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What Is User Activation In Mobile Apps

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Suneeta Munjuluri
Suneeta Munjuluri
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User Activation rate is a metric that indicates  the level of user engagement within your app.  It tells you how many users have taken a specific set of actions in the app and is one of the most important KPIs for mobile apps. 

In this blog, we will jump into the details related to mobile app user activation, the psychology behind it, and how some of the best apps in the market achieve amazing activation rates with the principles of persuasion.

Understanding user activation

User activation is the point where the users receive actual value when they engage with the most relevant offerings of the app.

People often use "aha moment" and user activation interchangeably. But contrary to what most people believe, user activation is very different from an "aha moment."

While "aha moment" can be defined as a realization on the user's part, user activation is the next step that comes once the "aha moment" has been registered in the user's mind.

User activation is a metric that defines the number of users that have engaged with specific features, received value from them, and decided to engage further with your product.
Activation Framework

This image from Amplitude's blog gives a good idea.

Implementing the six principles of persuasion for a faster user activation

Img src - https://readingraphics.com/book-summary-influence-psychology-of-persuasion/

1. Reciprocity

When you perform an act for someone without any demands or expectations, they are more likely to return that favor to you. For example, offering customers some valuable information in exchange for signing up for future marketing offers.

2. Consistency

People naturally behave in a manner that is consistent with past behavior. They generally want to back up their previous commitments, or stated beliefs, with consistent efforts.

For example, if a client values efficiency, show them how your service gets results in a quick and efficient manner.

3. Social Proof

Humans are social animals. We tend to pay attention to what others are doing, both consciously and unconsciously. 

Over 90% of people say they read at least one review before making a purchase decision on a product, business, or service.

E-commerce apps have been very successful in making the social proof theory work in their favor.

4. Authority

Authority is based on perceived expertise, status, or power. This means people want to follow the lead and advice of legitimate experts. For example - doctors, professors, and financial experts.

When it comes to mobile app users, authority can be built with the help of social proof including user reviews, testimonials, and case studies. 

5. Liking

The principle of "liking," is based on the idea that people prefer to work with — and support — those they like.

According to psychologist Cialdini, liking is heightened when people have things in common with each other.

For instance, the recommendation of a friend or an endorsement of a celebrity we like tends to influence us to buy a product.

6. Scarcity

Scarcity in mobile apps is based on the theory that people will want more than what’s available to them. Use this emotion to not only create monetization opportunities, but drive users to specific decisions, with an end goal. 

For example, Booking.com builds a state of scarcity by displaying the number of rooms available. Users are making reservations not only because they fear the rooms are running out, but also because they think the place is so popular that it must be good. 

Creation of Scarcity in Booking.com feed

We can also see Amazon marketing some of its products by highlighting the number of items left in stock.

3 ways to activate users in your mobile app

Here are three ways in which you can use the principles of persuasion to improve user activation for your mobile app.

#1. Minimize time-to-value

Duolingo is not only popular for being the best language learning app out there, but also for offering the best user onboarding experience to first-time users. 

Duolingo’s gradual engagement approach to app user onboarding is a widely discussed topic. But did you notice how it uses reciprocity to keep its users engaged and finally make them activate their profiles?

Duolingo allows users to start taking language learning lessons right in the onboarding stage. It achieves two things:

  1. Reduces time to value
  2. Applies reciprocity principle
Duolingo reduces time to value - Img Src - https://uxplanet.org/duolingo-ux-analysis-9631ff3f4eb1

In this process of learning the language of their choice, users will reach a stage where they will be required to sign-up with the app in order to progress in their journey. 

Now by this time, Duolingo has already made users realize the value of the app quickly and made their life easier. As a favor, the users are asked to create a profile, because there is something in there for the user once the profile is created. 

Here’s one thing we love about Duolingo:
Duolingo uses the reciprocity principle by giving language learning lessons even before users sign up.  So when the time comes the users are also willing to give back to the app.

#2. Improve user activation with behavioral and personalized onboarding

Product analytics present the right set of data to understand how the product is perceived by the user. Apps heavily track and analyze major in-app events. The data received from this tracking helps them identify major points which lead to activation.

The thing to notice here is that the activation points will only be notified once the user has received value from your app. The user must trust your app to solve their problem. 

But since each user is different, your approach must vary accordingly. 

Netflix is one of the best brands which clearly understands user roles, user states, and user behavior. This understanding of user behavior is what helps Netflix offer a more personalized experience to its users.

Netflix applies behavioral strategies and personalization with such ease:

1. Behavioral nudges: It skips traditional onboarding, and instead highlights relevant triggers based on customer behavior. Netflix knows most of its users come for the new, Netflix original content. Hence nudges its users to watch new content.

Netflix nudges users to watch new content


2. Personalized user onboarding: Netflix reads into user habits and behavior when they are scrolling through the app. This ability allows Netflix to capture data like preferred (genre, language, actor), time of viewing the content and favorites. Understanding these personal preferences helps Netflix offer its users a rich experience. 


Netflix personalization - Img Src - https://netflixtechblog.com/interleaving-in-online-experiments-at-netflix-a04ee392ec55

Trust Netflix to get it all right when it comes to branding and marketing. But a major point we would like to highlight here is the scarcity principle being applied on Netflix. 

While Netflix started out as a video library, it eventually expanded and went into content production. Now we know that Netflix releases hundreds of films and shows around the year. This means Netflix comes up with fresh and original content that is only available on the Netflix app. 

In order to access this scarce content, users need to activate or set up an account on Netflix. 

What we like about Netflix:
Netflix easily applies the principles of scarcity and social proof to its marketing mix, which helps them achieve a higher activation rate.

#3. Nudge your users towards activation

We saw how popular apps like Duolingo and Netflix have been applying the principles of persuasion to attract a large audience.

Let’s see how contextual nudging, a navigation element, simplifies the app user’s journey. Nudges are non-intruding, subtle, user-friendly and tied to specific app features or elements. They let users continue using the app while simultaneously grabbing the user’s attention. 

Now let us walk you through the case of IIFL, one of our clients, and how they leveraged Apxor’s user onboarding software to nudge users towards activation by applying the authority and liking principle.

IIFL being an expert in stock market investment, nudges, and guides indecisive users in the right direction to buy their first set of stocks using the app. 

IIFL Activation - Apxor

Let’s skip to the good part: Apxor lets you guide users to activation through your onboarding sequence. 

Final thoughts

User activation is a challenge faced commonly by many mobile apps. Helping your users realize the value of your app is a great way to overcome this challenge, without which, growth may not be possible.

We hope the examples mentioned above help you understand and adopt the different ways of activating new users on your mobile app. 

More Related Reads

6 Ways to Personalize App User Onboarding Experience

Personalizing onboarding experience leads to higher activation and retention. Here are 5 ways with examples.

Onboarding Checklist: 9 Must-Haves For The Best User Onboarding Experience

A powerful onboarding checklist with 9 elements that enable you to create the most seamless and the best onboarding experience for your new users. 

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What Is User Activation In Mobile Apps

What is User Activation rate - It is a metric that indicates the level of user engagement within your app. Understand with examples.

Suneeta Munjuluri

User Activation rate is a metric that indicates  the level of user engagement within your app.  It tells you how many users have taken a specific set of actions in the app and is one of the most important KPIs for mobile apps. 

In this blog, we will jump into the details related to mobile app user activation, the psychology behind it, and how some of the best apps in the market achieve amazing activation rates with the principles of persuasion.

Understanding user activation

User activation is the point where the users receive actual value when they engage with the most relevant offerings of the app.

People often use "aha moment" and user activation interchangeably. But contrary to what most people believe, user activation is very different from an "aha moment."

While "aha moment" can be defined as a realization on the user's part, user activation is the next step that comes once the "aha moment" has been registered in the user's mind.

User activation is a metric that defines the number of users that have engaged with specific features, received value from them, and decided to engage further with your product.
Activation Framework

This image from Amplitude's blog gives a good idea.

Implementing the six principles of persuasion for a faster user activation

Img src - https://readingraphics.com/book-summary-influence-psychology-of-persuasion/

1. Reciprocity

When you perform an act for someone without any demands or expectations, they are more likely to return that favor to you. For example, offering customers some valuable information in exchange for signing up for future marketing offers.

2. Consistency

People naturally behave in a manner that is consistent with past behavior. They generally want to back up their previous commitments, or stated beliefs, with consistent efforts.

For example, if a client values efficiency, show them how your service gets results in a quick and efficient manner.

3. Social Proof

Humans are social animals. We tend to pay attention to what others are doing, both consciously and unconsciously. 

Over 90% of people say they read at least one review before making a purchase decision on a product, business, or service.

E-commerce apps have been very successful in making the social proof theory work in their favor.

4. Authority

Authority is based on perceived expertise, status, or power. This means people want to follow the lead and advice of legitimate experts. For example - doctors, professors, and financial experts.

When it comes to mobile app users, authority can be built with the help of social proof including user reviews, testimonials, and case studies. 

5. Liking

The principle of "liking," is based on the idea that people prefer to work with — and support — those they like.

According to psychologist Cialdini, liking is heightened when people have things in common with each other.

For instance, the recommendation of a friend or an endorsement of a celebrity we like tends to influence us to buy a product.

6. Scarcity

Scarcity in mobile apps is based on the theory that people will want more than what’s available to them. Use this emotion to not only create monetization opportunities, but drive users to specific decisions, with an end goal. 

For example, Booking.com builds a state of scarcity by displaying the number of rooms available. Users are making reservations not only because they fear the rooms are running out, but also because they think the place is so popular that it must be good. 

Creation of Scarcity in Booking.com feed

We can also see Amazon marketing some of its products by highlighting the number of items left in stock.

3 ways to activate users in your mobile app

Here are three ways in which you can use the principles of persuasion to improve user activation for your mobile app.

#1. Minimize time-to-value

Duolingo is not only popular for being the best language learning app out there, but also for offering the best user onboarding experience to first-time users. 

Duolingo’s gradual engagement approach to app user onboarding is a widely discussed topic. But did you notice how it uses reciprocity to keep its users engaged and finally make them activate their profiles?

Duolingo allows users to start taking language learning lessons right in the onboarding stage. It achieves two things:

  1. Reduces time to value
  2. Applies reciprocity principle
Duolingo reduces time to value - Img Src - https://uxplanet.org/duolingo-ux-analysis-9631ff3f4eb1

In this process of learning the language of their choice, users will reach a stage where they will be required to sign-up with the app in order to progress in their journey. 

Now by this time, Duolingo has already made users realize the value of the app quickly and made their life easier. As a favor, the users are asked to create a profile, because there is something in there for the user once the profile is created. 

Here’s one thing we love about Duolingo:
Duolingo uses the reciprocity principle by giving language learning lessons even before users sign up.  So when the time comes the users are also willing to give back to the app.

#2. Improve user activation with behavioral and personalized onboarding

Product analytics present the right set of data to understand how the product is perceived by the user. Apps heavily track and analyze major in-app events. The data received from this tracking helps them identify major points which lead to activation.

The thing to notice here is that the activation points will only be notified once the user has received value from your app. The user must trust your app to solve their problem. 

But since each user is different, your approach must vary accordingly. 

Netflix is one of the best brands which clearly understands user roles, user states, and user behavior. This understanding of user behavior is what helps Netflix offer a more personalized experience to its users.

Netflix applies behavioral strategies and personalization with such ease:

1. Behavioral nudges: It skips traditional onboarding, and instead highlights relevant triggers based on customer behavior. Netflix knows most of its users come for the new, Netflix original content. Hence nudges its users to watch new content.

Netflix nudges users to watch new content


2. Personalized user onboarding: Netflix reads into user habits and behavior when they are scrolling through the app. This ability allows Netflix to capture data like preferred (genre, language, actor), time of viewing the content and favorites. Understanding these personal preferences helps Netflix offer its users a rich experience. 


Netflix personalization - Img Src - https://netflixtechblog.com/interleaving-in-online-experiments-at-netflix-a04ee392ec55

Trust Netflix to get it all right when it comes to branding and marketing. But a major point we would like to highlight here is the scarcity principle being applied on Netflix. 

While Netflix started out as a video library, it eventually expanded and went into content production. Now we know that Netflix releases hundreds of films and shows around the year. This means Netflix comes up with fresh and original content that is only available on the Netflix app. 

In order to access this scarce content, users need to activate or set up an account on Netflix. 

What we like about Netflix:
Netflix easily applies the principles of scarcity and social proof to its marketing mix, which helps them achieve a higher activation rate.

#3. Nudge your users towards activation

We saw how popular apps like Duolingo and Netflix have been applying the principles of persuasion to attract a large audience.

Let’s see how contextual nudging, a navigation element, simplifies the app user’s journey. Nudges are non-intruding, subtle, user-friendly and tied to specific app features or elements. They let users continue using the app while simultaneously grabbing the user’s attention. 

Now let us walk you through the case of IIFL, one of our clients, and how they leveraged Apxor’s user onboarding software to nudge users towards activation by applying the authority and liking principle.

IIFL being an expert in stock market investment, nudges, and guides indecisive users in the right direction to buy their first set of stocks using the app. 

IIFL Activation - Apxor

Let’s skip to the good part: Apxor lets you guide users to activation through your onboarding sequence. 

Final thoughts

User activation is a challenge faced commonly by many mobile apps. Helping your users realize the value of your app is a great way to overcome this challenge, without which, growth may not be possible.

We hope the examples mentioned above help you understand and adopt the different ways of activating new users on your mobile app. 

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