Employee engagement apps: The top 12 frustrations and how to avoid them

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Smartphones and mobile applications have changed our lives. We check the news, social updates, weather, order anything, and more at the touch of our fingers—so organizations are realizing they need their own employee apps, especially for frontline workers who don’t have access to a computer or a company email.

There are a million good reasons for having a company app, such as increasing employee engagement, forming special team channels, reaching your hard-to-reach workers, increasing the readership of important content, and connecting a distributed workforce.

However, many internal communicators are outsourcing their own mobile apps via agencies, app developers, or do-it-yourself software. And unfortunately, many of these IC leaders end up frustrated and disappointed by these “DIY” (build your own) apps.

After launch, they are not getting any real value because their app lacks a platform and support. We’ve had many customers come to us, who have contracted mobile apps without a comprehensive workforce communications platform, and they just didn’t work out as expected.

Here are the top 12 employee engagement app frustrations (and how to solve them):

1. Low app adoption

Digital transformation is a critical issue for managers, but 63% say that the pace of establishing new technology in their organizations is too slow. In most cases, mobile apps are launched without a clear value proposition for the executives, communicators, and employees.

Justifying the value of your new app is a challenge, particularly in large organizations with thousands of employees and multiple communication tools. As a result, many apps are launched as the “flashy new object,” but are quickly abandoned by the organization.

Solution: When rolling out your app, it’s best to choose wisely and have a clear value proposition for all stakeholders. From an adoption standpoint, only 50% of success is based on the technology you use. The other 50% is based on content strategy, rollout plan, and ongoing support from your vendor.

You must also keep your employees’ interests in mind. The app must solve your teams’ problems while being easy to use. And don’t forget about choosing a workforce communications platform that has the expertise, customized training, and support you need for a successful rollout.

Upgrading your outdated communications tools? Read our exclusive guide, Digital Transformation: 7 Steps to Success with a case study of a CIO who prioritized internal communications at her organization.

2. Lack of c-level support

Shadow IT (when employees bring in their own tech devices to work) is not always the best approach to rolling out new technology. Without the right support from leaders, your employee engagement app goals may not be aligned with larger business objectives.

Solution: Get your c-suite onboard from the beginning. Identify stakeholders and create groups who want to make better internal communications a priority.

At WashREIT, CIO Susan Gerock joined a group of executives together with communications leaders who researched alternatives to how they were communicating as a company. By getting stakeholders invested in the process early, the c-suite was supportive throughout the whole journey.

They chose a workforce communications platform that could easily publish onto a company app, and their internal communications was transformed. Read more about their story in our podcast.

3. No retention

With Americans spending more than five hours on their smartphones a day, employees (especially millennials) have high expectations for their mobile experiences. You’re competing with Instagram, Spotify, and many other apps for your employees’ attention.

Your employees were excited by the thought of your new shiny app, but after the first couple of months, nobody is using it anymore. Your company app needs to be relevant and personalized for your employees in order for it to become routine for your workforce.

To be successful, you need to constantly refresh and rethink the content available within your app:

  • What do employees need to know?
  • What do employees want to see?
  • What will bring employees to the app every day?

None of these questions have anything to do with the app, but have everything to do with your content strategy.

Content is still king!

You should have a partner or vendor who continually pushes you to rethink your content strategy and provides best-practices from other customers. The best programs have a 30-day retention rate of about 40% to 60%. Anything above that is “Best in Class.” Unfortunately, most employee communications apps have a 30-day retention rate of about 10% to 20%.

Solution: Work with your team leaders to form business cases and the goals you want to achieve before you launch your app. Then, craft a strategy to make sure everyone’s needs are being met. It could be that the sales team needs an app channel to get customer and product information out in real-time, especially when they are on the road, or you may need retail workers to get daily promotions from headquarters.

Set clear goals and objectives for your mobile app and work together with managers from across your organization. Then, give managers access to your communications platform, so they can create specialized content for their teams.

Firstup allows us to make it happen
“The best way to reduce turnover is to increase engagement. One of the best ways to energize the team about the work they’re doing is to highlight it for the rest of the organization to see.”

4. Difficult to publish

Your mobile app admin controls are critical. This is the place where you’ll publish content and distribute it to your workforce. Unless publishing is seamless, you’ll quickly realize that managing your app is just “another job” for you to do. If you have the right provider, your company app should actually create more time in your day versus create more work.

Platforms like Firstup can do this by automating tasks like HTML coding, posting content into multiple platforms, and creating personalized newsletters. The goal is to spend more time with content, and less time wrestling with tools!

Solution: When shopping for a company mobile app software, it’s fundamental to find software that is easy to use. It must allow for flexibility, with features like content templates, push notifications, and video capabilities. It doesn’t need to be complex, but it needs the right features.

5. DIY apps

Asking your IT department to develop a custom app is a huge undertaking. They may not have the resources or the right developers. It may take more than a year to create the employee engagement app, test it, get it into the App Store, and then successfully launch it to the organization. Then, you will need a dedicated team to support the app going forward.

Solution: Choosing a vendor with mobile app capabilities is the best solution. At Firstup, our workforce communications platform integrates with your current communications stack, and allows you to publish to all your channels at one place. Not only will you have unified analytics and a single publishing tool, but you also have the support you need to launch your employee engagement app successfully.

6. No smartphone rules

If your employees are unsure or not allowed to bring their own cellphones to work, they will be unclear about a company app.

Solution: “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) company policies are on the rise. Here are some surprising BYOD statistics:

  • 61% of Gen Y and 50% of 30+ workers believe their personal technology are more effective and productive than those used at work
  • 60% of employees use a smartphone for work purposes while 31% would like to
  • Companies with BYOD policies make an annual saving of $350 per year, per employee

Though BYOD seems like a win-win solution for all, companies do need to factor in security, safety at work (especially in manufacturing jobs), termination policies, and more. So, the best solution is for IT, HR, and your legal team to set up a framework that works for your specific situation.

7. No ability to publish content to certain groups

For communicators, one critical need is the ability to send certain content to some employees and not others. Rather than send enterprise-wide messages, it’s best to target relevant communications to those employees who need them, instead of your entire workforce.

For example, onboarding content should only be sent to new hires, while you may have compliance and safety messages that need to reach another group of workers in real-time. If you can’t send targeted communications to people who need and want the information, your employees may disengage from the app or ignore it all together. You would have wasted your investment.

Solution: Many workforce communications platforms now have segmentation and targeting. You should be able to separate your employees into groups (e.g. teams, regional managers, etc.) and send them relevant information when they need it and at the right time. It could be about benefits, compliance, sales information, product updates, etc. Receiving targeted information, including tailored push notifications, gives your employees a more personalized experience, which will lead to higher retention and adoption rates.

8. Doesn’t integrate with other communication tools

Is your mobile app just another communications channel? You have an intranet, email system, collaboration software (Slack, Yammer), HRIS system, and now the mobile app. With all these tools, you may be spending all your time copying and pasting.

Solution: You need a comprehensive workforce communications platform that gives you one place to plan, create, and publish your content. Then, you can use connectors and integrations to push that same content to all your communications channels, effectively distributing your content via email, mobile app, intranet, chat software, etc.

With an integrated platform, you will stay consistent and eliminate hours of copying and pasting. Additionally, you’ll save time to work on your overall strategy rather than just accomplishing daily tasks manually.

9. No good metrics

If you can’t measure how your content is performing, you’ll have absolutely no understanding of whether or not your employees are getting the information they need to perform better and be more engaged at work.

Good metrics go beyond open rates and click-through rates and should tell you what content employees are reading.

Is the San Diego sales team not reading the new product release? The VP of Sales needs to know that. Is the manufacturing site in Singapore not watching the mandatory safety video? That’s important for operations to know about.

Are your consultants at a specific level of management not watching CEO/Executive comms and likely disengaged? The c-suite needs to know.

Solution: Select mobile software that provides easy-to-use insights and analytics. Your team can continually evaluate and improve your communications. You’ll be able to build a winning communications strategy where you can test out new ideas, learn from patterns, and continually improve your user experience and content plan for your employees. Ultimately, it will lead to your success.

10. Non-compliant

Privacy and compliance are the top concerns with mobile apps, and now that GDPR has rolled out, communicators are hyper-aware about these issues.

Warning: Watch out for bespoke apps built by agencies and/or recently launched startups. If there is a major policy change in Europe/US, it is very likely that they will not be able to support the required changes to your app.

Solution: A good internal communications plan, along with using a reputable workforce communications platform, will address safety concerns. And this will give IT administrators a way to ensure security and compliance. Your team will also be able to manage employee mobile app updates and support according to your company policies and best practices, which will increase the likelihood of adoption and retention for your app.

11. Making the app mandatory  

Internal communications is about giving your employees the information they need to thrive, which leads to business success. By nature, it is voluntary, but how do you get your workers on board to new technology?

Solution: During your rollout, you must build excitement for your new employee engagement app. Most importantly, you must have surveyed your workers and created focus groups to learn what they wanted. If an app was the best solution, then employee buy-in shouldn’t be an issue.

We work closely with our customers (and offer advisory services) to help them successfully roll out their new communications programs. Often, employee engagement app launches are tied to a live event where they use the app for the agenda, videos, engagement, etc. Or they may launch an app with an internal campaign.

Read more how Love’s Travel Stops launched their employee engagement app with their hardest-to-reach frontline workers.

12. What if some employees want a web app?

A native app is an application on your smartphone, and a web app is found online on your computer. Some workers may prefer a web experience over an employee engagement app on their phone.

Native apps are usually ideal for workers who are on the go in industries, such as healthcare, manufacturing, energy, retail, etc. So, what do you so if you have a large number of knowledge workers who sit behind a desk all day?

Solution: You can easily solve this issue by choosing a workforce communications platform with a web experience. A web-optimized version of allows desked workers to enjoy the same content that you publish on your mobile app, without the extra work of copying and pasting the same content across channels.

Everyone has their own preferences, and this tailored approach allows you to offer the experience your employee wants. And the best way to meet your workers where they are is with this type of omnichannel strategy. 

An employee engagement app should enhance your internal communications, lead to higher employee engagement, and create a better workplace experience. Learn how to build the best internal communications strategy with your business use cases in mind, schedule a live demo today.

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