Problem

Making your mobile app go viral in a store and determining people to share it with their friends is a holy grail of every publisher. The importance of achieving viral success skyrocketed due to ever-increasing advertising cost.

Moreover, people don’t find ads that trustworthy. Yet, when a friend shares a new mobile app, walls of prejudice fall down and downloads boost.

The MSQRD app experienced explosive growth thanks to impressive viral sharing with friends. As a result, Facebook acquired Masquerade (the company behind this viral photo and video filter app) for an undisclosed amount in March of 2016. The 3D mask technology is now used in live video within Facebook app, which Mark Zuckerberg introduced at F8 conference.

MSQRD viral app allows you put on celebrity masks and animated filters while shooting photos or recording videos and share results with your friends. The app was featured on Jimmy Kimmel’s show and got over 16 million downloads in the first couple of months after its launch.

The viral effect was boosted by MSQRD’s multiple celebrity fans like Cara Delevingne, who posted several Instagram videos with Leonardo DiCaprio’s mask on, and Leo himself.

Eugene (co-founder of app store optimization platform SplitMetrics) started MSQRD mobile app at a 48-hour hackathon Garage48 in Minsk, Belarus in the fall of 2015. His co-founder, Sergey Gonchar, a talented graphics programmer, came to Belarus from Montenegro to work on the project; he and Eugene went to school together and were friends for a while.

Together with their third co-founder Eugene Zatepyakin, an expert in computer vision and machine learning who actually authored the face-tracking also employed in this viral mobile app, the guys set off to build the product which was soon to make headlines all over media thanks to viral sharing and millions of downloads.

MSQRD co-founders on A/B testing

Sergey and Eugene shared the secrets behind MSQRD’s viral sharing among friends and disclosed how they managed to get the most of this success creating app screenshots and A/B testing them.

Solution

App Viral Marketing Hack #1

One thing that we quickly realized from the start is that we need to localize the app beyond the text. We didn’t just translate the description and captions of app screenshots. We chose various masks for the first app screenshot for different storefronts.

Eugene Nevgen, Co-founder of Masquerade Technologies

For example, app screenshots with Joseph Stalin’s mask, not surprisingly, worked better in Russia. For the United States, the team chose celebrity masks of Leonardo DiCaprio and Snoop Dog. In Asia, they placed the panda filter as their first app screenshot.

MSQRD, which was initially popular in Russia and Belarus only, quickly took off both in the United States and Asia-Pacific as a result of their custom approach to app screenshot design for different countries. Thanks to this strategy everybody wanted to share a funny picture with their friends.

A/B testing filters for first screen

App Viral Marketing Hack #2

Media covering MSQRD acquisition often emphasized that the app became viral with zero money spent on marketing. Eugene was in app store optimization business prior to founding MSQRD, so he made use of his expertise.

We did optimize the app store page and, of course, we tested. For example, we found that the video preview boosted mobile app downloads.

Eugene Nevgen, Co-founder of Masquerade Technologies

Here is how A/B testing works: you split ad traffic in half, and drive it to landing pages that mimic the app store. Eugene’s team had two identical pages set up, except that one had a video preview along with app screenshots, and one didn’t. When a visitor got to the “emulated” app store, every download, click, scroll, and second spent on the page was tracked by the system.

According to Eugene’s team experiment, video preview in combination with the most performant app screenshots set improved MSQRD’s downloads rate by 13%. It also decreased bounce rate from the page by 5% and boosted the number of direct installs.

SplitMetrics statistics on MSQRD tests

App Viral Marketing Hack #3

When the team reviewed the on-page analytics from A/B tests, they found that 80% of visitors stopped watching app video preview at 12 seconds. The App Store allows developers to upload 15-30 seconds long video previews. The same video will appear in all countries and regions.

By placing our most viral masks in the first seconds, we improved our conversion rate.

Eugene Nevgen, Co-founder of Masquerade Technologies

App Viral Marketing Hack #4

Less than 2% of people view app screenshots in full-screen mode, according to the data from several experiments that Eugene’s team ran on MSQRD’s app store page.

Many designers preview app screenshots in full-screen mode, assuming that’s what all people do. Eugene, who previously worked as a UI designer, explained:

It’s important to make sure you use large fonts and keep the captions concise within your app screenshots. Your app’s core features should be clear right away to whoever sees your app screenshots in search results.

App Viral Marketing Hack #5

Nailing timing of new features launch is a must and your app screenshots should reflect updates from day one. For example, the guys from MSQRD added a monkey mask to the app’s 3D filter collection right before the New Year’s. According to the Chinese zodiac, 2016 was the year of the monkey.

Thousands of people used the filter to record videos for friends and family which once again contributed to mobile app’s viral effect. In Eastern Europe, where the app first took off, people take their horoscopes seriously, buying themed decorations and toys, so the timing of new mask was perfect.

Timing for app viral success

Leonardo DiCaprio’s mask went viral on Instagram before the Academy Awards’ ceremony. After Jimmy Kimmel used MSQRD to morph into Leo DiCaprio on his show, the team quickly designed and added Jimmy’s mask to the app. Shortly after the new release, MSQRD app made another appearance on TV; this time, Jimmy Kimmel featured his new personal 3D filter.

Voila, one more addition to app’s viral effect.

Result

So how do you make your app viral? MSQRD obviously had a great app and a stellar team (just like hundreds of other mobile startups). Riding the wave of seasonal interests and trending topics definitely contributed to downloads growth and viral sharing among friends.

MSQRD’s viral app marketing hacks:

  1. localize app for the culture not just for foreign language;
  2. test if you should make app video preview;
  3. remember you have only 12 seconds of user attention within an app video preview;
  4. design app store screenshots for search visibility;
  5. ship fast and get the timing right.

User adoption and downloads skyrocketed after the app team added Leonardo DiCaprio’s mask at the time when millions of people were anticipating Leo’s first Oscar. Facebook extended its acquisition offer right as the social network was about to launch live streaming within their mobile app.

However, Eugene shared that none of that would matter if not for the data-driven approach to the product design and app store marketing. Eugene evangelized the idea of A/B testing app store landing pages at his first company SplitMetrics and then applied it to MSQRD app. It paid off in the enhanced viral sharing of the app among friends.

You can get all pieces of the puzzle right, but if your app’s store page doesn’t convert, you’re missing the critical component. This is especially important if you’re betting on the spur-of-the-moment traffic. MSQRD seized all opportunities and managed to achieve more than 13% growth which meant thousands of extra installs.

If you’re sending millions of users to a store page that is not localized or optimized for conversion, forget about active downloads. The morning after the Oscars comes, you’ve got to wait for another event and a different celebrity mask to catch the wave of viral sharing among friends.

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