Building a community around your apps is an essential tool for promotion and feedback. It can also provide a way for you to tap into user enthusiasm and gain help with testing, localization, and support.
As with promotion, you should start thinking about your app’s community as part of your design. As part of the app design you’ll have considered who your users are most likely to be:
- How old are they?
- What interests do they have?
- Will they be mainly men or women or represented evenly?
- Will they be spread around the world, or does your app have a more focused regional or country appeal?
As with most aspects of your app design, when building a community your typical user will guide you to the best approach.
In your app’s Marketplace listing you can provide three ways in which a user can connect with you:
- A web page for the app.
- A support email address.
- A support website.
This provides you with flexibility in how you arrange your community resources. Depending on your capabilities, and possibly those of your ISP or web hosting provider, you could take an all-inclusive approach: build your own app website and install one of the many open source forum applications, so that users remain within your domain for all their interactions. But equally you could choose to host your own app website but place your community in Google+, Google Groups, Facebook or one of many other global or local options.
And remember, in choosing the mechanism for hosting your community consider your users first. If your target audience is likely to be a typical Facebook user, host your community on Facebook — don’t provide them with a mailman mailing list simply because you’re familiar with this application or it’s provided free by your web hosting company.
Another consideration in choosing a way to host your community is how you’ll handle additional languages when you start to localize your app. How well do the options available cope with multilingual interaction? You might for example want to have separate spaces for different languages. Furthermore, remember that there are local differences in the popularity of various social media sites, so also consider this if your audience may be specific to a region or country.
Also consider the types of conversation you expect to have with your users. For example, hosting your community through a Twitter account instantly limits your conversations to segments of 140 characters at a time, which could be ideal for a simple game, but may struggle to cope with feedback for an immersive strategy game.
Building your community
Once you’ve determined what tools you’ll use to support your community, the next step is how to build it. You may expect that your community of users will grow organically in line with the downloads of your app. This isn’t a safe assumption, particularly if the first few visitors find little or no activity when they arrive on your community site.
To address this, set your community up early. Then use it to help conduct your design reviews and acceptance tests. Even if it’s only friends and family that you get involved, their activity will seed your community and encourage others to get involved when your app launches.
Managing your community
Communities need nurturing, strongly to start with. After the initial high maintenance period you can relax a little, but you should still plan to continue nurturing your community throughout the life of your app.
Keeping your users engaged
There are some simple ways you can engage your users that fit well with your development work, such as:
- Posting information about progress on the next version of your app or about your next app or apps.
- Seeking feedback on app designs. Sites such as Balsamiq enable you to share and receive comments on designs.
- Alpha or Beta testing is another important area where your community can assist.
- Localization, as your users know your app they are likely to provide accurate, reliable translations.
Remember it’s cheaper to keep an existing customer than it is to acquire a new one, so a little effort can pay dividends.
Listening to your critics
Don’t shy away from your critics. While you’ll want to highlight and respond to positive feedback, attempting to ignore negative feedback can undo all your good work. Respond quickly, acknowledging the user’s concerns, if possible let them know when you hope to address their problem, and keep them updated on progress. If you handle your critics well, you could find them becoming some of your strongest supporters.
Successful communities build successful apps
A successful app will require effort beyond the activities of designing, coding, and testing. If you just want to code for fun and keep your community activities to a minimum that’s fine. But if you want to earn a living from your apps, then plan to put aside a few hours each week to grow your community – it will be well worth the effort.