The Story of App Friday

Recently I’ve been approached with questions about the origins and history of the App Friday program. For those who are involved or interested in apps for kids, here are some details.

App Friday is a grassroots marketing program that started on here at Moms With Apps.

We were a group of parents who created apps. We thought Apple’s App Store would magically connect us with customers as soon as our first app went live on iTunes. We thought we would reach people all over the world through a single, perfectly manicured thumbnail icon. But that wasn’t often the case, so we needed to rethink the situation: how could single digit downloads for our apps increase to double, triple and quadruple digit downloads?

The idea was to collectively generate awareness by featuring an app every week along with a link exchange for cross-marketing. By putting our focus into one community-oriented blog post, we hoped to establish a network effect and thereby market our app.

As Editor and administrator of the blog, I launched the first experiment on March 18, 2010. I packed my app, “My Little Suitcase”, into the guinea pig box and set it free for a day to draw attention to the post. At the same time, all around the world, we exclaimed “App Friday!” to our social media networks. I added a link exchange by Simply Linked so other app makers could post about their apps. Everyone who posted a link, also spread the word about the freebie, and about App Friday. The posts continued weekly for several years, featuring hundreds of apps on the blog.

Facebook Pages were peaking in popularity around the same time App Friday was taking off. George Karavias, a fellow app maker from Greece, pitched in to set up and lead the Facebook page. We started hosting live events on the Facebook page called Download Parties. Developers, parents, teachers and reviewers lined up to hear about app news and deals, while gobbling up promo codes for apps. These virtual events were actively attended, and after a party, the concentrated number of downloads propelled an app’s ranking up the iTunes chart.

But the free app aspect of the program was always controversial. Some believed going free was worthwhile to generate awareness and word of mouth, sort of like a loss-leader advertising program. Others believed going free devalued their apps. There was certainly a trade-off to the strategy, and valid views on both sides. I dove into the topic at the MamaBear Tech Conference in 2013, elaborating on app store optimization trends around free promotions.

Meanwhile, the number of developers participating in App Friday increased. We could no longer fit everyone on a single blog post. Anahelena Natera of Zen Labs Apps suggested a grid layout to more evenly display the apps, and over time with the help of George Karavias and Marcel Widarto, a dedicated website and database was built to host an “App Friday Download Center”.

George and Marcel became pillars of this program, with ideas, camaraderie and technical leadership to build out the site. George even programmed an iOS app for App Friday, showcasing the weekly promotions on mobile, together with video previews for each app (very slick!). Our challenge was how to sustain energy for a time-consuming volunteer effort, while app marketplaces and social media were changing. Facebook Pages lost their organic reach, and the Page structure was no longer conducive to hosting live events. But we kept trying, and enlisted the help of wonderful technical and design contacts (thank you Giorgos and Dimitra) to improve and maintain the program.

Meanwhile, Garry Froehlich of Jellybean Tunes was publishing the App Report. This was a weekly post he started on the blog at Moms With Apps and then grew into syndication. He understood the linkages between the weekly marketing efforts, and advised and supported App Friday wherever possible.

Julie Brannon of TELP Media has been a cornerstone of the app marketing industry for #edtech, and graciously works with Garry every week to support App Friday on social media. Under Julie’s leadership, the three of us co-hosted the first App Friday Twitter party for Back to School this past August. It was a blast to see a live audience of app enthusiasts converge once again.

Our communal #appfriday shout-out continues to ride the rails of social media, advocating for independently made and awesome educational apps. With this collaborative style of marketing, we realize it’s more helpful to support fellow app makers than to compete against each other. Since every learning objective can be reinforced in different ways, there is no “perfect” educational app. Instead, all apps work together to teach subjects like language, math, science and even music.

So next time you see or hear about App Friday, I’d love it if you could just take a moment… Do you have an app on the store? Do you know of a newly released app that you like and respect? Are you curious about new, family-friendly apps? If so, consider channeling your enthusiasm and encouragement through your networks to #appfriday, and then subscribe to the email newsletter. App Friday has been around for many years, and we hope it sticks around for many more.

Extra special thanks to George Karavias, Marcel Widarto, Garry Froehlich, and Julie Brannon for supporting the cause, through thick and thin.

@LorraineAkemann

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