As mobile changes the technology industry, much like the shift caused by social networking or the dot.com bubble, entrepreneurs and people of all sorts are diving in head first to develop their own apps and make a quick $billion (thanks Instagram). Apps are clearly the popular choice, but how do you know if it’s right for you and what should you do to make sure it’s relevant?
There are many great ideas for custom apps, but it's likely not realistic for ministries to create their own custom app. As a church or non-profit, how would you go about creating an app that adds value to your mission?
There truly isn't one key ingredient to making a successful app for your organization, but there certainly are some important strategies that go into it. First and foremost, your app must serve a purpose that keeps people coming back. Let’s hope that’s an obvious conclusion. Apps such as Starbucks, Pulse, and ESPN serve as great tools that keep people engaged because they make something more convenient, are easy to use, and they just work correctly. Since those are all custom apps or highly recognizable brands, how can we learn from their successes?
We’ve developed hundreds of successful apps for various organizations and have seen recurring themes that are hard to ignore. Although there are many pieces that contribute to success on the mobile front, for most organizations or groups, the two biggest contributors are quality and content. We get contacted by numerous groups every single day that are hoping to capitalize on the app explosion. Although doing some type of custom app that shoots lasers into the sky and helps you identify the location of bigfoot would be cool, it’s probably not realistic for most people to think about custom development that can easily cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Also, you never want to create an app that serves simply as a novelty. If someone opens your app and it doesn’t make them want to use it again, it’s a waste of time and money and could even hurt your brand. I’m willing to say that there are groups out there that don’t need an app until they have a reason to engage with people through a mobile device. That's why we focus on quality and content. The app has to work right, look good, and it has to have relevant content or serve a purpose. This can be done through platform based apps. A mobile app platform is a system that one would use to manage and create their app using pre-existing feature sets and have access to a service that will take care of the code, publishing, and help keep their app up to date. It's a way to have a customized app at a fraction of the cost. Here at Subsplash, we have created the The Church App, which enables one to very easily create their own app that is an incredible tool for engaging with people and getting content into their hands.
QUALITY: This is the single greatest factor for creating a successful app. No matter what type of app you are creating, it has to be done right. I’ve seen far too many apps that I was excited about the potential only to delete it shortly after the download. How annoying is it to download an app, open it up, and find yourself wasting precious moments of your life on a poorly thought out app. I don’t even read the app descriptions anymore because they can be greatly misleading. Instead, I automatically go look at the screenshots to make sure it is even worth interacting with. If you are making an app, do it well! Don’t cut corners or work with someone whose work you don't trust. A proper app is well thought out from concept, to design, to the development of the app itself. It should be a thing of beauty that makes life more convenient. You don’t want to settle for an app that’s pulling in feeds or has text with little design or graphics. You want to implement your own unique look and feel while making sure each feature delivers simplicity and function.
With The Church App, we have focused on how to deliver content in the best way possible on a mobile device. When we present audio in an app, we don’t just want it to be a play and pause type of feature, but rather we made it so the end user can fast forward and rewind, download for offline listening, listen in the background, use native phone controls, and the audio file remembers exactly where you left off if interrupted. Imagine how frustrating it would to listen part way into a 30 minute audio file, only to be interrupted by a call and have to go try to figure out where you left off. It’s like reading a book and forgetting to use a book mark, you can find your place again, but wouldn’t you rather have just book marked it? Quality matters greatly with apps and as soon as there is a single point of failure or frustration, your end users will likely run for the door, or in this case, the dreaded delete button.
CONTENT: Now if you have an incredibly well done app, but there’s no content, you’re up a creek. So, you have to make sure you have relevant content. It’s not considered success to have people download your app and then never use it again, you’ve got to keep them coming back. When we look at all of the apps we've created for churches and ministries, they have had tremendous success because they are constantly manufacturing amazing content that they are distributing through audio, video, and text. They are giving people a reason to use their app on a regular basis. Whether the end user is watching a sermon, reading a devotion, checking out upcoming events, following the pastor’s blog, or making a donation, it’s all made available through the app (and people are using them like crazy!). Why wouldn’t you want to make your content more accessible? We are seeing millions upon millions of launches each month on the Subsplash App platform from regular users who are accessing content from their favorite organization’s app. If you are thinking about creating an app, make sure you have the content to support it. You don’t necessarily need a bunch of stuff packed in there, and it’s certainly not a place to dump or duplicate the same content from your website, but it is a place to make your most meaningful content incredibly accessible.
We want to help see churches and ministries increase their impact through technology! So, good luck in your app adventures, but be cautious, have a game plan, and make sure you take the time to do it well!