App Insights

Push messaging – powerhouse or pest?

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Getting customers to download your app is the first half of the engagement challenge. As many as 77% of users delete new apps three days after downloading; others bury them in homescreen app folders, never to be seen again. So how do you turn the tables and maintain engagement with users? Push-messaging may be the key – nifty, under-used technology that puts apps front-of-mind again. Here’s what you need to know.

What is push messaging?

A push message is automatically ‘pushed’ from the server to the user’s device whenever necessary, and it’s up to the user how they respond. Think notifications for new emails, instant messages or tweets – think messages from mobile games, telling players that their construction is complete or they’re under attack.

A push message is an invitation to the user – the start of a conversation. It reminds them that the app exists and prompts them to engage with it, to make some use of it rather than have it sitting inert on their phone. User retention improves threefold when apps implement push messaging – for example, Facebook reported a sustained growth in engagement, month by month, since rolling out push messaging on mobile and desktop platforms.

What can go wrong?

Push messaging’s impact on retention and engagement often comes at a cost to goodwill and trust among the app’s user base. Although 46% of users derive some benefit from push messaging, as an aid to memory or productivity, 52% see it as an annoying distraction. Owners can bring that figure down for their own apps if they’re careful about how many messages they send out, how personal those messages are and the quality of the messages’ content, but ultimately the push message still faces a sceptical user base.

Good push messaging is always opt-in – it’s not something to force on a user – but most users don’t know or care how to change their messaging settings within an app or their phone OS. If these users receive more messages than they want, they’ll opt out altogether, deleting their app and giving a reason no business wants to hear: “Oh, that? I had that, but it sent too many messages…”

How can I make the most of push messaging?

First – know your users. Know what they want to hear and when they want to hear it. As a general rule, 48% of users want special offers tailored to their interests, while 34% want to know what’s on offer in their location. 35% want breaking news alerts; 34% want content they are interested in. You have to decide what you want your messages to do, which means knowing which demographic your users occupy.

Second – be relevant, concise and personal. Relevance isn’t just about content. It’s also about timing, with weekday afternoons getting the best click-through results (although this can change based on your app’s functionality). Those results are also improved by brevity. Messages of less than ten words have the highest open rate. Personality, meanwhile, is important for two reasons: it makes your messages stand out among the others your users are receiving, and it avoids the trust-breaking effect of a generic message to all users.

Thirdly – know your triggers. Push messages need to be well-timed, tying into either the emotions or circumstances that make users engage with apps, and they need to be actionable. If you’re sending someone a push message, you need to be pushing them into something – not just opening your app, but applying it to another action once they’re in. If your app is for selling event tickets, you want the user to see the message, remember the event they bookmarked, and buy the ticket straight away.

Finally – be careful. Apps with large user bases send out a massive number of messages, even if you’re being cautious and sticking to the recommended frequency of one push message per week for commercial apps. A typo in the one message you send out will be noticed by thousands of people, doing considerable damage to your brand. That said, these errors can be salvaged: the BBC recovered from something considerably worse than a typo. Their response to a mis-sent test message was swift, professional, and just a little wry:

BBC push messages

So, push messaging isn’t without its risks, but app owners who know their territory can get a lot from it. If the user base gains something from the message, if the message is well timed, and if there’s a clear form of engagement being offered, a little push can mean a big payoff.

Push messaging is powerful but perilous – be sure not to push your luck. For help and insights into doing it right, talk to Calvium.

Image credit

Push Start by Wayne Truong, via Wikimedia Commons. Creative commons license 2.0