Localytics, Sinch, Sourcebits reveal Instagram's secret to creating a 'sticky' app

Mobile app development infancy

Evaluating an app's health remains crucial for app developers. And thanks to app stickiness, developers are able to determine how frequently users are engaging with an app in both the short- and long-term. 

Developing a "sticky" app, however, can be tricky.

For instance, a 2015 Forrester Research report indicated US and UK smartphone owners use an average of 24 apps per month but spend more than 80 percent of their in-app time on just five apps. In addition, the report indicated most users abandon an app within just 30 days of download.

So what do these results say about app stickiness? To better understand app stickiness, let's take a closer look at one of the most popular apps available today -- Instagram. 

What's driving Instagram's popularity?

Since its launch in October 2010, Instagram has become a worldwide phenomenon. It serves as an online mobile photo-sharing, video-sharing and social networking service that delivers highly engaging user experiences day after day, which is reflected in recent data. 

A report from mobile app design and development company Sourcebits revealed 35 percent of Instagram's 300 million active users check Instagram multiple times a day. It also showed these users leverage Instagram for approximately 21 minutes every day.

Sourcebits said that Instagram's success may be attributed to its ability to capitalize on the smartphone market, particularly the use of smartphone cameras. 

"When Instagram first launched (on iPhone only) in October 2010, smartphones were on the verge of becoming an individual's go-to device for picture taking. Phone cameras were gaining better resolution and rear-facing cameras were on the rise, but selfie sticks didn't exist yet," Sourcebits wrote in its report. "Instagram positioned itself at the intersection of technology and behavior, taking advantage of a new key smartphone capability -- and now the app influences both."

Developers shouldn't fear innovation

For Instagram, the ability to embrace innovation played a pivotal role in its success.

Instagram found a unique way to leverage a new smartphone capability (in this case, the smartphone camera), and ultimately, engaged users by empowering them to socialize their photos with one another from any location, at any time. 

Furthermore, Instagram showed that innovation can help developers boost an app's stickiness, especially for developers who are willing to leverage all of a mobile device's capabilities to deliver an engaging, user-friendly experience. 

So what does it take to improve an app's stickiness?

Josh Todd, Localytics

Todd (Source: Localytics)

Localytics Chief Marketing Officer Josh Todd told FierceDeveloper that stickiness provides insights into an app's health. And as such, developers must incorporate it into how they design and deploy their apps for their target audiences.

"Developers need to treat their apps and audiences as parts of a whole, never separately. That's why it's important that developers have access to data of their users' behaviors, motivations and preferences," Todd said. "That data can then be incorporated into an apps' functions."

Todd also says in-app messaging enables a developer's app "to enhance mobile opportunities for its user base, thus adding value to the customer lifecycle, improving retention and maintaining overall stickiness."

Understanding and engaging the target audience is key

Developers are getting better at engaging mobile users, but there is still plenty of room for improvement.

For instance, a Localytics study showed app stickiness hit an all-time high of 25 percent last year, up from 21 percent in 2014.

Localytics app stickiness 2015

Other study results included:

  • The average app's engagement reached 31 percent in 2015, meaning 31 percent of mobile users came back to their apps more than 10 times a month.

  • 18 percent of users were still returning to an app three months after they first downloaded it.

  • App launches continued to steadily increase throughout 2015, with an average of 11.4 launches per month and even reaching an all-time high of 12.8 in October.

These figures may seem impressive on the surface; however, Localytics also found 75 percent of mobile users were not using apps frequently and consistently. 

But with the right approach, developers may be able to bolster an app's stickiness for years to come. 

Stickiness often depends on whether a developer can deliver an app that meets its target audience's needs. Therefore, it is paramount for developers to learn about their target audience and incorporate their feedback into the app design and deployment processes. 

Ilana Bercovitz, Sinch

Bercovitz (Source: Sinch)

"Many apps fail because there is a gap between what they think their users want and where they spend their resources vs. what their users actually want," Ilana Bercovitz, product marketing manager at mobile communications platform company Sinch, told FierceDeveloper. "In-app customer support is an excellent method for both gaining that understanding and driving app stickiness. With in-app calling and messaging to customer support, developers can gain stronger insights into app usage patterns and when a user needed to reach support. This helps provide valuable data that can improve the user experience, reduce support times, and ultimately, establish loyal users."

Developers can use social referrals to promote their apps as well, Bercovitz says. 

"People will use apps their friends are using, so making your app easy to use and a pleasant experience will most likely increase those valuable referrals," she said.