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Social features: The key to personalizing and building successful health apps

Gabriel Troiano
Gabriel Troiano
March 15, 2022
Gabriel Troiano
March 15, 2022

How many times has a user downloaded a nutrition app, confident that this would be the time they turned things around? They may have even used it religiously for a few days, tracking their food, recording their meals, and learning new recipes—only to completely forget about it the next week. Chances are that they eventually remembered about the app but, feeling defeated by their (self-proclaimed) lack of discipline, they deleted it. And then the cycle repeats itself.

Health and wellness app engagement metrics

App disengagement in the health and wellness space is notoriously high, even considering annual retention for the average mobile app is only 35%. In the mobile health (mHealth) sphere, medical internet research shows that only 16% of medical and 19% of fitness app users were retained on an annual basis. 

Retention remains a challenge: 16% of medical app users are retained on an annual basis while 19% of fitness app users are retained on an annual basis

The retention stats may show the key challenge product managers have to overcome, but they also tell you how to change the circumstances: proactive user engagement can boost 90-day retention of medical and fitness apps from 34% to 66% and 31% to 71%, respectively.

It’s clear that app engagement plays a crucial role in the success of smartphone apps. But what exactly are healthcare consumers looking for and how can we cater to their expectations? Let’s dig a little deeper.

How health priorities have shifted in the past decade

Our views towards health have shifted considerably over the past decade, and especially over the duration of the coronavirus pandemic. Part of this is in response to what the average person’s lifestyle looks like: working a tiring job, experiencing social isolation, having a poor diet, and turning to unhealthy habits to ease the stresses of daily life. 

Fortunately, in congruence with these lifestyle changes is increased access to information and technology. We know more than ever about physical and mental health, and that has made us prioritize our wellbeing in an entirely new way.

Holistic health is emphasized

Today, we know that wellness isn’t just exercising and making sure you eat some vegetables every day. Good health outcomes are a lot more holistic and involve physical, emotional, intellectual, social, and spiritual aspects. 

Looking after your health in so many different elements means having to keep track of much more. Various problems are often addressed by different professionals, and your healthcare team may include not only a primary care physician but also a dentist, physiotherapist, optometrist, nutritionist, and therapist—perhaps even more! 

The complexity of healthcare has increased reliance on technological tools and a preventative, integrated approach to wellness, rather than only addressing problems after they’ve come up.

People are driven by a sense of community

Our need for community isn’t new, but we’re experiencing a renewed appreciation for like-minded groups, especially when it comes to wellness. Since health is such a big part of our lives, we should have people to share it with.

Whether you’re starting a new type of exercise or coping with a mental illness, being surrounded by people who empower and inspire you can make the experience more positive. And thanks to the internet, you can find the peer support you need without being restricted to your geological area.

Convenience comes first

As technology becomes increasingly accessible, it’s integrated into more and more parts of our lives. Health is no exception. Smartphone apps, commercial equipment, internet access, and other digital tools have been adopted to make giving and receiving health-related services more convenient. 

Because health is something that can easily be ignored, convenience has to be a primary consideration. If making healthy choices is difficult—whether that means scheduling telehealth consultations, treating mental disorders, or eating well—people will often disengage and look for an easier solution. 

mHealth apps: Bridging the gap between health and convenience

Healthcare consumers want to live better, healthier lives—but they want to do it with ease. The mHealth industry rose in response to that need, helping individuals to pursue physical and mental health in a smarter and more convenient way.

While the methods may differ, all types of mHealth applications are created with one goal: to support users in building better health behaviors.

A look at mHealth today

mHealth applications fall under two major categories: medical and fitness. The former includes apps such as personal health logging, remote monitoring, and diagnostic apps. Exercise, lifestyle, stress management, and nutrition apps fall under the latter.

In 2021, the global health smartphone app market size was valued at 38.2 billion USD. Findings suggest that telehealth app usage has grown 38 times from the pre-pandemic baseline and an increase of virtual services available has improved consumer perceptions.

With internet and smartphone penetration still on the rise, there is room in the market for more health-oriented mobile apps—but only if they find a way to digitally enable end-to-end services and maintain high levels of health app user engagement.

A glimpse into the future of mHealth

The global mHealth market is expected to grow considerably over the next few years. Future research anticipates a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.8% from 2022 to 2030. There are several market drivers in play, including rapid technological advancement, the prevalence of chronic disease, cost savings for the customer, and increased use of wearable devices that are likely to support growth in this sector. 

Since average retention rates for health apps remain low, there are opportunities for community-oriented spaces where users can engage in conversation, share their experiences, and pursue wellness together.

Why do so many health and wellness apps fail?

Brian Kalis, managing director for Accenture’s Health practice, states that healthcare consumers want constant access to products and services—including online chat support and customer service—but mHealth apps are failing to align functionalities with these expectations. Without that utility, a user could quickly become disillusioned and look elsewhere. 

But it goes deeper than a lack of utility. When a service doesn’t meet consumers’ needs, retention suffers. Without retention, there is no consistency—and, therefore, no meaningful change.

There’s good news: retention jumps tremendously with user engagement. You don’t need to produce a perfect app the first time—but you do have to constantly gather feedback to improve it.

Aside from proactive communication on the side of care providers, one of the top requirements of healthcare consumers today is an engaged peer community. Why? Community is the first step to creating a tangible support system, which goes on to create consistency. And what does consistency bring? Results!

True behavior change requires consistency

Health and wellness apps are created to increase access to healthcare and support better lifestyle behaviors. Without sufficient engagement, however, they may be limited in their effectiveness. 

Changing your diet, prioritizing your mental health, even embarking on a yoga journey—all of these things require consistency for results. However, willpower often isn’t enough to induce the behavior change process. Change isn’t linear, and we may lose faith in ourselves along the way. 

Consistency is one of the crucial behavior change techniques, and for health apps to encourage it, increasing user engagement is paramount. 

Cultivate long-term user engagement with social features

The general population is taking a more active role in their healthcare. They want access to service providers, valuable insight, and personalized care. As more and more people seek mobile health interventions—especially for mental health problems—service providers need to keep up with the digital transformation.

For your mHealth smartphone app to be successful in the long term, app developers need to see clients as more than people who contribute to revenue. Using social app features to connect with consumers meaningfully will create strong emotional connections that then drive engagement.

How social features drive value for your health app

If a health app isn't tailored to the user, even a good UX/UI and valuable content can't compel good retention metrics. Social features personalize the app experience while allowing users access to service providers and each other. The emotional bonds built help to drive user satisfaction and engagement while encouraging users to meet their health goals.

Here is a closer look at the value social features can bring to your mHealth app:

1 - Lay a foundation for an engaged vertical community

Health apps are perfect spaces for vertical communities because they’re based on niche interests and have specific inclusion criteria. When a certain network revolves around a distinctive topic, such as mental health, content is more curated and members have a common interest to build connections over. 

In contrast to generalized horizontal networks, vertical communities are more engaged. They also participate more actively as their passion grows. Diet Doctor’s community is a great example of this. When people join, they’re often new to diet and nutrition. As they gain experience and engage with the community, however, they become daily active users that return to share inspiration and interact with the friends they made during their journey.

Social features like Groups are where these bonds are built—micro-communities where you can discover like-minded people and ask questions, share progress, and participate in challenges.

2 - Support wellness with peer-to-peer interactions

People are social creatures by nature. We inherently desire social support and seek to surround ourselves with like-minded people. When it comes to developing a healthier lifestyle, a peer community can drive engagement by giving you access to similar-minded people with whom you can compete and collaborate.

User-to-user chat features are wonderful for closer connections among community members because they don’t require users to switch to different social apps. With chat, members can exchange ideas and ask questions without having to leave your mHealth platform.

3 - Personalize each user’s experience

Your health is something very personal, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. That’s why consumers expect mHealth apps to be tailored for their use. More healthcare providers are finding ways to integrate machine learning and data analysis into their platforms, which ups the value factor. 

Aside from tailored personal data, health apps can use social features to make every experience unique. Personal push notifications and social feeds ensure users only receive alerts for what is relevant to them. 

Personalization also gives clear direction and prompts disciplined behavior, which turns an occasional user into an active user, thus improving retention.

4 - Create a space for user-generated content

Social features make it possible to share experiences in many formats, including photos and short-form videos. These types of posts can impact engagement considerably because user-generated content is considered more trustworthy and impactful

Incentivizing UGC is a terrific way to boost app metrics and allow members to be your brand ambassadors. It also shows new members that your customers are satisfied enough to vouch for you!

Perx Health is one company that used social features to build a stronger sense of community and encourage user-generated content. The combination of social features with gamification quickly showed that members loved using the Feed to create content and engage in discussions. The knowledge that they weren’t alone in their health journey was groundbreaking to many and motivated them to frequently interact on the app.

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5 - Build member-health professional trust

Connecting with your customers on a personal level is paramount to lasting customer engagement. Fortunately, social features can help build trust. Strategies like proactively seeking feedback, responding to customer concerns, and sharing peeks behind the scenes make your brand seem more human. 

When it comes down to it, brand-customer trust is about being human. Social features allow you to start and participate in conversations, share valuable content, and respond to questions right in your app. 

Drive value for your health app with social features

Make the health app experience more social with Amity SDKs

Taking care of our health encompasses so much of our lives. And given our innate desire to seek connection, it only makes sense that pursuing something as significant as good health can and should be a community experience. 

Once you add social features into your mHealth app, users can start connecting on a level like never before. As they share their health journeys, you’ll see retention and engagement rise!

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