Mobile apps – how they are estate managers latest tool11th Feb 2019
Looking at their phones is one of the first things most people do in the mornings. Whether it’s for checking emails, reading the news, updating social media, messaging friends or getting a weather forecast, the reality is that the screens viewed by most people most of the time are on their phones.
The accelerating uptake in mobile phone usage increased exponentially with the birth of smartphones, and we generally interact with our smartphones via mobile applications (or just plain apps). Apps are now an indispensable part of our daily lives, with research showing that people spend an average of 30 hours per month using mobile apps.
Mobile apps have become the preferred way of interfacing with online information. Most people who get their news from News24 use the app rather than the webpage, for example. In fact, 90% of Facebook’s active daily users access the site via mobile, and about 50% have never used the web interface.
It is therefore obvious that the smartphone is an invaluable channel to engage with consumers, and that the most effective way to do this is through a mobile app.
But are mobile apps necessary or useful in a residential community communication? Based on the above information, we believe the answer is definitely yes. The smartphone, via an app, offers a perfect channel for estate management to communicate with members and for members to communicate with one another. The app can also be used for more than just information sharing: it can become an integral part of the community member’s living experience, and even an instrument for managing the community lifestyle.
But just like any technology, mobile apps can do as much harm as good, if not applied and managed correctly. Much time and money has been wasted on mobile apps that are hardly ever used by the target market. In fact, the average app user has 40 to 70 apps installed on his or her smartphone but only uses a quarter of them daily, and never uses another quarter. The most common types of apps used daily are social, communication and gaming apps, with 68% being for social and communication purposes.
Many users will delete an app if they don’t find it useful, which is worse for the originator of the app than their just not using it, as deleting the app removes the channel of communication entirely, so messages, updates and more cannot be pushed to the user. The main reasons for deleting apps include the app not being used often, the app having too many technical problems, the app not being easy to use, and even the person feeling that they’re spending too much time on the app. The first and last reasons are ironic opposites: apps are likely to be deleted whether they are underused or overused.
So, although an app can be a great asset to a residential community, it can also cost a huge amount of time and money, just to end up as an abandoned white elephant.
Mobile application strategy guidelines
We would like to suggest that you take the following considerations into account when you decide whether and/or how to implement a mobile application in your community. Apart from the obvious factors such as price and fitness for purpose, two integral points in any industry’s mobile app strategy are boosting awareness and keeping your audience engaged.
#1: Fitness for purpose and usage: With any management system, fitness for purpose is one of the most important considerations. You need to understand what purpose the new technology (an app in this case) is intended to serve and then make sure it can do that, or at least most of it, and also has the potential to grow with your needs.
Research shows that simplifying the user’s life and ease of operation are two key drivers of app usage. In fact, 63% of frequently used apps have an attribute that makes the user’s life easier. One of the key considerations in deciding whether an app is fit for your purpose is determining how much value that app will add to the community member’s life.
#2: Integration: Once introduced, the app will have to be supported and maintained. The multiplicity of databases and systems that need to be co-ordinated is already a massive challenge for community management committees, and you need to take care not to let the app become yet another administrative burden. Making applications part of, or at least smoothly integrated with, the rest of the community’s management systems should be an important consideration.
#3: Price (total cost of ownership for the community): Costing a mobile app is very much like costing a website, in that the pricing varies greatly. It is also very difficult to compare quotes, as it is almost impossible to know exactly what will be delivered. Application development is not cheap, though, and developing a good lifestyle application for residential communities is likely to carry a price tag of at least R 100 000 and probably more than R 500 000. The upfront development cost is not all, though. The total cost of ownership of the application to the entire community includes the costs to members (subscription fees) and operational costs as well. Research has shown that 82% of users are price-sensitive when asked to download an app, and that three out of four people expect apps to be free. To ensure good member uptake and usage, we do not recommend charging the members for downloading or using the app.
#4: App discovery and installation: Apps are different from websites in that members can’t simply search for it in Google and then start using it. The app needs to be introduced to members, who should then be guided to the app for installation. A decision also needs to be made about what platforms the app should be made available on (e.g. iPhone, Android), as separate apps are required for the different mobile operating systems.
Regardless of the details about platforms, introduction methods and so on, the app will have to be promoted and supported by the management committee. As with any new system, members will have to be educated and assisted on the benefits and uses of the app.