Using SMS to Scale Social User Acquisition

Published April 20, 2016 by Parth Awasthi

Articulating a user acquisition strategy is key for successful app adoption. But how do you define this strategy? User acquisition is expensive, country-specific regulations are complex, spamming is illegal and destructive to your brand, and maintaining a marketplace is challenging. Social invites have proven to be a key channel to overcome many unique user acquisition challenges.

What’s the best channel for social invites?

Social invites can be sent through a variety of channels, including email, Facebook/Twitter, and SMS, but there are trade-offs for each. While email offers the reach that many brands require, social invites often result in low open rates and create susceptibilities to abuse (through forwarding). Facebook and Twitter see comparatively higher conversion rates, but are not universal platforms and do not allow companies to control the costs of a social invites program.

Over 7 billion people own a phone number, so unsurprisingly, this is why many businesses support SMS-based social invites. As one of the most ubiquitous channels in the world, SMS’s familiarity makes mobile users more receptive to brand engagements. SMS is also a highly cost-effective channel, with very little resources needed to set up and manage. Most importantly, it allows your user base to grow on a global scale from day one.

The challenges of SMS

While the ubiquity of SMS is attractive, localized carrier regulations are complex to manage for brands. In addition, tracking conversions using SMS-based social invites can be challenging.

Who should foot the cost for the message, the user or the business?

Generally, you want to provide your users with some incentive to send a social invite. For many brands, this comes in the form of a credit that can be put towards the users’ future in-app purchases.

But who bears the cost of the text, the user or the business? You can go either way, so it depends on your business strategy. Many mobile users have pay-as-you-go mobile subscription plans, so to avoid a disrupted customer experience and motivate your users to send social invites, it’s advisable to have the business foot the cost of the invites.

How do SMS-based social invites work?

Using Nexmo’s SMS API, you can quickly and easily SMS-enable your app to send social invites. This allows you to predict costs, track URL conversions and more. Our API abstracts all of the regulatory development work, so you can focus on improving your messaging and outreach. In addition, Nexmo’s SMS API allows you to send URLs that you can use to track installs, provide benefits to users and potentially even authenticate the users directly. You can also track which destination numbers have been invited already and avoid them or have a threshold for invitation (such as three friends invite a number and then you send the outbound message).

When a new user registers for your app, send them a pin code via SMS, which will effectively weed out spammers and users signing up to drain free credit. Build out logic to blacklist numbers who have already signed up for an account. This will result in more targeted outreach, with a higher conversion and lower overall cost for you. Next, request permission to sync a new registered user’s contact list. Do not allow them to “select all contacts,” as carrier consider that to be spam, and is not a sustainable way of growing legitimately. Once the user is securely in the app, allow them to send social invites to their contacts and watch your user base grow.

How to achieve social invite success

Here are a few insights to keep in mind when implementing a social invites program:

  • Avoid spamming – Limit each users’ invites to 30 of their contacts, max. Don’t let your users send social invites to all of their contacts, as this is considered as spam by carriers and will expose you to penalties.
  • Personalize the message – Use the name of the person as the “sender” when available.
  • A/B test – Every app is unique, so track real time communications performance and find your own formula for what messaging works.
  • Pick countries – Avoid markets with less tolerance for, or regulations against social invites.
  • Optimize cost – Don’t send more than 2 invites per number.

If you’re interested in scaling your user acquisition with social invites, please click here.