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Well-Made to Well-Known: Unlocking your App's Potential Pt. 2

Welcome back to Part 2 of our series. In Part 1, I focused on best practices for design and development to ensure your well made hybrid apps have the best chance to reach their potential once released. In Part 2, I share marketing strategies that anyone can try that can help your app become more “well-known”.


  • Engaging with communities
  • Influencer outreach
  • Telling your own story
  • Shared content strategies and promotion
  • Understanding and engaging with your users
  • Increasing Your Chances of Getting Featured in the App Stores

Sworkit has reached over 4 million downloads in part because of the rapid development and releasing that PhoneGap allows us, but also because everyone one on our team from the developers to the CEO have taken the time to experiment with a wide variety of marketing techniques.

Engaging Existing Communities

At the beginning of any project, you must understand as much about your potential users as possible. Who is your target audience? What communities are they involved in? How do they interact with apps? Are there things they want that competitors are failing to provide?

Understanding your users will make sure you are developing the right experience and features from the very start. It will also help you recognize where people who share similar interests to your users read or hear about apps.

When possible, a great approach is to wrap your app around an already existing community. Strava is an incredible example of a company who looked at the global cycling community and built their app around it. Their target community was massive and well established and they have capitalized on this with a highly success app that brings that community together through their app.

The simplest way to engage with communities is to simply ask for honest feedback on what you are doing. You aren’t spamming them to download your app, but genuinely looking for their feedback while introducing it to them at the same time. This outreach could be through specific community forums, Google+ groups, Facebook groups, Twitter influencers, and even websites for complementary apps.

Understanding your users and their communities will help you in the next step as you begin to increase awareness by pitching your app to media and other influencers. Picture where your users would discover an app like yours, and make that resource a priority.

Influencer Outreach

Influencer outreach is all about making contact with specific social influencers who may share your app with their audience. My process for influencer outreach is as follows:

  • Identify the places where you want your app to be written about, based on your understanding of their audience and the relevance to your app
  • Research the exact individual at that blog, newspaper or magazine who has written about apps in the past and may even have an interest in the field that your app falls under, e.g. fitness, finance, travel, education, activism…
  • Find the email address that will allow you to email them directly instead of generic contact@ or info@ addresses, or even just their personal Twitter account if you are reaching out to them there

Now that you know who you want contact, there are a few things you should consider when you reach out to them:

  • Personalize your pitch by opening with a comment about a recent article they have written that you found interesting and relevant
  • Describe your app in one to two sentences
  • Tell them why their audience would be interested in your app
  • Make it easy for them to download and try the app with links and promo codes if paid
  • Keep it short so that they want more, and then provide a link to where they can learn more about the app and find the resources to write about it

Since influencer outreach is such a crucial step in being heard and since anyone can do it, here are few more links to help you with the process:

Just don’t let it take a toll on you mentally! Spread your emails out over a few days so that you feel motivated to continue writing original and personal emails. Keep exploring new and even obscure places and people to contact, from the tiniest blog to the biggest tech news sites.

One of the best ways to deliver a direct, concise and enticing pitch is on Twitter. If you can sell your app in fewer than 140 characters you are onto something. Sworkit’s first big success, being featured on Lifehacker, came after I sent this tweet and lead to 25,000 downloads the first week:

Tell Your Story

Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and talk about why and how you built your app. Consider reaching out to the people behind the technologies used in your app, such as the frameworks and plugins providers, educational websites or courses you took, or other influences on your product.

Telling your story can also make you seem more real to your users and the media. Look for opportunities to get up in front of audiences to speak about what you have been doing at Meetups and local events. It can be a great way to open to door to opportunities and relationships that may help you later on.

Shared Content Strategies

You can also reach your audience and potential new users through your own newsletter, or other newsletters that you could provide guest content for.

No matter what your size, begin writing a newsletter and blog from the start. In addition to your own content, consider making a call for contributors who can generate content for you. This way, not only is someone else is doing most of the work to provide engaging content, but when it goes live, they will want to promote their involvement and the story to their own network, which in turn expands yours.

As a newer company, you probably won’t have a big audience to reach out to yet. Try to find another newsletter, newsletter digest, or blog that is relevant and that you could create content for. As long as you can relate what you are doing to how it can benefit their audience, you are actually making that content creator’s job much easier by showing up with the work done for them. I would recommend presenting this content in a finished state that follows their normal layout to make it even easier for them say yes. If they don’t want it, feel free to slightly modify what you have created and pitch it to someone else.

Engage With Users

Once you have some initial users, you’ll want to focus on turning these early adopters into outspoken champions of your app. In Part 1, we talked about having simple ways for users to contact you from within the app. Now, we want to respond to users, not only to fix any issues they find, but also to engage them in real conversation.

Users are often amazed to get a response from a developer. Imagine what they will think when you can respond within the same day, or even within just a few hours. Strangely, you can actually grow a more dedicated and active users from an accidental bug if you can react quickly and politely. If you address a user’s issue quickly, they will respect that you listened to them and will become more likely to share the good experience they’ve had.

Another great way to grow your app through interacting with existing users is to invite them to have phone conversations with you outside of the normal email support. Setting up just one call a week with users has increased Sworkit’s understanding of how our users use the app, who they are, and what they are most interested in seeing in the future.

Getting featured in one of the app stores can lead to an immediate stream of downloads.

While there isn’t a simple checklist that will guarantee you will get featured, there are a few things that you can do to give yourself the best chance.

Apple cares mainly about great design, innovative technologies, reputation/brand (optional), stability and ratings. For design, you will want to make sure you have familiarized yourself with the iOS Human Interface Guidelines and are designing based on their latest iOS release. The other big thing that will give you opportunities to be noticed by Apple quickly is making use of their latest SDKs as soon as they are available. In the past, these have included HealthKit, HomeKit, Apple Pay, TouchID, WatchKit, Passbook and support for any new iOS versions and devices. Dan Counsell has covered the minimum requirements for an iOS features in great depth on Realmac’s blog here.

Google cares about all of the same things as Apple, but make sure you are making specific design and navigation customizations that mimic their native Android specific guidelines. There is nothing worse for an Android user to open an app and feel like they have been offered a direct iOS port. There were many changes we made to Sworkit after speaking with the Google Play store review team that set it apart from the iOS version: Navigation drawer instead of iOS style side menu, titles on the left, button options on the right, Android specific icons, alert dialogs instead of actionsheets, a tendency towards Roboto font, and device specific styling of toggles, inputs, ranges and other inputs. For Android, you will want to familiarize yourself with the Android Design Principles.

Above all for possible features, focus on having a great app while keeping in mind that the initial launch isn’t your only chance to grab attention. Updates, new features or big press coverage all provide great opportunities for exposure in the app stores or in new media outlets. It never hurts to leave a note to the reviewer that highlights new features that you really think are “featurable” for that particular store.

Parting Words

Experiment with these approaches until you find what works best for you and your app.Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see an immediate flood of downloads to the app that you just worked so hard to create. All of these techniques will have a varying level of success depending on your actual project and it is worth trying as many as possible. Some other great ways to encourage growth include having a solid website with a focus on the download links, utilizing appropriate social media accounts, contacting app review sites, implementing app store optimization techniques, and researching direct contacts for the Apple and Google store teams.

Hopefully this series has provided you with a few new tools and ideas to give your app the best chance for success. Whether it is a side project or a large-scale enterprise app, treat the marketing and distribution side of the app process as fun experimentation with the same enthusiasm you had when writing those first few lines of code.

Ryan Hanna is the Director of Engineering of the popular fitness app Sworkit where they champion that PhoneGap and hybrid development has given them a competitive advantage. Sworkit was acquired by Nexercise in 2014 and has reached over 4 million downloads with two versions of the app across three app stores in 13 languages. This exceptional growth is credited to the rapid development, testing and distribution that hybrid develoment provides this very small team compared to its competitors. Find Ryan on Twitter @heryandotus