In a recent post, Is Mobile the Final Frontier of Brand Loyalty, I offered a brief analysis of what it takes to create a mobile app that keeps users coming back. One reader commented that part of the problem with trying to develop a popular app is the constant change in user preferences, making it difficult for mobile marketers to know where to place their bets. There’s certainly some truth in this observation. Looking back a couple years, we all thought apps that supported location based services, such as Foursquare and Gowalla, would be all the rage. Now we seem to be fixated on apps that enable visual storytelling—Vine, Instagram, Snapchat. The reader’s comment posed an interesting question—“How do we simultaneously keep pace what is popular now and keep track of what lies ahead?” One could ask this question about any digital marketing discipline, but let’s consider mobile, what popular mobile apps have in common and what trends may be driving the next generation of leading applications.
A recent study shows that Vine, Flickr and Instagram are among the fastest growing consumer apps with Vine leading the pack at a growth rate of 403% over the last two quarters. But why? What contributes to the popularity and growth of these apps? What is it about Vine that’s so special that it has grown at nearly four times the rate of Facebook? For starters, the top three apps align with two key trends and drivers within digital marketing—content marketing and visual storytelling. This year has been proven to be a year of outstanding visual content, both brand-created and consumer-generated. Therefore, it’s no surprise that mobile applications which allow people to capture, curate and comment on that content would be among the most popular and fastest growing. Vine in particular leads in this category as the first short-form video app. While Instagram is superior in some ways, including support of longer videos, Vine has clearly enjoyed a first mover advantage.
But what distinguishes this spike in photo taking, editing and sharing, from previous bursts in activity like checking-in or earning Klout? To answer that question, let’s look at the other apps that round out the top ten in terms of growth rate—WhatsApp, Facebook, Skype, YouTube, Twitter, Foursquare and Facebook Messenger. Five out of seven of these apps are primarily used for digital connectivity, either through social networking or direct messaging. While they may not be growing at the same pace as Vine, which still has only a fraction of the users amassed by Facebook or YouTube, they are growing nonetheless. Now what do all of these apps have in common—real life. The value of digital is increasingly found in its ability to recreate or reconnect us with real life. These apps are a great example of that phenomena. No matter how digitally and technically savvy we become, humans are still hardwired for connection with the world around them, mainly other humans.
Photo and video-sharing apps allow us to capture real life moments, both for posterity and for sharing with others. The better apps enable us to engage in those moments by liking and commenting, some small semblance of actually being there in person when you’re thousands of miles away. Connectivity apps help us to keep in touch, in real time, with family, friends, and even “frienemies”. Some say these online relationships are shallow, but so are many of the connections we create and maintain offline. Do you even know the full name of building doorman, delivery guy, schoolteacher or neighbor that constitutes a “real” relationship. I doubt it. Even apps like YouTube and Foursquare allow us to bond over common experiences like watching and sharing a link to a funny video or visiting the bars and restaurants frequented by friends. Although consumer preferences might change with dizzying frequency, human nature has a little more longevity, and maybe that’s the key to success—building mobile and digital experiences that tap into our most basic need, the need for one another.