3 Powerful Reasons People Will Socially Share Your App or Product

The Holy Grail of Dave Mcclure’s Startup Metrics for Pirates (AARRR!) is Referral. It’s one of the trickiest sons-of-bitches to crack when it comes to the growth of any product. For those of you not familiar with this epic acronym, you should be. The basic concept is that it’s based on 5 types of measurable user behavior:

  • A: Acquisition — Where and what channels are your users coming from.
  • A: Activation — What percentage of new users actually have a delightful experience and stick around.
  • R: Retention — How many of those users come back for more over time.
  • R: Referral — Do those users like your app enough and have reason to share it?
  • R: Revenue — Can you actually make money from any of this behavior?

A common mistake amongst Product Designers (and entrepreneurs) working on early-stage products is adding sharing functionality without thinking through the psychology of why people share in the first place. I call this “fingers crossed” UX design. If we add this share button maybe, just maybe, people will tap on it. I’ve been a culprit in the past of this bad habit style of design, so I get it. It’s tempting. Obviously, it’s not going to help move any of your referral metrics in a significant way.

In today’s app-infused world every product is vying for precious space on our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. feeds. So let’s dig a bit deeper into the psyche of the people using our products. Get to know them. What motivates them to share. Also, we’ll look at some examples of existing products who’ve done this well.

1) The “Creative Expression” Share

There is an innate desire in people to create which can manifest itself in many ways. Any artist or craftsman will tell you that one of the most rewarding parts of what they do is having their work seen and appreciated by others. This is something we see in our favorite musicians all the way to that one friend (or wife in my case) who constantly likes to communicate through bitmojis. Creative expression can be one hell of a powerful motivator to share.

This motivator was one of the primary drivers of Instagram’s early viral growth in late 2010. Smartphones were on the rise. The iPhone 4 finally had a decent enough camera to take photos with. Billions of photos were being uploaded to the internet each month (3B to Facebook alone). Suddenly some of the what would be average looking photos in our feeds looked amazing. What was this photo sorcery I’m seeing? They can’t know photoshop!?! I thought back then. Instagram had crafted a simple way for the masses to express creativity through photo filters. Inherently, people wanted to share their creations with their friends and followers on their established networks.

The beauty of the creative expression share is that it creates curiosity and intrigue in others.

Especially when seeing it for the first time. Enter bitmoji! Likely one of 2015’s most viral creative expression apps in the app-store. The first experience I had bitmoji was a text I got from my (pink haired) wife. It went something like this…

Fair warning on her part as I was leaving the office a little later than normal that evening. Immediately, I thought to myself… How in the hell did she do that? At the next stop light along with “LOL” I texted back “What app is that?!?!?!” Then quickly “What do you want for dinner?” of course. It wasn’t too many days later until I had numerous other friends sending me bitmoji responses. The bitmoji virus had spread and spread fast.

Creativity breeds imitation which makes this reason for sharing a real metrics mover. Plus, the likelihood of sharing fatigue setting in over time is reduced due to the freshness of the content being created.

2) The “Ask for Help” Share

Most people naturally want to help one another. That is unless you ask someone to help you move. Then all bets are off. #dontbethatfriend #hiremovers. Ok, ok.. I digress. Back to the point. It has become relatively second nature for people to leverage the networks they’ve built to ask for help. We see this all the time in our social feeds. “What Netflix shows do you recommend?” “Looking for a good restaurant recommendation!” Typically followed by a flurry of comments/replies.

People enjoy helping people. So much so that Biz Stone (Twitter co-founder) is banking on it with his new company, Jelly. An app that uses your network as a way of crowdsourcing answers to the questions burning on your mind.

The ask for help share doesn’t just stop at Q&A. Back in the early MVP days of Twenty20 (circa Instacanvas) we crafted an onboarding experience that allowed users to signup, yet in order to unlock their gallery, they we’re incentivized to ask their friends and followers for help. The ask was fairly simple. “Help me unlock my Instacanvas gallery!” We had the necessary sharing tools and viral loop mechanics in place.

The fantastic aspect of this type of ask is that it demonstrates a want or demand. In our case, social feeds became flooded with the ask for an Instacanvas gallery. This reminds me of my DJ days and the old nightclub trick of queuing up a whole bunch of people outside to create hype. To others passing by the club looks like the new hotspot they have to check out too. This type of ask or demand acts as strong social proof thus creating FOMO in others to help close the viral loop.

3) The “Achievement” Share

Backed by science, the achievement share can be one powerful sharing mechanism. We all love a win. I mean who doesn’t?? Not only that but who doesn’t love slapping a hive-five after a W? You bet your ass I do. We live in a time where our lives are becoming increasingly gamified though the tech we use. This is creating a bunch of little W’s to share and celebrate. The beautiful thing about it is that we’re wired to share these events.

Studies have found that there is an area of our brain largely responsible for producing the “happy chemical.” Yep, we’re talking about dopamine! This neurotransmitter makes us feel pleasure and guess what… It’s activated when we talk about ourselves. It’s likely the reason why 80% of our social media posts will be vanity posts about ourselves. Each time we do our Mesolimbic Dopamine System gets a nice chemical kick. So as product designers, science is on our side.

The Nike+ running app, I admittedly use, takes full advantage of the achievement share. On top of that, it sprinkles a little bit of creative expression on top. Each morning as I ‘end my run’ using the app, I’m presenting with my run stats along with a nice little heat map illustrating my route. With my endorphins ablaze I’m shown a clear call to action to share my run. What’s more compelling is the sharing flow which allows me to get a little creative when crafting my post.

Wrapping it all up…

Clearly, there are a handful of other reasons that people share the products they use. These are just at the top of my list. I’d love to know what reasons you’ve seen or better yet built into the product you’re working on.

Personal Disclaimer: I hope you’ve enjoyed this post. One of my goals is to start writing about design and product a lot more in 2016. Admittedly, I have a lot of work to do in order to become a better writer. I’m very aware of that. With anything, practice makes perfect. Thank you for bearing with early iterations of my writing style. I promise to get better and try hard to deliver as much value with a side of personality as possible.

Originally published at www.kevinfremon.com on December 31, 2015.

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