Reach and Engagement – the Metrics of Success for Mobile Apps

The shift in user time spent from PCs to mobile devices has resulted in a major disruption in digital media use – a move from Web to apps. While PCs are extensively, and even increasingly, used with Web browsers to access desired services and content, mobile device usage is dominantly app-based. The role and importance of apps are expected to increase as the mobile revolution continues and expands.

The number of downloads is a widely used metric, but insufficient for measuring the true success of mobile apps. The focus should be on what happens after the downloads: How many users keep using the apps? How much time is spent using the apps on average?

Significant differences can be observed when comparing the average user time spent on different mobile apps. Facebook’s flagship app leads the pack in terms of mobile user reach, and impressively, it is also the highest in terms of user engagement. An average Facebook app user spends around 7.5 hours per month using the app, which is 2.5 more hours than WhatsApp and a massive 4 hours more than YouTube, which are the second and highest in terms of user engagement, respectively.

Reach and Engagement – Only Partly Related

It is interesting to note that reach and engagement as the key high-level metrics of success are only partially related and dependent on each other. The list of top apps by reach is quite different from the top list by time spent per user. As an example, although Facebook Messenger is a clear leader in terms of U.S. user reach with a monthly user base of 67 million users, WhatsApp Messenger seems to be more successful in engaging its much smaller user base. This is clearly evident from the big gap in the average time spent per user for each app, with WhatsApp users spending 4.5 more hours per month than their counterparts on Facebook Messenger. In addition to the broad international reach of WhatsApp, this difference in user engagement may be one reason why Facebook splashed up to $22 billion to acquire WhatsApp in 2014.

YouTube, a Leader of User Reach and Engagement

Google’s search app may not be engaging users very much, but Google more than compensates for that by heavily engaging its YouTube users. Unlike Facebook Messenger, YouTube is holding onto its leadership in the video app category both in terms of user reach and engagement. Despite the fact that a YouTube video is, on average, much shorter than a Netflix movie, YouTube appears to have found the magic recipe to keep the user engaged for longer. This should not suggest that Netflix has a low user engagement; in fact, quite the opposite: Netflix still enjoys the fourth highest number of hours per user among the top mobile apps. This is very impressive, especially considering the service is also heavily used with non-mobile devices, including PCs, smart TVs, video game consoles, and streaming media players such as Apple TV and Roku. But as a paid service, the reach of Netflix is significantly lower than that of YouTube.

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