Want to engage mobile users? Think social and simple

By Neil Versel
CardioTrainer App

CardioTrainer app developed by WorkSmartLabs

Want to engage mobile users in healthy behaviors? Think social.

“We know that smokers hang out with smokers, and when they stop smoking, they stop hanging out with smokers,” Shawn Moore, senior director for product management at consumer health information management firm OptumHealth, said Wednesday morning at the second Mobile Health Expo in New York. “Couch potatoes hang out with couch potatoes. Runners hang out with runners.”

Moore cited data showing that 91 percent of mobile Internet access is to socialize, compared to 79 percent on desktop computers.

And, of course, a rapidly increasing amount of data access is coming from mobile devices. On Tuesday, Artem Petakov, CTO and co-founder of consumer health app developer WorkSmart Labs, told conference attendees to circle June 8, 2012, on their calendars. That’s the day 50 percent of Americans will own a smartphone, he said, meaning that mobile Internet will be mainstream and not just the realm of the “data heads.”

Enter “Big Mike.” Big Mike is the name WorkSmart Labs gave to a large man shown in a photo biting into a ridiculously oversized cheeseburger. It’s an image WorkSmart found online several years ago, and Big Mike has become the motivator the company’s consumer-centric technology development ever since.

Big Mike clearly is not a data head. He’s not among what Petakov called the “type A solution seekers.” Rather, Big Mike is “beyond the chasm,” part of a “silent majority” of people who want to improve their health through lifestyle changes. This group, according to Petakov, would pay for an app but not take time to fill out a survey.

That’s the market to target with mobile apps for wellness, and it’s important to build simplicity, actionable information and a social component into such apps, Petakov said. “Whenever you’re designing your solutions, think, ‘How do I reduce the amount of input and decrease the amount of output?’” he advised.

According to Petakov, 6 million users have installed WorkSmart apps, and all through word of mouth or simple discovery in the Android Market, because the company hasn’t had to advertise. More than 150,000 WorkSmart users post data directly to Facebook from their apps, and each posts typically has two or more engagements—comments and other feedback from friends—setting up what Petakov called “a very virtuous cycle.” In other words, encouragement is motivating.

Petakov also recommended including actionable analytics in apps. Tell users what to do or establish causation based on collected data, such as, “You gained weight because you didn’t get enough sleep.”

And above all, be what Petakov called “200 percent mobile.” WorkSmart has found that just 10 percent of users access its apps through the Web. “Make more than just a website, make it mobile,” Petakov said. It doesn’t have to be a native mobile app, but it should be mobile. HTML5 is a promising development language, but Petakov believes it’s about two years away from mainstream acceptance.

Petakov also recommended relying on internal smartphone functions such as GPS to build the largest possible user base because the silent majority isn’t going to buy additional hardware. Plus, the technology might not be ready. “Right now I would stay away from external sensors because they’re just too hard to connect,” Petakov said.