Top 5 app PR disasters: let’s learn from someone else’s mistakes
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Well, maybe not completely prevented. Sometimes, the stakeholders hold (haha) the C-suite hostage, sometimes, people make dumb decisions and double on them. Sometimes it’s just rotten luck. And in some instances, the terrible plunges of app ratings into the abyss could be at least softened—so instead of a crashing thunder, there would be at least a startling boom.
This article will take a look at 5 recent events where apps got utterly destroyed in the review sections and analyze what went wrong.
Why app reputation matters
Before we start, however, let’s take a look at app reputation and why it matters on the base level.
Reputation management is about keeping an eye on, influencing, and shaping how people see our brands on the internet. What people say online greatly influences what others buy.
- 75% of people will trust your company more if the reviews are positive
- 85% of people value online reviews as much as advice from a friend
- 60% of potential customers will be deterred by negative reviews.
The simple truth is that actively responding to feedback shows you care, helping you stand out. This response can help protect your brand if something bad happens, and let’s face it, it sometimes does (oh just scroll down for the real trainwrecks).
Let’s not forget social media, too. Things can blow up quickly there, good or bad. Reviews in general are treasure troves of information. They tell you what your users love and what they want to be changed. Some users may suggest new features. This feedback can guide your product’s future.
By showing users that their opinions matter, they’re more likely to stick around and even buy more—or survive a disaster in progress.
So, speaking of disasters…
Top 5 worst app disasters
Important disclaimer: these are recent disasters. Every year brings its own tragedy and terrible decisions app managers don’t even try to alter. Here are 5 of these disasters placed between 2020 and 2023.
The GameStop stock saga captured the attention of millions. On January 28th, Robinhood got hit hard on both the AppStore and Google Play. They blocked users from buying AMC and GameStop stocks that everyone and their mum were banking on for the big bux.
That resulted in over 220k one-star reviews coming in within an hour. The next day, Google removed more than 100k of those reviews, bumping the app back to almost 3.4 stars. But, the drama wasn't over – another 190k bad reviews were posted. Even Google couldn’t mass-remove negative reviews twice, so they stayed.
At the height of Robinhood's nosedive, it had a 1.11-star average out of over 320k ratings posted. Wow!
During that time, Robinhood did not do any sort of damage control at all. Only Google was doing something, and only once at that. Had they tried to actually explain to their users what was going on—and reflected that in their PR statements and review responses—the nosedive wouldn’t be as bad.
Was Google right in removing most of Robinhood's negative reviews? Is this game truly rigged? We’ll never know.
Released just last week for everyone after being exclusively for subscribers, the new AI chatbot, My AI, sits at the top of Snapchat’s Chat. Users can chat with it in real-time, but since its wider release, Snapchat's app is drowning in negative reviews, with a lot of the criticism bubbling up on social media as well.
Over just one week, Snapchat's U.S. App Store review score averaged 1.6. 75% of those were one-star reviews! Earlier in Q1 2023, Snapchat averaged a rating of about 3, and only 35% were one-star reviews.
The feature popped up in their apps without any warning. You can't unpin, block, or get rid of it like you can with other chats. Snapchat already had a space in this feed with its "Team Snapchat" chats. So, some users feel the app's now claiming even more screen space for itself.
Some find this AI bit a tad... creepy. It knows where you are and brings that up in its replies, even if you've kept your location off the map. Basically, it’s putting the extent of data collection by social platforms right in users' faces. Not a fun reveal, especially when users don’t remember giving the green light to share such details with the AI.
Taking a look back at the mass deletion of one-star reviews, users made a different stride this time.
5-star reviews have also shot up, and many are griping about the AI too. The reviews are essentially trashing the AI, even calling it “creepy” or “awful”. App stores won’t be able to remove these 5-star replies just as easily—too many might be genuine, but who can tell without proper analysis?
Well, a simple solution to this problem would be to use template responses tailored to what the users are complaining about. They could share the plans for the feature and address the problem.
Snapchat’s reply? If you don’t vibe with the AI, don’t chat with it. Simple as that. And that’s why Snapchat’s rating is so low to this day.
TikTok boasted hundreds of millions of users in India (and so many more worldwide) and came under fire due to controversial videos on its platform in 2020.
Hashtags like #BanTikTok, #DeleteTikTok, and #BlockTikTok gained traction on Twitter. The uproar was due to several videos on TikTok that seemed to endorse domestic violence, racism, animal mistreatment, child abuse, and the objectification of women. Action had to be taken, but…it wasn’t.
Millions in India slammed TikTok with one-star reviews on the Google Play Store. TikTok's global rating plunged from 4.5 (which is really good for an app with such a huge audience) earlier this month to a mere 1.2 before Google stepped in. Indeed, yet again Google had to step in. Over 5 million of these negative reviews were discarded, because of “spam abuse”.
A key event accelerating this backlash involved Faizal Siddiqui, a prominent influencer, who shared a mock video of an acid attack. Though he later apologized, this incident magnified concerns over TikTok's content monitoring in India, a country where the app had accumulated 200 million users by the end of last year.
At the end of the day, TikTok was simply banned by the authorities and removed from Google Play and the App Store.
Maybe, just maybe, if TikTok performed a damage control campaign, things would’ve been different. Alas, that did not happen.
ZXing Barcode Scanner
The Barcode Scanner app by ZXing Team, one of the earliest Android apps, was under a review attack on the Google Play Store in 2021. Many users were slapping it with 1-star reviews, because…of an app clone that had malware.
An app clone was likely made with the same code since the original project is open-sourced and published with the same name by LavaBird. Google has since removed Lavabird’s app from the Play Store and there's a chance that the furious users, when searching, targeted the wrong app.
Sean Owen, co-creator of the original Barcode Scanner app was really surprised about all this and pointed out that his app hasn’t had an update since February 2019. He wished they hadn’t made the app open-source. They've seen their app cloned many times by companies seeking a fast profit with ads or different designs.
Today, the app sits at a 3.9 rating with 600,000+ reviews. The rating could’ve been much better if any work could’ve been done at all since ZXing is not one of the tech giants and likely can’t persuade Google to take down mass negative reviews in one swoop. Funny how that works.
The app still has tons of negative reviews claiming it to be a scam app, and ZXing does absolutely nothing about it, which is a shame.
In April 2023, Reddit declared its intentions to impose fees on developers wanting to utilize its API data. The aim is to curb third parties from utilizing Reddit's data.
What a disaster it turned out to be. Major third-party apps, like the well-loved Apollo, were financially strained and had to shut down. In response, influential subreddit moderators rallied in defense of these apps and voiced their discontent over the new API pricing.
Between June 12-14, the average time spent on the platform decreased by about 15%, and session counts declined by about 10%, compared to the previous week.
An overwhelming 91% of Reddit’s U.S. iOS reviews during June 12-14 were a mere one-star, a significant increase from the 53% in the two preceding months.
Despite the uproar, Reddit's leadership didn’t stop. Their high-priced API is likely a strategic move towards an inflated IPO.
The only reason it didn't drop lower is the App Store's lack of a zero-star rating option. It's quite a statement that while Reddit's decision jeopardized third-party apps, its own app received abysmal reviews. It’s just not good.
Reddit refrained from commenting on these third-party metrics.
How to ensure a proper reputation strategy
Now, the main takeaway in all these cases is: do SOMETHING about the terrible reviews and just try and listen to your users. It’s that simple, but there’s more to it! How about 5 simple steps you can follow to avoid the mistakes even the giants experience.
1. Craft a stellar app
Yes, it’s the golden rule. No cutting corners. Develop an app you'd be proud to show off. Ensure it’s sleek, bug-free, and offers hours of endless fun or utility. Don’t take away what users love, if you’ve done it by mistake, be sure to revert the changes and let your users know about it.
2. Timing is everything
It’s likely you’re not dealing with a PR disaster yourself, and you’d rather get more reviews than try and damage control a reviewing bomb in progress. Thus, popping the "Rate us" notification too soon might just result in getting it swiped away by the users. Wait for that perfect moment - after they've achieved a milestone or enjoyed a feature.
3. Listen and respond
Here’s where AppFollow swoops in as your sidekick! Use it to sort, categorize, and act on the feedback. Replying showcases your commitment to the users; they will know it.!
4. Automate, automate, automate
When the time comes, you might get a ton of reviews—positive, or negative, or both. Prepare some templates (well-written stuff only) and be ready to use them when the time comes.
5. All reviews deserve love
You might’ve noticed above that negative reviews sometimes get removed—and sometimes they won’t. If we are at the whim of the titans of the industry, then you’ve got to make everything count. Provide “thank you” messages to 5-stars, respond to bug reports, feature suggestions, and upset users too. Naturally, you can report inappropriate reviews too—but do so carefully.
Speaking of good reputation strategy: learn how to listen to your users and use that info to turn them into brand ambassadors from our recent webinar.
Bad things happen. It’s just the way life works. What matters is how you respond to these bad things and what follows. Being kind to your users and communicating well what happened and what will be done about it is so important. Don’t repeat the mistakes of companies too far up in the sky to care about normal people like us.