Avoiding the Friend Zone in Mobile
Nandhita Kumar
Nandhita Kumar

Avoiding the Friend Zone in Mobile

Nandhita Kumar, Design Lead

This is part of our “How to Court Your Mobile Users” series with Amplitude and Branch Metrics.

The dreaded friend zone is a situation where one person’s romantic feelings are not reciprocated by the object of their affection. In the dating realm, avoiding the friend zone is about finding the balance between being a source of comfort and excitement.

A scary parallel to the friend zone exists in the mobile product space. There are millions of apps competing for a spot in the glorious home screen of apps. The trick to avoid living on the 5th page (and never being opened) is to find the balance between proven patterns and refreshing surprises.

When there’s too much of an emphasis on following established trends, you may lose out on building a customized, long-lasting relationship with your users. However, when your focus is on adding as much novelty as possible, users are left confused due to an unusable and overwhelming experience.We clearly don’t want either of those scenarios. But how do we avoid landing in the friend zone in the mobile space?

Personalize the Experience

People like a cookie cutter app as much as they appreciate a cheesy pickup line in a bar. They are both tried and true methods, but display a complete lack of originality. They might work for the night, but the possibility of it turning into a long-term relationship is rather slim.

Identifying natural opportunities to convey what you care about gives your users a reason to care as well. Showing some vulnerability promotes trust and helps close the empathy gap.

Edge cases such as empty and error states are wonderful areas to tie in your brand voice. More often than not, these screens are indications of less than ideal experiences like a lack of connectivity or a wrong password. Address these states. Acknowledge that they’re not fun, and let users know how they can solve it or avoid it in the future. Le Tote does a great job at showing brand character through empty states.

letoteOn the flip side, put in the effort to learn about your users as well. This doesn’t have to mean explicitly asking them what they want. Instead, be considerate enough to pay attention to context clues.

Mada Seghete from Branch Metrics says, “Think about personalizing more than just your first time experience. If you segment your users and understand what they’re interested in and who they are, you can engage them with a personal touch. It goes a really long way.

HotelTonight knows the user’s location and shows them good deals in the nearby area. If they know that the user is traveling, they provide value by showing them deals in the new location. Netflix also does a great job of looking at what you watch and trying to surface movies and shows that you may like.

Differentiate your Mobile Experience

The idea of compromising on a potential romantic partner is disappearing rapidly as dating apps become more abundant. As a result, people are a lot less tolerant of an average experience. A good date doesn’t assure a second date anymore. Only an extraordinary one does.

This continuous search for excellence holds true for the mobile realm. Most products don’t consider the actual volume of apps that they are competing with. It’s easier to consider yourself in a separate tier than your competitors, and hard to accept that your users seldom feel as passionately about your product as you do.

How can you get away from this? Start by giving your competitors a little more credit. You can’t stand out unless you know what else is out there. Don’t shy away from incorporating competitive apps into your user research. It’ll help you distance yourself from your product and identify a unique quality about your app that originally seemed silly or slight.

For example, SoulCycle has established an extremely strong presence in the fitness industry. They built a sense of community and a strong relationship between their trainers and cyclists. This occurred because cyclists communicated the desire for this connection. Users can now learn about their trainers and establish a bond with them before they even meet. This has the wonderful effect of users designing their cycling behaviors around a trainer that personally motivates them.soulcycle

Keep the Chase Alive

Another great tactic to avoid the friend zone – in dating or mobile – is to shake things up. Doing the same amazing thing on every date can become boring really quick.

User journeys are a commonly used method to understand user thoughts and feelings as they go through different app flows. Designers work to incorporate delight and thoughtfulness into each flow. It’s important to also think about the bigger picture. Most teams seldom think about user journeys across different sessions. Use cases change as your user’s relationship with your product evolves.

While there are some core traits that make you who you are, there’s a lot that can be changed over time. The first step is identifying areas in your app to introduce delight without interrupting an important user flow. A good next step is adopting the concept of variable rewards explained in Nir Eyal’s book, “Hooked.” The book plays with the concept of switching up ways to encourage the user as they advance through their flow. It adds an element of surprise, and creates opportunities for virality.

A common interpretation of variable rewards is incorporating unexpected micro animations that reward positive actions. Another approach is using varying coupon values to keep people interested. One of Prolific’s recent partners has a fascinating user base that told us they’d much rather have coupons varying in value from 5 – 20% than a regular 15% coupon. They placed explicit value in the joy of finding a rare 20% coupon.

Sephora extends this concept of varying rewards to the physical world by providing free samples with online purchases. The list of samples that the user can pick from continuously changes. This gives people something exciting to look forward to when they checkout, no matter how long they’ve been a Sephora customer.

Another option is to use social feedback as a varying reward. Wendy Vang from Amplitude says, “The variable reward for a social media app like Instagram is that you can receive any number of likes and comments on your post. So users create a post and they’re continuously driven to check back and see the number of likes they receive.”quizup

Digging Deeper into Mobile Dating

Want to learn more about how you can use dating tips to enhance your mobile acquisition and engagement strategies? Read these posts: