MarTech Interview with Ivana Istochka, VP of Demand Gen and Community at Amity

Insights on AI, activity feeds, and strategies for niche-focused communities.
MarTech Interview

Ivana, can you please briefly introduce your role as VP of Demand Gen & Community at Amity, highlighting key responsibilities and areas of focus.

In my current role at Amity, I lead two passionate teams: the Community team and the Demand Generation team. The Community team focuses on advising companies on the best ways to utilize Amity’s pre-built social features to transform their apps into thriving digital communities. Meanwhile, the Demand Generation team is dedicated to supporting Amity in generating awareness and demand for our services. Ultimately, both teams focus on educating companies on how to build digital communities that are beneficial to their bottom lines and how to build products that people love.

Could you share examples of how clients like Noom and Harley Davidson leveraged social features in Amity for effective community building?

Prior to integrating Amity, Noom’s community was hosted on a third-party platform, necessitating a migration to their proprietary app for optimal engagement. This transition required social features that were fully customizable, and access to all data to enhance the user experience.

Using Amity, Noom was able to customize their community experience to meet these exact needs and help introduce “Noom Circles,” a feature within their app to provide members with access to a variety of interest-based communities. This proved to be an effective strategy to improve in-app activity and engagement, empowering users and coaches to create groups on different topics, post and comment to connect with their community, and receive access to algorithmic feeds catered to their interests.

Noom’s heavily relies on “coaches” to moderate the communities and guide and inspire their users on their journey to health and wellness. Using Amity, Noom was able to boost the visibility of coaches’ posts with special tags and leverage content moderation tools to help preserve peace on the platform.

Harley-Davidson, on the other hand, leveraged our offering to solve a different business problem. Unlike smaller customers, the brand needed no introduction – they’re the oldest and most loyal brand community in the world. However, their target audience was scattered across the internet in various forums and social media groups.

While Harley already had built a live proprietary app for users to log rides, customers were predominately building connections on third-party platforms. Harley wanted to bring this vital engagement to their own app with customizable social features that could seamlessly integrate into their existing app – and Amity’s ready-to-use features were exactly what they needed.

The app now has since launched activity feeds and groups where their community can discuss their bikes and rides, share photos, like and comment, and engage. By enabling these social interactions, Harley was able to reduce their reliance on third-party platforms and bring their community to their app, where they belong. The in-app social features introduced by Harley-Davidson have increased member acquisition, retention, and ridership.

In your experience, which social features have proven successful in fostering community growth by leveraging Amity’s solution?

One feature that has proven immensely valuable in driving community growth is live, in-app chat. When we partnered with TrueID out of Thailand, our goal was to build the most engaged app in the country centered around the 2018 FIFA World Cup. We wanted to help replicate the experience of watching the games with friends in a bar or at a friend’s house on a much larger scale. By implementing in-app chat, we brought the conversations about the game that might occur on Instagram or Twitter into the streaming platform and enabled millions of fans to interact with each other simultaneously and in real time. It created a unique experience for app users that felt like watching the biggest sporting event on Earth with millions of their closest friends

Seeing how engaged the fans were, TrueID realized the value of the in-stream chat feature and decided to integrate it as a permanent part of their service, extending it to the English Premier League and other sports events, news, movies, and more. Over time, TrueID integrated even more social features onto their app with Amity Social Cloud to better connect their community. Users can now join groups, browse posts, share updates on their own timelines, take part in polls, follow celebrities and community contributors, make new friends, or just stay entertained between shows.

Since the 2018 World Cup, TrueID saw 1 million monthly community interactions, 300,000 monthly votes on polls, 15% month-on-month growth in the number of active members in their community, and a 30% average growth in their engagement rates following the integration of Amity Social Cloud into their platform.

How do niche-focused communities enhance the user experience and customer loyalty, and what strategies do you recommend for businesses establishing such communities?

One of the main reasons we see users getting turned off to social media platforms currently is the feeling that, in general, it can be watered down by content that isn’t relevant and–moreover–nonstop branded content. It can sometimes feel like you’re in a giant room with everyone yelling about different topics, which makes it hard to focus on meaningful conversations and relationships. The inherent gatekeeping that occurs when engaging online with others around a singular interest–particularly when doing so on a platform that utilizes AI-empowered content monitoring–helps to silence a lot of the noise so you can focus on building deeper knowledge and connections around a singular topic. That inherently leads to a better, more positive experience online which builds loyalty. When it comes to taking the first step to build that environment, the first thing that companies need to reckon with is understanding first, and foremost, what their consumers are most looking for out of their company. Harley-Davidson customers, for example, associate a lot of their identity with the brand, getting out on the open road, and conversing about their rides. For them, building groups where users could share photos from their rides and plan rides with other users was paramount, probably more so than, say, having a real-time in-app live chat feature.

You’ve mentioned activity feeds as the gateway to app growth. Could you elaborate on how they provide analytics on user behavior and trends?

Activity feeds can unlock a realm of untapped benefits for brands:

1. Increased user engagement: Through activity feeds, businesses can keep users engaged with their apps by providing them with — and notifying them about — a continuous stream of new, relevant content. For example: real-time updates on an event. Ultimately, since users are able to follow along with their actions even as they experience the product through the activity feed, they tend to use the app more.

2. More user-generated content (UGC): Activity feeds showcase user-generated content, encouraging users to actively participate, since they recognize their contributions will be immediately visible to others. This “viral loop effect” is how activity feeds rakes in UGC. Due to the discoverability and visibility of your UGC, users can be exposed to content they may not have otherwise been exposed to and motivated to create their own in response.

3. Reduced churn: With 44% of users uninstalling apps because they’re bored, it’s only logical that apps with the least engagement are the first on the chopping block. Activity feeds can be your app’s get-out-of-jail-free card. How? Putting the app’s value (updates pulled from loved ones & users they’re interested in) front and center increases user engagement. With longer session times and higher engagement comes less likelihood that users are bored. This, in turn, knocks down user abandonment rates and enhances product stickiness.

4. Real-time analytics: First-hand user feedback is pivotal to improving products. By capturing and processing user interactions, developers can get a front-row seat to user behavior, trends, engagement patterns, and how their user-generated content is performing. This insight can then inform data-driven decisions that improve the performance of the activity feed platform.

5. Personalized recommendations: Users who see new content in their activity feed are more likely to interact with it. The resultant spike in user engagement can skyrocket an app’s bottom line. By understanding user behavior, companies can glean insights on what to recommend to who, and launch personalized campaigns that yield drastically better ROI than generic campaigns.

6. Community building: Given humans are hard-wired to connect with one another, creating a sense of shared belonging among users is a surefire strategy for accelerating mobile app growth. By enabling users with a central hub of user-generated content — one where they can express ideas, support one another (via likes, comments, and shares), and build meaningful relationships — companies can build an army of brand loyalists.

Ivana, can you share insights into how businesses strategically use activity feeds to drive app growth and improve user engagement?

Activity feeds provide real-time information on likes, follows, comments, posts, and shared content from a user’s online community. These feeds help keep users updated about community activities, encourage engagement, direct traffic to new content, and provide customer support. To fuel app growth, displaying user-generated content that keeps users engaged can create social habits that drive app growth. Companies such as Noom, Planta, Strava, and Venmo have utilized activity feeds to rise to the top of users’ minds, away from the likes of Facebook and Instagram.

What key metrics, or KPIs, do you consider crucial when analyzing the effectiveness of activity feeds in driving app growth?

The most important metrics to keep in mind are the number of downloads, activation rate (which measures the percent of people who downloaded and opened your app), active users, average visit time (how long users spend on your app), user retention rate, and churn rate (percentage of users who stop using your app). Continuous improvement and innovation are vital for the growth of any app. Providing in-app messaging support can enhance the customer experience by enabling them to report issues without leaving the app. Moreover, groups can improve social engagement within the app, allowing users to remain connected with others who have similar interests and, thus, continue using the app. By integrating social features, your app can unlock endless possibilities for improvement.

How does AI play a critical role in shaping in-app communities, especially in content moderation and creating secure spaces for user interaction?

One of the most damning effects of social media, per studies, is that a lot of users feel worse about themselves after a session on a social media site. And, I think, much of that has to do with how wide open and large these sites have grown–anyone can, more or less, find their way into any conversation regardless of their intentions. Someone can post, say, a photo of or a story about the Golden Gate Bridge on Instagram or X and–almost immediately–be beset by political comments claiming that the Bay Area is some post-apocalyptic hell hole. Suddenly, the conversation in the comments of said photo or X post will turn into an exhausting political back-and-forth when the OP’s original intention was simply to highlight the beauty of the man-made marvel. Suddenly, reading through all of it, you might feel like, “Wait, how the heck did we get here?” and, even feel aggravated.

By gating communities around similar, niche interests and using AI content moderation tools to swiftly nip arguments in the bud, your end result is a more holistically focused and positive online experience. You share a photo of your latest ride on your Harley, the community comments on it and shows it love and–notably–the conversation never devolves into a mud fight.

Can you provide a high-level overview of the role social features, activity feeds, and AI play in Amity’s digital communities?

The goal for every tool we create is to help spur more meaningful and frequent connections between users and the brand and users with other users. Everything is done in service of that. Activity feeds help users stay attuned to the latest content that they would be interested in, live engagement tools allow them to feel connected in real-time to others and the brand and–importantly–AI helps to keep the engagements positive and focused.

What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs who are seeking to make their name in the niche?

Find the root of something you’re passionate about, and then see how you can turn it into a business. For us at Amity, so many of us were and still remain incredibly passionate about the beauty of online connections and how networks can expand people’s horizons. I think it’s fascinating that social tools can help me maintain friendships across oceans and international borders, and that’s what drove me to this role in helping brands proliferate those connections through my work here at Amity. For me, and for us, all of our work is done to that end–helping individuals connect over shared interests. Once you can isolate what the true seed of your passion is, you can turn it into a viable business for others with that same seed.

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Ivana Istochka, VP of Demand Gen and Community at Amity

Ivana Istochka is Amity’s VP of Community and Demand Generation. She has a diverse background ranging from strategy development to leading cross-functional teams. Most notably, she oversaw the e-wallet expansion of Thailand's first and leading fintech unicorn. Her passion for helping companies build community-led businesses brought her to Amity, where she was a founding team member, working on everything from putting together the first deck to supporting international growth. Today, she leads two passionate teams, advising companies on building digital communities and social apps and generating awareness and demand for Amity. LinkedIn.
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