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How to avoid becoming the 'zombie' app

I'm not talking about a video game where you shoot up the undead, but apps that remain ignored on the phone. Here's one answer.

Getting your app discovered is one challenge, but how about sustaining user interest?

If your smartphone is like mine, you have a lot of apps that were downloaded on a whim or a recommendation sitting in the apps folder or on the home page, completely untouched. Or perhaps you have a game, productivity, or entertainment app that you obsessively used for a few days only to burn out on it.

It's the phenomenon of the "zombie app," which sits unused on a smartphone, taking up space on the device and destined to be dumped down the line. Worse yet, it does nothing for the developer, particularly if the app depends on constant usage, in-game advertisements, and in-app purchases for revenue.

So how does one avoid becoming a zombie app? Seth Elliot, chief strategy officer for Engagement Media Technologies, has one answer.

His company provides a task-and-reward engine that links organizations such as consumer product companies, entertainment brands, or nonprofit groups with consumers. Assignments include taking photos of products or logos, participating in scavenger hunts, or posting status updates. Consumers like it because for their effort they get paid in cash -- they're not given some discount or a chance for a prize. Companies like it because it guarantees a level of interest and activity in regard to their brand.

"Hard cash speaks to a person," Elliot said. "A large number of customers will open up the app to earn cash, versus the chance of winning cash."

Engagement Media offers the service through its own app, Stringfly, and also slaps other companies' brand on top of a white-label app. But other developers can take advantage of the engine through an application programming interface that can be installed on their apps.

So for a developer looking for a boost in engagement, offering cash rewards is a good way to keep users coming back for more. People open the app to take advantage of the potential rewards, and stay to actually use the app itself.

Engagement Media potentially reaches 1 million people through its own app, its white label partners, and its APIs. The company is starting slow with the assignments but boasts thousands of people completing their tasks. Elliot said the company is seeing an engagement rate -- or the percentage of people who actually complete the task -- in the double-digit range, much higher than the 2.5 percent to 3 percent rate it had expected.

The company charges organizations $12 to $25 for each completed activity, and gives the user $2 to $6. Elliot said companies are willing to pay that fee, since they don't pay unless the consumer completes the activity.

Consumers are paid through PayPal, though Engagement Media is looking at other payment options.

Of course, there's the risk that such a feature could dilute or distract from an app. Developers may instead want to focus on the features and experience.

But if your app is lying dormant on the phone, this may be a way to reignite a bit of interest.

Inside Apps will not appear next week. A new column will run July 9.