the iPhone 6s’ 3D touch. Working with the phone’s software makes apps easier to use, more intuitive and fast -- and speed is key for keeping people on track.
The second reason mobile apps increase engagement are their features. Rather than only being able to contact members when they log-in or through email, if they installed the community app, you can send push notifications, badge icons and alerts to their phone. This lets you ping members -- reminding them to login, or to sign up for a webinar or event -- and make community participation a lasting habit.
The final reason mobile apps spur engagement is this: it means something if your members download the app. Your app occupies real estate on their phone, taking up valuable space they could use for something else. It’s a constant reminder to check out what’s going on -- especially if they have that pesky red notification circle hovering over it. You want your community app to be in the lineup of apps members looks at while waiting in line for coffee -- Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and your community. But they won’t have that habit without an app.
Branded or Generic?
If you decide to get an app, you still have one more choice to make. Branded or generic? Of everyone we polled who has an online community with an app, about 56 percent are branded, while 44 percent are generic.
What’s the difference? A branded app is just that -- it’s made especially for your organization and looks unique to your community, with the right colors, fonts and logos. When a member looks for it in the app store or within their phone, they’ll instantly recognize it as being connected to your organization.
A generic app is a less expensive option, but doesn’t stand out the same way. Members still have access to a downloadable app, and community managers are still able to leverage powerful features, but it won’t have the same exact look and feel of the organization’s brand. Generic apps are often hosted by a third party vendor, with the same app design being used by similar organizations.
If they both do essentially the same thing, how do you decide whether it’s worth spending more money for a branded app, or if your best bet is going the generic route?
When looking at mobile app activity data, we found a 524 percent increase in mobile activity for branded versus generic app usage. The data also showed a 35 percent increase in mobile app related engagement, over organizations with a generic app.
The Bottom Line
So, do branded apps make a difference? Yes. From what we discovered, the bottom line is: having an app is better than not having an app, but branded apps way out perform generic apps in hooking members and substantially increasing mobile engagement.
Why is there such a huge discrepancy? Numbers confirm that members prefer branded apps over generic apps -- 68 percent more members use branded apps.
Branded apps are easier to find in an app store since they stand out -- they’re clearly connected to your organization. They’re also very recognizable on a member’s phone, rather than looking random and disconnected. Finally, since they’re made specifically for your community, they work more smoothly, rather than an out-of-thebox app made to fit many different communities. It will just work more easily with your community, and is part of making sure excellent user experience extends from desktop to your many mobile users.
To truly engage everyone, you need to remove barriers and connect in ways they find meaningful. We know that in our smartphone-centric lives, mobile is key. And within mobile, branded, recognizable apps that work smoothly with your community are the most powerful tool in your tool box.