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Pokémon GO Fan App Attracted Almost 300 Thousand Trolls in 3 Days

I write this post humbled. In some ways, I have learned more about human nature in the past two days, at least insofar as it relates to smartphone users and Pokémon, as I have in my time as an entrepreneur studying and working in the field.
The learning curve has been pretty steep, but the lessons valuable and, I believe, can be used by entrepreneurs and marketers who want to take advantage of unconventional PR opportunities in the future. It’s also pretty hilarious.

 

Rise of the Follow-On App

Apple’s fast new approval process is letting developers and marketers take advantage of flash trends that have a major impact on App Store search results like Pokémon GO. Approvals, which used to take around a week, are now often happening in less than 24 hours, meaning you can find complimentary use cases and put a rough product out there before the trend dies down — in fact, staged launches in other regions can prolong the “release effects” of huge titles for weeks.
Of course, we weren’t the only ones to realize this and take a ride on Hurricane Niantic. GoChat, the first local messenger service to pop up for Pokémon GO — released by a savvy beta tester a day before the headliner itself — reportedly saw over one million downloads before the young developer was undone either by his servers or his bank account and removed the app.
This was the first in a number (I’m guessing hundreds?) of applications hitting the app store to fill real or perceived gaps in the GO experience. Following GoChat, other in-app messengers were quick to jump on the distinctly lacking social functions of Pokémon GO and provide a way for “trainers” to communicate with other nearby users on the hunt.

On top of this, I can count at least 50 guides (perhaps the easiest thing to build) in the US App Store alone that have popped up in response to the light instruction given in the app, or just pure opportunism, or both — I can’t argue with $3.99/install margin over the cost of a Google search (very curious to see how many people opened their wallets for those).
Perhaps the most important and … illuminating … race in this game, however, has been for a location map marking pokémon in a given area. Like the two cases above, it’s based on a perhaps intentional limitation in the Pokémon GO UI, which only gives users visibility in the AR space near their current real world locations and an indecipherable ‘nearby’ feature. Given the intrinsic desire to “catch ’em all”, users were obviously eager to know the location of rare finds in the area …
Crowd sourced Google Maps started popping up first on web and were followed soon after with new approvals into the app store. These were based on a pretty simple principle: open the map up to the crowd and let all the good citizens populate it with their finds. Needless to say, the crowd certainly got involved, but being both unaccountable and of course eager to prove that we can’t have nice things they decided to fill the maps with false sightings and trash (which were subsequently rated into oblivion).

We Get Involved

Given the once-in-a-lifetime PR opportunity we saw (as well as our, um, abnormally high interest in Pokémon relative to our peers), our team at Unboxd decided to take advantage of tremendous consumer and media response with an app of our own.


On top of this, we were fairly confident we would succeed (although the meaning of success here had yet to be defined). Given our existing proprietary codebase from Unboxd and our CTO’s expertise in handling massive scale, we felt we were in a unique position to create a 3rd party app that stood out from the fray — and wouldn’t be crushed under the force of the Niantic wave.
In a single day, code was repurposed and elaborated on to create an interactive map in where users could upload screenshots of the pokémon they were finding, tag the pocket monster in question, and leave a nice comment. Others would be able to search the map and like the best shots. GoSnaps — Share Screenshots of Pokémon GO went live in the Apple App Store on July 14th in the early afternoon. I will explain the events that followed in terms of assumptions made and summarily disproven (with prejudice).
Assumption 1: We would have to tell people about it
Without a single post on Reddit or Facebook, at first hundreds, then thousands, then tens of thousands of people had downloaded the app. This was driven almost entirely by searches for Pokémon GO.
Assumption 2: Given the stated intention of the app, people would upload Pokémon GO screenshots
We are not (totally) naive, but nevertheless we thought a significant percentage of users would be uploading app screenshots or at least Pokémon-related content. We were wrong. At this stage there are 100s of thousands of uploads. Of these, only .5% are real screenshots. If you’d like to see select examples of the more appropriate uploads, check out GoSnaps on Instagram @gosnapsapp and Twitter @gosnapsofficial. For the inappropriate content, please message us directly ;)
Assumption 3: We could manage the incoming content
Likely victims of our own simple UI and the fact that we haven’t required any signup, we were almost immediately buried by user uploads of every kind. The initial reporting system that was implemented, essentially navigating from upload to upload and flagging content, was nowhere near enough to deal with the tons of incoming submissions (many of which paired tags of rare pokémon with, say, the flag of ISIS). Quickly an admin page was put up and AI implemented to sort the wheat from the chaff. Did I mention the chaff already includes over 300 thousand shitposts?

Takeaways So Far

Here’s a few of the lessons I’ve learned and some tactics you can use if you’d like to try a similar PR stunt yourself.
  1. ISIS are as good or better at marketing than the media has suggested. Expect to see inappropriate content early in the release cycle — even before your app takes off. Work on your reporting system while your app is awaiting approval.
  2. Prepare for scale from the beginning. Many users being exposed to your app are not early adopters and are unlikely to tolerate failure without leaving a nasty rating. We are lucky to have a real expert here and still have experienced some delays and difficulties with the load.
  3. Keep the interface super simple. Common sense dictates that the less friction there is in using an app, the more chances you’ll have for early engagement. This applies double for apps riding a significant trend.
  4. The primary driver of traffic in these situations is search and, as such, App Store Optimization should be your first priority. Name the trending subject in your app title. Don’t skip making a few professional-looking assets and screenshots before you go live — when the follow-on competition crowds the results you’ll stick out.
  5. Finally, people love selfies. Moreover, girls taking selfies all over the world think the Snapchat dog filter is cute and worthy of sharing both on and off of Snapchat. I’m not sure how to use this knowledge, but it is apparently an international and universal truth.

What’s Next

GoSnaps’ explosive growth isn’t over yet — we’re still adding somewhere in the range of 100 thousand users every day. More importantly, a steadily increasing number are coming back for more and we plan to make the experience even better for them.
Look out for the next version of the app which will bring list views, better sorting, a clear walkthrough, and a variety of sorting options to our interactive map.
Niantic, if you’re reading this, please direct all future acquisition offers to our head of IR … and no more low-balling it, y’hear!
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