Why Engagement Trumps Growth
The day we launched Whisper, we got 30 downloads. The next day we got 35 and then maybe 30 the day after that. Growth stayed slow for a while. In fact, it took us four months before we got more than 1,000 new users a day.
But from the moment we launched, people were really using Whisper, opening the app eight to ten times a day and using it for more than 25 minutes per day on average. This gave us the conviction that we were on the right track. We figured that if we could create something that people want to use all the time, more people would eventually start using it.
That’s still our approach today. Instead of focusing on adding as many new users as possible, we concentrate on making the experience as engaging as we can. A big reason: With attrition rates for many apps so high, reducing your churn rate can boost growth as much as increasing the number of people who download your app.
This might sound counterintuitive, but to us it makes a lot of sense. It’s not easy to control the number of new people who download your app each day—at least not without resorting to spammy tactics that ultimately hurt the user experience. And you can drive yourself crazy by worrying about the number of new users you're attracting, always comparing yourself to other companies (while forgetting how long it took them to get there).
For us, thinking this way was partly out of necessity. Whisper is anonymous—people share things they wouldn’t want their real-world friends to know—so we were never going to grow by tapping into people’s social graph.
To keep engagement high, we haven’t cluttered our app with prompts to post to your social networks or other features that aren’t core to the experience. If you look at Whisper, there’s no bottom bar full of options, there’s just a plus sign for creating a new post. That’s one of the reasons why more than 45% of our users create content—it’s the only thing we prompt them to do.
We take the same approach when we add new features. One thing we noticed was that a lot of people replied to Whispers with their phone numbers or email addresses. When we saw that, we figured we needed to add the ability for people to contact one another directly in the app. That’s now our second most popular feature.
We try not to give users too many calls to action, though. I think of it like trying to buy a chandelier in a chandelier store—it’s really hard because there are so many choices. We do a lot of A/B testing to figure out the most compelling features and stick with those.
There’s another benefit to focusing on engagement-based growth: people can have a good experience on Whisper regardless if any of their friends are on it. That’s not the case with most social apps. If my dad only knows two people when he tries out a social app, it’s unlikely that he’ll enjoy the experience and use it a second time.
There are a lot of ways to spread the word about your product. We’re focusing on making sure that each person who starts using our product continues to use it.