Guest Post: Presence management, the next discipline for mobile-first organization

Editor’s note: The following guest post was written by Prashant Singh, co-founder of Signals. The company is currently in stealth mode. Before Signals, he was a product manager at mobile developer Spice Labs. He’s also currently the Delhi chapter founder of Mobile Monday, a community of mobile industry people.Prashant Singh profile picture

Every new wave in the software industry comes with its own and unique set of challenges. Organizational structure needs to evolve in order to live up to the challenge. The rise of the PC era led to the creation of a new functional subdivision in organizations such as program managers, product managers and more. The rise of the Internet era led to the creation of online marketing via search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM) and more. The rise of the social web led to the creation of “growth teams” as a functional unit. Smartphones will undoubtedly be the next wave of our industry. So, it’s natural to ask the question: What functional realignment do we need to do in order to best prepare our teams for a mobile-first world dominated by the dynamics of the app stores? After half a decade of experience in the mobile app industry, I can say that every app development firm worth its salt need to focus on “presence management” as a discipline inside their organization.

What is presence Management?

Like product management (PM) of the PC era, SEO teams of the Internet era and growth teams of the social era, presence management is a cross-functional team which operates at the cross section of engineering, product and marketing. Their responsibilities include ensuring:

  1. Discovery: The product receives proper visibility in the market place.
  2. Engagement: Users are sufficiently engaged and convert latent goodwill of users into increased distribution or revenue.

Both of these activities have its own share of methods, best practices and domain knowledge. Translating them in the context of your product gives you your presence management action items.

Elements of presence strategy

Understanding structural deficiency of app stores:

App stores are not monoliths. There are silos around geographies, devices, languages and more. Here are some of these silos and ways to exploit them to our advantage.

Geographic Silo: What you see in the app store in India can be very different from what you see in France. If your app is specifically relevant to French users then you should highlight that by providing a description in French, putting keywords in the language and localizing the content and interface in French. Your chances of getting your app seen increase. Most devices sold in the Middle East and China have a vernacular input support. These are big markets for all app stores. Yet less than 10 percent of developers choose to localize their app descriptions in Arabic or Mandarin. My anecdotal research suggests that less than 30 percent of search queries on app stores are in a local language and most of them are underserved. Therein lies an opportunity. In addition to that, you can also try using country specific promotion strategy (“Free apps on St. Patricks Day!”) or content strategy (Holi-themed Bubble Breaker game in India).

Device Silo: These silos are around devices too. For example, the iPhone 5 is different from iPhone 3GS. If your app is using a specific feature of a new device, which can be used by the platform owner (e.g. Apple or Android) to demonstrate the capability, then they might be interested in highlighting your app in the app store. Examples include BBM integration on Blackberry, PureView integration on Nokia, Retina display support on iPhone, near field communication (NFC) on Samsung’s Galaxy S 3 or heavy duty processing power on the Nexus 4. App examples include Game your Video, Viddy and Socialcam. All these apps showcase the video capabilities of iOS. All three apps were featured by Apple at some point. What you should remember here is that you don’t need to build a new product from scratch. You need to incorporate the new technology in some feature of your product and do it well. For example, the use of iPhone 5 optimization by Temple Run to make it on the ‘Featured’ app list in multiple geographies.

Categories: Developers and publishers should be very careful about which category they put their app into as that will decide the competition. A kids’ education app may be placed in the games, education or kids section. Each will have its own level of competition. It’s always good to launch your app in a low competition, but relevant section, to gain some traction and then expand to adjacent, more generic categories. You can always switch categories over time.

App size: Some app stores have a policy where apps beyond a certain download size are shown only when the user is connected to Wi-Fi. In the case of a country like India, where Wi-Fi connectivity is not that common, this can be fatal.

Pricing: Imagine you are the person managing the iTunes App Store. You have to choose the top ten paid apps to showcase in the ‘Featured’ section for the upcoming week. You have got a tie for the last two spots. There is one app priced at $5 and it has sold 10 copies and another at $2 which has sold 25 copies. Both of them contributed $50 each to Apple App Store’s earnings. Which one will you showcase? Most of us assume that it will be the $2 one because of higher transaction volume. But in practice, the $5 app might be the one to be selected. Most app stores believe (and perhaps rightly so) that power is not in the content, power is in the spot.

So whichever app the person in charge of the app store decides to showcase, it will get some minimum number of downloads. If the last spot in the paid listing is valued at 2000 downloads a day, putting the $5 app there will fetch $10,000 and the $2 app will fetch $4,000. Which one will you choose? Your guess is as good as mine. The point is that pricing aggressively and shooting for volume is a good strategy for a publisher just starting, but that might not be the best one for a store owner who has enough volume coming in, but who wants to increase transaction value.

Advertisement and Discoverability

Most App publishers see advertising as a user acquisition channel. But there is one little known tactical aspect of advertising, which if used wisely, can help you enhance visibility. This requires a basic understanding of how app stores divide their users into geographic clusters. Let’s say it’s cheaper to buy cost-per-download based advertisements in El Salvador, it’s slightly costlier in Turkey and it’s the most expensive in the U.S. These costs are mostly a reflection of how much an advertiser is willing to pay to reach out to those audiences. Publishers tend to buy ads in these geographies so that users acquired by them can be monetized later via high-yield ads. Seems a rational thing to do, right? Well, not always. Let’s assume that you have a freemium app which relies on in-app purchases and your experience says that conversion rate of free to premium is not dependent on geography. So where do you go to buy ads now? El Salvador, right? Wait! Not so fast! Let’s say that the Apple App Store in El Salvador is coupled with the U.S., and Turkey is coupled with the Middle East cluster. Featuring is decided in a cluster-wise fashion. So 20,000 downloads in El Salvador might not help you become No. 1 in the U.S. cluster. but 15,000 downloads in Turkey can make you the top app of the week, thereby giving you visibility in the top list and thus more downloads for free. If managed well, this can create a snowball effect. The point is, align your ad spend in accordance to the featuring cluster of your app store. Milk every download in every possible way.

Search keyword: Although the majority of users browse app stores via the directory structure, a small group of customers use keyword search to find apps. These customers can be captured through keyword optimization.

Ratings & Reviews: All app stores use reviews as a metric for deciding how to rank the apps. Both the quantity of reviews and their star ratings play a part, but in general, the higher number of average reviews (three stars) are far more helpful than few instances of exceptionally positive (five star) or negative (one star) ratings. For the most part, getting these three star ratings depends more on nudging the user at the right time than the inherent quality of the product. For example, put a policy in place to show the user a pop-up requesting a review whenever the user starts playing the third session of game in a row. It might be a suboptimal user experience but do it anyway (unless you’re Angry Birds or Facebook). You might have the best product but if you don’t request for a review at the right time, you won’t benefit from the latent goodwill of your app. Most of the users are too lazy to promote your app.

Social Alignment: This is slightly tricky and you need to use your own judgement while applying it. The critical point is how much importance ranking algorithms assign to the social integration in an app. Which means that if your app integrates with Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or BBM, and a user invites their friend via a social service, then it sends a signal to the app store owner that a user enjoyed an app enough to recommend it to friends. Now this is not always the case, especially if your app workflow requires the user to sign-up with their Facebook credentials. That might create some false positives. Many believe that this factor was very helpful to Draw Something. At the time, the ranking algorithm for the Apple App Store used to give a lot of weight to social signals like how many friends a user invites. This was something that worked to developer OMGPOP’s favor. I assume that they did a similar hack with Facebook’s News Feed too. But Draw Something’s primary user acquisition channel was the Apple App Store.


Movie vs. Soap Opera: The apps business is often referred as the “business of hits,” where developers are constantly needing to come up with the next blockbuster otherwise their users will churn out. This is true for most apps, but there are some ways to deal with this. Ask yourself, “can you think of your app or game, not as a Hollywood Blockbuster, but as a soap opera?” And develop stickiness around it? There are multiple ways of doing that. You can do it via:

  • Content: At my previous job, we did it with Spice Labs’ Hangman, where we used to push geographically-targeted content to users everyday and this was the reason a lot of users kept coming back to the game.
  • Gamification: Badges and leaderboards appeal to vanity users, and it creates stickiness.
  • Upgrade bait: This is similar to what Dropbox did to gain traction early on. Every friend a user brought to Dropbox helped them gain some extra storage space. Now app developers can craft a similar strategy where every new user someone brings to system will unlock some new level in their game.

These are not silver bullets. App store dynamics change on a daily basis. These tricks can’t substitute for the need and hardship of making a great product. It might (hopefully) help you to more intelligently promote your great app to more people. If you know of any such trick, please share in the comments.