Your mobile app’s debut – first day of launch: minute to minute game plan

Mapping Out Your Mobile App's Launch Day: A Minute-to-Minute Strategy Guide for Success

This is how the day of your app launch/major upgrade would look and feel like. Have fun with it! The moment you’ve been preparing for has finally come! Whether this is your app debut or you are releasing an important version update, you are in for a unique experience. I am here to help you understand what to expect, and to help you organize your “must do” items for the day.

As usual, let’s set expectations:

  1. This item provides a training on what needs to be done on the app’s launch day.
  2. As always, to save you time, links to trainings that help answer some practical questions that may come up while you are reading are provided as we go along. Enjoy!

First day of launch begins when your app is live and available to download on the selected app stores. It’s also the point in time when you start communicating with your users. It’s when you start executing your endless plans. It’s when you start massively collecting data and monitoring your performance. It’s when you start optimizing based on the data you are collecting.

It’s not just another day. This day brings some amazing, never-to-return opportunities (and I am not exaggerating!). Therefore you must know what to expect and carefully plan your tasks for this important day. It’s “The Day” and you want to be at your best.

Rank boost and PR blitz

An important fact that many developers overlook relates to the weight the ranking algorithms of app stores assign to apps on their first hours since “birth”. In general, once your ranking is high enough, you will gladly experience a snowball effect because the top charts are where most people look for apps. Specifically, in the hours after your app becomes available (only for the first time) you could potentially experience a boost in your rank. Since users are eager to try new apps, the marketplace provides you with a small window of opportunity to climb up in the ranking (so don’t get used to it). Rumor has it that during the first 48 hours since going live, every download is doubled in rank calculations (and based on my experience it is indeed how that feels). So the more you downloads you generate right after the launch, the higher the app would climb up the charts.

Another contributor to the “rank boost effect” is the “new apps” charts where you can be featured. When new (on first couple of weeks), your app could be wither automatically featured on these charts, or manually picked by the store’s editor, hence more visible.

Additional window of opportunity that’s limited in time relates to the press. If you are looking to enjoy nice press coverage, you must release your press release and arrange product demo meetings right after you’ve launched (or using embargo agreements, even a short time before launch). The press is looking for scoops, exclusives.. News get old fast. The longer you wait with your PR push, the less you are likely to enjoy wide or relevant coverage. Even a day after launch could mean “no news for you”. Think about it and take it under consideration.

Considering you have decided to take advantage of this “rank boost” and PR buzz opportunity, you should make sure several tasks are fully completed on the first day of launch, once your app is available to download.

You must act fast. There’s little time for delays. This requires careful prior planning. Any delays may result in you losing this amazing chance to climb up the charts.

Here’s a story: Among the variety of launch campaigns I was lucky to run (as part of a team), one remains my favorite. it was planned very well (in my humble opinion). Honestly. Every step was calculated. We knew exactly what would happen on the first day of launch, we’ve carefully selected the launch day (best day to launch on the relevant local market), checked the calendar for specific local events, consulted our agencies, and we even controlled our go-live hour. We aligned iPhone and Android to go live at the same time. We alerted the press in advanced and made sure that press items would not be released before the app was available to download and preferably within a specific timeframe from the time we went live. We engaged the whole company employees, partners, service providers, family, friends, colleagues, you get the idea… to create a buzz on the social sphere. We invested in a user acquisition boost campaign and made sure it was up right after the app was published.

Long story short – we’ve DONE EVERYTHING you can think of, military style. During the planning and the launch day itself, I remember asking myself “is this normal, or maybe we all went bananas…” I thought “what on earth??? Get some perspective lady…” but it was so worth it, really! Numbers on the charts were crazy. We climbed as high as 10 times over our most optimistic targets. We experienced hundreds of thousands of downloads within 2-3 days from launch. We climbed to #1 on the general iTunes store and #6 on Google Play, and we stayed there for weeks. I kid you not (I must admit those results were also due to the fact this described launch was in a relatively small territory) . We were completely shocked. It’s been an amazing lesson-learned for us all, and it was then that I fully understood the power of planning in general, and the meaning of joining forces during an app’s launch day, specifically.

Still, before going ahead and aligning all your forces, here are some important considerations:

  • Rejection – if your app is rejected and you can’t publish it on the planned day, you risk losing some of the momentum. If you turn some activities off in the last minute, it may be difficult to turn them back on later on. Advertising/media campaigns need prior notification to reserve advertising slots, press meetings also require prior scheduling, sending invitations, etc. It’s kind of embarrassing to cancel last minute. But it’s not impossible, and it’s not the end of the world. Though I’ve had to do it couple of times, apart from the inconvenience, there was no harm done.
  • Performance issues- if you make a lot of noise right after you’ve launched, you have no window for quiet improvements. Once you are being loud, you are in the spotlight and every issue or mistake is noticed and judged; every bug is celebrated by your competitors (hey, they noticed you launched together with everyone else). There is no way back. If you don’t look furnished enough, expect to “enjoy” an unexpected attack. So performance issues can cause you to go downhill as fast as you climbed up the hill. I can’t tell you it’s not intimidating. But, I can tell you that I had once “enjoyed” this experience. We knew it might be coming when we’ve started making noise, but still, we had bugs we didn’t experience when we did our testing, so they came by surprise. Our competitors showed no mercy. Same with the press. It’s not that the app didn’t work, it just didn’t work perfectly. But this was enough to unleash the beasts J we had to monitor the crisis, balance reviews; that was one hell of a crazy launch. But today I say- it was still absolutely worth it!!! The fire we attracted ended up only increasing the buzz (there is no such thing as bad press as they say), and we managed to control the crisis. Eventually, we came out stronger, but still, you need to be aware of the risks, expect the unexpected and plan ahead. And be strong too, in case of fire.
  • Customer support - making noise equals to attracting user attention equals getting a lot of feedback from users, hence a great need for providing support. One day all is quiet and the next day everything changes in a minute. You are serving end users. Lots of them. You need to have the right operation in place. Tech support. Customer care. If you manage to create some buzz, expect a rain of emails, social media inquiries and so forth. Answers are expected fast, otherwise you risk being perceived as non-responsive, and not ready. No one wants to be in this position. Moreover, you can learn a lot from user feedbacks; they are really important – it’s a glimpse into your users’ minds; their thoughts and wishes. More importantly, by learning from your users’ feedbacks you can start improving. Therefore, you should embrace those requests, complaints, feedbacks, reviews and so forth. You might want to develop an intelligence mechanism, systematically collecting feedbacks, extracting their essence, and improving. It starts on day 1.
  • App-Page Reviews – Store reviews are super critical. They determine your rating (# of stars), hence your app’s perception, number of downloads, conversion rate (app page views converted to app downloads), hence your rank. Basically app reviews can impact almost all of your marketing objectives.

When you’ve just launched your app, you are as sensitive to bad reviews as you will ever be. That’s because you have no reviews legacy, so a bad review’s weight is that much more significant. Say your app gained six reviews within the first hour from launch – three of them are bad ones (one star). Say those bad reviews were submitted by your competitors. Can you imagine how your app’s download page now looks like, when viewed by new potential users? Not a pretty sight. Right, you’ve only just launched, it’s based on just a few reviews, no more, but still, first impression is what counts and presenting a medium to low rate is unpleasant, and damaging.

What can you do about it? Basically you need to be prepared with advanced tactics, and closely monitor your reviews, even “obsessively”, on the first days following launch day. It’s a game of pushing positive reviews, monitoring rating calculating reviews impact, balancing and so forth. Small tip (not a politically correct one) – ask anybody you feel comfortable with to submit a positive review (don’t pay for reviews, this is unethical, but everyone you know should be submitting reviews at this point). It’s a first aid measure, but it can very well come to your rescue. You can find some Facebook groups that offer app exchange reviews communities. Expect some nasty reviews. Competition posting horrible reviews is not science fiction, you know…

While on Google Play app reviews are accumulated since the initial launch (making it harder to recover from bad rating, but also harder to damage a good one), on iTunes you enjoy a fresh opportunity every time you submit a new client version (as they support two measurements – total rating and recent version’s rate). When you update your iPhone app, you maintain your existing rating until you’ve gained (seven) new reviews. Then your published rating becomes the new version’s one, for good or for bad. The upside when submitting a new version is that it can be used as a popular “reviews-crisis recovery” tactic. The downside is that you are back again in the reviews battle, on every version update.

Back to the first day of launch – reviews on both Google Play and iTunes have a huge impact on your performance and targets, so you would probably find yourself completely occupied with monitoring reviews and using your best skills to stabilize a positive rating.

Social buzz

I am sure that by launch day you’ve completed building your social strategy and developing a detailed social media plan. You should make sure you’ve published your social pages, posted a celebratory launch announcement, which you may also want to promote on social channels (paid posts). You are right to think “why is that a first-day burning task, when I haven’t yet even started building my community?” True, but considering you are now available on the stores and you’re working hard on making some noise, your potential users may run into your app on social networks, while hearing about it via other sources in parallel (hence, exponential effect), so you might want to be visible there as well.

Social activity can become a major contributor to the buzz around your app launch, as long as you make sure that influencers are posting on your behalf, you are posting on relevant groups and your family, friends and colleagues are joining forces (social forces) to help you.

Internal & external communications

If you are working in a large company, internal communications is something you should seriously consider. Your colleagues can significantly support you and help you with your launch activities and targets. Moreover, many of them are part of the team designing the app. They deserve special treatment, even in the middle of the launch “rush-hour”, when you are having a nervous breakdown. You don’t want them offended. You want them on your side. Take a short break from all your tasks. Make time for a celebratory toast, and write a special thank you email (company wide distribution of course). Explain a bit about the meaning of this launch, and share the gossip and initial or expected numbers – so your colleagues can identify, get excited and willfully help with the promotion (they all know people). You need all help you can get.

Do the same with your existing partners, potential partners, service providers, people you’ve done business with, etc. As I am writing this, I can’t help but remember a specific launch in which I was amazed by the support I was getting (lucky me) from my partners and my service providers (social buzz, reviews support from huge teams; it really moved me… no kidding).

Finally – go back home and collapse on the couch! You’ve done it! YOU HAVE DONE IT! It’s a day to remember.

Wrap up

Launch day (or upgrade release day) is one intensive day. It consists of a chunk of burning tasks that “can’t wait”, all should be executed at the same time of course. You can’t over plan this day, but you also can’t expect it to go as planned. This day brings some unique opportunities you can’t ignore, and must take advantage of, but consider downsides and make sure you are well prepared for unpleasant occurrences (that hopefully will not happen). All the best.