Deborah Ko
Jun 6, 2014

Eight ways to hook users up with your motivational apps

What's the difference between an abandoned app and one that gets continuous use?

Deborah Ko
Deborah Ko

Many people turn to mobile applications to help achieve their personal goals, from fitness to finance, wellness and relationships.

However, most of the time these apps end up being abandoned toys on their smartphones.

While brands and developers are designing such apps, they need to consider it as something that will add real value to users’ lives, rather than a one-off project.

Besides beautiful user interface design, apps need to offer a user experience that will work with people’s motivation levels and encourage them to be a partner in the change that they wish to make.

Here are some quick approaches that can address the Gamer and the Cheerleader alike:

1. Model the app based on behaviours or designs that users are already familiar with: Many people don’t like changes or learning new things. They want to achieve goals, not to learn how to use an app. Skype has relatively simple call and hang-up buttons which are similar to most smartphones.

2. Capitalise on quick wins: Motivation takes a nose dive when individuals hit roadblocks or they don’t see changes quickly enough. Highlight or reward small advances early on to keep people coming back, such as, a web app that allows you to focus on achieving quick wins by breaking down your goals into manageable steps.

3. Utilise social support: Gamifying mundane tasks or allowing people to integrate it into their existing digital world (Facebook, Twitter, Weibo, etc.) can help them gain support from friends and families, and boost personal motivation. HabitRPG, an online time management app, makes chores into challenges in a gamifying experience where you gain levels and badges for completing your to-do list and other users can help you out and give advice or lend support.

4. Personalise it: People are more likely to use an app, when it provides personalised benefit. Giving users more relevant choices makes them more committed. Spotify and many other music apps have created intelligent algorithms to provide you music relevant to what you have already deemed important or noteworthy (pun intended).

5. Integrate it (where possible) to a universe that already supports their goals: App developers need to start thinking about the universe that their apps live in. Making your app play nicely with already established technology will help you stay current and relevant, such as Runkeeper, which syncs with many popular fitness devices including Fitbit and Jawbone UP, and can upload results to Facebook.

6. Automate where possible: Most people don’t like needless effort. Apps like Bloom (a productivity app) with a time controlled pop-up notification can remind you to do small steps throughout the day towards your given goals, while MyFitnessPal, a calorie counter and food diary, allows you to scan barcodes from foods you’ve eaten and upload all nutritional facts to your food diary seamlessly.

7. Give users information where they can learn about themselves: Individuals love self-discovery, such as OKCupid, a popular online dating app featuring tons of quizzes to tell you what type of person you are. Provide a personality profile or a data tracking type of layout.  Users will find inherent value in adding in information and interacting with the app.

8. Create a layout that emphasises what users need first: Searching, scrolling, button pressing = effort = bad. The interface itself should lend itself to the most important function. Whether it’s tracking the progress, or inputting information, make sure there is an easy button on the home screen.

To let an app be part of users’ lives, brands and developers need to start in the mind of the users who want to achieve their goals, rather than learning to use an app. Focus on effortlessness and attach the app to behaviours that users are familiar with. Find out what the most common roadblocks are and try to hit on various motivational sources so that users have many different support layers to catch them if they fall.

Deborah Ko is digital/behavioural psychologist with Reading Room


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