Active users — who the heck are they?

Bayram Annakov
3 min readJan 21, 2015

Ev Williams has explained his point on active users vs engagement and I would like to comment on this since, as we discovered in my previous post, number of active (i.e. engaged) users is a key leverage for a number of growth loops.

Take a deep look at number of active users and downloads graphs of 2 different products: which one would you invest into? Share you thoughts in comments… Compare your thoughs before & after you read the entire post.

Downloads vs engaged users: 2 products comparison

Active users are engaged users

First of all, you need to define what is engagement for your app: is it browsing content? or liking content? or contributing content?

The number one thing we learnt @App in the Air is that engagement means people are actually using app’s CORE FEATURE!

What is your product’s core feature? You have to add a flight to track it (whether you fly yourself or you track your girlfriend’s flight), so this is our core feature. And we define an engaged user if s/he in fact adds a flight. This is why we spent a great deal of time to improve our this flow.

Lesson #1: users who open your app are not necessarily those who are engaged in your app

Question #1 for graph above: why number of downloads and active users differs in single week?

Level of engagement matters

Do you add flight once a month? Or 5 times a month? Are these users different? Yep, the latter ones are more engagement. Engagement drives viral and purchase loops outlined on this app growth sytem diagram.

What Ev explains in his post is the same: TTR (total time reading) is their measure of engagement.

Lesson #2: Make sure you measure not only number of engaged users, but also segment them by level

Question #2 for graph above: which important metric does the graph lack?

Apps differ by engagement expectations

How often do you travel? Majority of people travel once in 6 months. So what is the benchmark for travel app to consider some user as an engaged one? And compare that to social app engagement?

But are there users who travel once a week? of course there are! Some of our users travel 200 days a year. And those are our core users and those are the ones we should start with. Why? Because I don’t need to wait 6 months to consider user as lost. I will see this much quicker in case of road warrior than leisure traveller.

Lesson #3: acquire users with the highest EXPECTED rate of engagement, so you know you have problems with retention as soon as possible.

Question #3 for graph above: any other thoughts? ;-)

I highly recommend this video on retention (i.e. how engaged are your users) by Alex Schultz, Facebook’s VP of Growth

I will cover more on different tactics to increase user’s engagement level, though majority of them fall into KISS category (“keep it simple, stupid”)

Bayram Annakov

CEO of App in the Air (3M+ users), Systems Thinker. Follow me on Twitter: @bayka