320,000 downloads in, what WWF has learned from its iMessage app

One of the biggest changes introduced with Apple’s new iOS 10 was letting users access third-party apps in iMessage. On cue, companies including Disney and Burger King flooded its Message store with branded stickers on Sept. 13.

Global charity World Wildlife Fund was one of the brands in on the ground floor. After being contacted by Apple in August, its digital platforms team created 21 origami-inspired animal stickers for users to add into their messages.

Two weeks in, the conservation charity has had 46 million impressions in the sticker store, and its product page has been viewed 1.4 million times. In turn, 320,000 people have downloaded the sticker pack. It currently ranks 19th in the most popular free apps on iMessage. Turns out people like cuddly animals.

“I’d love to actually read these texts people are sending,” said Diane Quigley, senior director of digital platforms at WWF. “Let’s meet for coffee, oh and here’s a whale.”

Here’s what Quigley has learned in the first two weeks of using stickers:

You can do it cheaply
WWF has five full-time staffers on its digital platforms team: a mix of designers, programmers and analysts. However, being a charity means the budget is tight. So rather than splurging on fresh designs, the team adapted existing images created for WWF Together, an educational app that WWF released in 2013 to highlight 16 different endangered species.

This also meant the process was much quicker, a good thing considering the team had under a month until the launch date.

“We had the in-house talent who could turn it around without us spending one dollar with a consultant or an agency,” Quigley said.

It helps to have an assist from Apple
Part of stickers’ appeal to brands is that it has become increasingly difficult to get users to download — and keep using — apps. Quigley said maintaining apps like WWF Together are now an “expensive proposition” unless they are guaranteed to make a return on investment.

But just like the App Store, Apple plays a role in which stickers users can find.

The search function isn’t prominent in the message store (a small icon at the top of the screen), whereas Apple’s “Featured” section is. Like its previous app — which has had over 1 million downloads to date — WWF’s sticker pack was featured by Apple in the store in its first few days, snuggled next to Star Wars.

“They are looking for unique content, and I think they see us as a good partner for that,” Quigley added.

Apple’s sway is obvious in the app’s numbers. During the week WWF Stickers was featured, it had 268,012 downloads. The following seven days where it wasn’t saw a 76 percent drop — with the end of the two weeks tailing off to around 5,100 downloads a day from a high of over 75,000.

Attribution still needs work
If companies want to direct users anywhere else with their stickers, they must exit iMessage and track that information down elsewhere. WWF mentions its app WWF Together on its product page in the hope people will visit it. There, it has much more in-depth information about the charity and its mission. It also measures social shares, email signups and indirect donations from this app.

Since its stickers were featured in the Message store, its other app — WWF Together — has seen more downloads: The week of Sept. 5, before stickers launched, WWF Together had 1,777 downloads. The week of Sept. 12, when the WWF iMessage app was featured, its WWF Together app had 4,213 downloads.

But the charity can’t be entirely sure what caused the uptick as it was also featured on App Store in China around the same time.

“I don’t think we can directly attribute the increase to the stickers, since we do think there was some other promotion of our app in China that drove this growth,” said Quigley. “But I do think it was a contributing factor.”

ROI isn’t that clear yet
The charity’s primary goal with stickers, Quigley said, was to raise awareness among younger users. It’s not a fundraising tool, but the WWF may test out people’s appetite for that in future.

“We wanted to make it free because we didn’t want to put up a barrier for people. Now we’ve seen the success, we’ll look to test charging,” she said.

As it explores other messaging platforms like Line, it is also considering how to be more than just a coterie of cute animals — and getting its mission out across multiple languages, said Quigley.

“We’re still figuring out how to strike a balance with the seriousness of our mission and being playful and relevant.”

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