Mobile Apps for your Online Community  — When, Why, and How to Go Mobile

So your idea has taken off. You’ve bootstrapped or funded a successful web portal or you’re using an online platform — and it’s working! Most importantly, you’ve created a true community. Your numbers are growing and your users really love and trust what you’re doing. You’re making a difference. You listen to your users and they’re asking for more ways to interact. Not just that, but they’re begging to be customers, not just users. They’re demanding apps and you’re realizing the increased opportunity of a mobile experience. So you’re thinking about taking the plunge and going mobile. But is it the right time for community apps, and is it really worth it?

So What Exactly is an Online Community? 

A quick Google search (you’re welcome!) comes up with this definition: An online community is a group of people with common interests who use the internet to communicate, work together, and pursue their interests over time.

Our app development clients include startups with thriving communities that decided to go mobile (and gave us a call, thankfully). But what makes them communities and not just product companies? For the examples I’ll get into, the difference is the user-base, or the fan-base and how they interact with each other. Strong communities see their users engage each other constantly within, and even outside the platform, too. These startups generate strong brand loyalty through customer service and a premium product. They bring together subject matter experts with others hungry to learn. The platforms empower teachers of a craft and their students — like-minded people with a shared passion and space to discuss it. 

TeambuildrThis bootstrapped startup was created by two college football players from Johns Hopkins. Co-founder and designated coder James Hewitt built the entire back-end and web platform himself, while his partner Hewitt Tomlin engaged his would-be customers in person and online. Teambuildr’s end-users — high school, college, and professional athletes — loved the web app and brand loyalty was strong. but throngs of users demanding mobile apps could only be ignored for so long. 

Sue Bryce Education – SBE is an international community of thousands of photographers learning to build and succeed in their portrait businesses. SBE’s core product is their educational video content platform built on Wordpress (with membership powered by the fantastic Memberful). Their annual Portrait Masters conference attracts the best photographers in the world. SBE had a really loyal following, with superfans across the globe, and with the conference approaching, fans across the world wanted to tune in. This proved to be the tipping point — PUSH alerts for live streams, and video streaming on mobile would unlock opportunity to consumer more content, more often, on more devices, including Chromecast and Apple TV.

These two businesses came to us at the right time. Because their business plans were already proven, there was calculated risk and reward, with return on investment estimated based on educated assumptions. Most importantly, they were listening to their users’ demands to engage more.

Why Should I Develop Mobile Apps for my Community?

Increase Engagement

About half of online traffic these days is on mobile, and outside of work hours, this is significantly higher. Communities are very personal, and so is the mobile experience, much more so than the web. Especially with PUSH notifications, there is opportunity for increased activity — higher engagement, more often. If you want your members to engage your community before or after work, a tailored mobile experience really helps!

Unlock Monetization Options

This is usually the most important one. In-app purchases enable paywalls and gated content to be unlocked easier than websites. One-time purchases and subscriptions are very easy for users, and despite Apple/Google’s fees, the conversion rate is much greater than on the web. (Sure, when you get to the level of Netflix, you can raise that one finger salute — for now, take advantage of the seamless payment process and user experience built for folks like you.)

Attract New Users

This will depend on your app store marketing strategy and how you launch the app initially (see below), but you should be able to capitalize on your current fan base to get more users. Having fans leave reviews and spread the word will help new users stumble on your product.

Increase your Startup’s Value

According to AppAnnie’s The State of Mobile 2019, the average valuation at IPO was nearly 4x larger for companies with mobile as a core focus vs. companies without any mobile focus. Native mobile may seem like a bonus, but often it’s a must-have. Without a mobile app, investors realize that money is being left on the table, or in their pocket as the case may be. So if acquisition is on your mind, so should mobile apps.

It’s Time to Develop a Mobile App, but Where Do I Start? 

Focus on what’s most important first. Over everything else, listen to your users and understand what features they absolutely must have on mobile. Don’t simply replicate your entire web experience in an app. If you do, you’re likely doing too much, or you’re not focused on what’s most important for your business. 

This also might be the time you can start charging. There is an accepted expectation of purchases on mobile, where it tends to be more difficult on the web. Take advantage of this expectation if your users are ready to start paying.

You’ll need to find a mobile app development company that is comfortable and confident in connecting your app with the infrastructure you already have. it’s also important to make sure they have experience working with startups and launching community apps. Thankfully you’ve found your way to 3Advance — a web and mobile app development company with extensive community app experience — so you’re doing something right in your research! Whatever community app company you choose, their team should help you design the experience, guide you through user research if you aren’t already confident in your gameplan, and advise on the phases of roll-out. Most likely this is not a one-and-done deal, so make sure you’ve got an app development team that wants to support you in the future, too.

Why is it So Expensive to Develop Community Apps?

Well, mainly because good (app development) help is hard to find and good applications are hard to build. The stats show that 68% of software projects fail. What’s more, your mobile app will demand  care and attention to make sure it is just as successful as the rest of your business.

If a startup hasn’t gone to market yet, and the app is the core project, it should be designed as a Minimum Viable Product (MVP, I’ll let you Google this yourself). You should intentionally ignore lower priority features for now to save money, and get your first version live. The goal is to test assumptions with as little investment as possible, and to iterate, focus, and improve what is working best while responding to user feedback. Coming out of the gate, you won’t have as many users, and you can iterate and improve while your numbers grow. Your new brand followers will grow with your product as it evolves. 

If you’ve already got your users hooked (well done, by the way!), expectations are high. This is a great thing: your customers love you, they’re loyal, and they’re hungry. In this case, it’s important not to let them down with an unstable or buggy product. Stability is absolutely crucial for a larger user base — because you’re gonna be learning your lessons with thousands of customers, not just the handful of early adopters you otherwise onboard. 

Don’t let this deter you though. Your app developer should have been through this before, with development automation and devops in place to enable testing and prevent avoidable errors.


How Can I Ensure a Successful Community App Launch?

You’ve created a community, now it’s time to tap into it! The most valuable thing you can do is create and cultivate a beta group of testers from within your own community. Use your own network to collect and invite loyal users to this exclusive opportunity! Welcome your super-fans to early alpha builds and allow them to be part of the development of your community app. Encourage ownership in the new experience. Ask for feedback, show you’ve listened. Thank the participants and make them feel special for being included.

One of the most suitable places for doing something like this is on Facebook Groups or perhaps Slack or Discord. Better still, use your community platform if it already includes a suitable arena for organizing your recruited group of super-fans, sharing new pre-release builds, organizing polls, and managing bug-reporting.

Making sure you ask “permission” from the group to launch, and encourage them to support what they now have a vested interest in. They’ll share news of the app launch, and of course you’ll shamelessly ask them to rate the app — reviews, reviews, reviews. Your chances of appearing high in keyword searches (your community app development team should help with this) and even getting featured in the app stores will shoot up significantly.

Successful Community Apps Built by 3Advance

We love developing community apps because there is a shared, contagious sense of purpose. We feel like we have contributed to the empowerment of groups of strong professionals with a truly powerful, positive effect spreading even further and wider than the users of our apps.

We also love when we have plenty of users from day 1 of app release. Feedback is instantaneous and there’s a high that comes with knowing that our work is appreciated, and we’ve brought true value to our clients. For example, within 24 hours of launching Sue Bryce Education apps (and similarly for Meg Bitton Live, another video content provider), there were 200 reviews across the app stores and both apps had a 5-star rating (check it out below!). Since launch, this has stayed consistent, through minor and major updates. 

Since we launched Teambuildr’s apps, they’ve had 80% year-on-year revenue growth. The immediate spike has continued to grow. Now, almost 90% of usage happens on the native apps above web. One of the coolest things for our team happened when Alex Morgan (USWNT soccer legend) was interviewed by the Wall Street Journal. She said her favorite fitness app was Teambuildr, and she checked her workouts every day. Two weeks later, the USWNT showed off their strength and conditioning advantage — okay, and a little soccer ability — by dominating the 2019 World Cup in France.



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We are currently working on other community apps — including an important addict recovery support network for SAFE Project (check out the clickable prototype), launching Spring 2020 — and it’s an honor to be able to have a real impact. If you’ve grown a community you care about, and there’s an opportunity to strengthen and grow that community through mobile apps, reach out and let’s talk.  

3Advance is an app development company in Washington DC that helps startups and businesses empower their communities by turning great app ideas into beautiful, simple mobile apps. If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you create a better way forward for your company, drop us a line. We’d love to hear from you.