Push Notification Abuse: Are you guilty?

After reading a FastCompany article about how the overload of Push Notifications are the number one reason people delete an app, I found myself surprised.  I don’t get very many Push Notifications at all, and when I do, they tend to be relevant.  But then, I’m not the average user.  I am very careful about which apps I will allow to display notifications of any kind.  That is to say, there are almost no apps that I will allow notification permissions.

I should note that that article overloads the phrase “Push Notifications”.  In its strictest sense, a Push Notification is a specific technology that is used to display an alert on the screen, no matter the state of the phone.  You could be using an app, looking at the home screen, or even have the device locked and when a Push Notification comes through, the mobile operating system is going to ding and display that alert.  The FastCompany piece suggests that emails are a form of Push Notification which is only true if you have your mobile email client to alert you when a new email comes through, and only a sadist would do such a thing.

Recently we talked about user engagement and I suggested that using Push Notifications is one way to encourage your customers to use your app. Now let’s talk about why that’s bad. I know… this is a little like naming your dog “Stay”.  Every time you encourage him to, “Come here, Stay!  Come over here, Stay!” the poor dog doesn’t know what to do.

Going back to the FastCompany article: “Push notifications are the most reviled form of communication in general.”  Why is that, do you think?

One reason is that far too many app developers ignore the obvious fact that they are part of an ecosystem of many other apps.  If someone has 30 apps on their phone and 25% of them sends a Push Notification twice a day, then that is about a notification every other waking hour.  That may not seem like much on the surface but think about how frustrating that can be.  You’re playing a game or watching a video and a notification comes in.  You have to stop what you’re doing, even for a second, to dismiss that notification.  Or you’re in a meeting and, “Ugh! Another Push Notification?!  That’s the fifth one today!”

This problem becomes compounded by the fact that a high percentage of the content of these Push Notifications are easily considered to be worthless.  Since some idiot like me told the app developer to increase engagement with Push Notifications, that developer lazily started sending out a notification a day touting how great their app is and how you should use it more often and have you seen the latest whoozdangle we added in the last release?  Those notifications are the equivalent of CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News interrupting regular programming with a “MAJOR ALERT!” to tell you that some celebrity got into a car accident but is unharmed.  They’re like George Bailey’s kid who kept saying “Excuse me!” until his dad acknowledged him so the kid could tell his dad he burped.  You see what you did with all that pestering, kid?  You sent your dad into an alternate reality.

Instead of pushing a notification for the sake of doing so, think about what value the content of that notification adds to your customer’s life.  Is what you’re about to interrupt their day for so important that they need to know it right this very moment?

Let’s look at some examples.  On the useful end of the spectrum is my Nest Protect notifying me that “There’s smoke in the living room”.  If I’m not home and I know nobody else is either, I’m dialing 9-1-1.  Otherwise I just assume someone is cooking bacon.

On the other end of the spectrum, I can’t think of a good reason for my grocery list app to send me any push notifications at all.  What could that developer possibly be telling me that is so urgent that it needs to be a Push Notification?

As much as you love what you’re building, and know the kind of value you bring to your customers, yours is not the only app on someone’s device.  It’s important to remind yourself of this from time to time because clearly, customers are solving this problem in a permanent way that does you no good.

Courtesy of Darrell Brogdon, CIO of Raika Technologies and GotAnAppIdea.com.

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