ASKfm is a company that won’t need an introduction to many millennials, but less digital natives may need a bit of a primer. From its founding in 2010 as a rival for Formspring, the social networking company has grown from its roots as a Q&A playground into a focused forum for questions, answers, trends, and more while embracing a focus on user safety.
Asked and Answered
ASKfm is built around a simple conceit — allow users to ask questions where anyone can answer, obviously users can also answer other people’s questions. Questions can be posted anonymously and then shared via Facebook, Twitter, and Russian social media network VK to garner additional replies.
It sounds simple, but the public Q&A concept had been done before with middling success, but the ASKfm team cracked the code and the website took off, and so did the app.
The company is now the world’s largest Q&A social network, with more than 215 million registered users across 150 countries, in dozens of languages. The app itself has been downloaded more than 63 million times and has 50 million yearly active users.
We spoke to Max Tsaryk, ASKfm’s CEO about what keeps the company moving forward and succeeding in the cutthroat world of social media apps.
Straight out of Latvia
Founded in Riga, Latvia, the ASKfm team has grown to more than 110 members and even expanded to Kiev and Dnipro in the Ukraine. The company is constantly enjoying team building exercises, and improving their internal cohesion and knowledge.
“The team is an organism,” said Tsaryk, “It’s getting bigger, smarter, more developed, and happier thanks to our synergy of group specialists and personalities with positive thinking.”
ASKfm’s employees can enjoy great team-building activities like rock climbing and picnics, explained Tsaryk, but employees can also enjoy less traditional ones like hackathons, and team travel together. Workshops and trainings also take place as a team, creating a positive working environment for all.
Constant progress is also one of the essential qualities of the ASKfm team, Tsaryk explained, “Our large knowledge base is constantly extending and growing with new books, conferences, and workshop videos” he said, “It’s a whirlpool source of inspiration and knowledge for everyone.”
Designing for the Digital Generation
When it comes to designing an app and website that appeals to a generation who grew up with computers and touchscreens, ASKfm has embraced safety and usability first, but keeps a keen eye on trends amongst its users when planning future releases as well.
“Our inspiration is our users,” said Tsaryk, “We continually follow what they do, what products they use and what things they’re interested in.”
The entire ASKfm user experience is built around the single core product feature – the possibility to ask anonymous questions. This level of singular focus is difficult to find in an era when many companies are constantly expanding their product and mission is a refreshing approach.
“At the same time, it must help users feel safe while they’re in our community,” Tsaryk said. “That’s why we value users’ safety and privacy so much. We deeply care about our users, and it’s reflected in our design as well,” he explained.
“ASKfm is about being curious and having fun, and we’re driving our visual language the same way,” he explained. ASKfm’s design language is colorful, vivid and playful, yet at the same time clean, simple and easy-to-use. The app and site are sharp and vibrant. “It’s full of rich interactions and engaging experiences,” he said.
Working with a young audience is always a challenge. “They want to use all the up-to-date technologies, so in order to keep their interest up and running, we should provide the greatest number of new, cool features and stay up-to-date with the market trends,” Tsaryk continued.
“The world is changing so fast and the world of technologies is progressing even faster. It’s essential to be flexible and creative to be among those who get the ball rolling,” Tsaryk explained.
Growing and Engaging
Established in 2010 ASKfm went viral thanks to its unique format. “In the first three years,” Tsaryk explained, the company reached 65 million registered users and continued to grow rapidly, adding about 300,000 new users per-day with barely any marketing.
“Word of mouth is the best friend when your app is something your audience is fond of,” he said.
“Our user-acquisition strategy is all about building strong relationships with our current and potential users and stakeholders. Public relations, influencer marketing, and event marketing are our key instruments.”
Keeping users engaged is just as important as acquiring new ones. ASKfm relies on an innate human quality to keep their users coming back — curiosity.
“People, and even more young people,” said Tsaryk, “Are curious about many things. Human beings learn about a lot of things by asking questions. ASKfm is a place which was made especially for asking questions!”
“The curiosity is a huge power that will always fuel ASKfm and attract people to it, he continued. “Of course, app updates, feature updates are among the most important things,” he said, emphasizing the need to keep things fresh. “Keeping up-to-date, developing new exciting features, staying modern is what keep users loyal to the app.”
Connecting with users is also an incredibly important part of such a social app, and one Tsaryk recommends all app developers try if they want to succeed.
“Be honest with your users, try to walk in their shoes,” he said, “You need to find the right balance between keeping users engaged in your product and bringing revenue.”
“First of all, determine the need of your target audience that can be satisfied by your app. Create an app that fully satisfies that need. What’s more, it’s very important to exceed the expectations. Give even more than users could want.
Online social media has had a bumpy ride, especially as the youngest set of millennials and Generation Z’ers, born digital natives, came online and started using social networks with what some might call reckless abandon.
Facebook, MySpace, FormSpring, ASKfm, and every social network out there were all called out by the media and parents of bullied teens and pre-teens as tools for cyberbullying. None rose to the challenge in quite the same way as ASKfm.
Now owned by Noosphere Ventures, the company has made a number of measures focused around user safety. Since 2013, ASKFm following considerable publicity about bullying on the platform, has made a huge investment to improve safety in its products, policies, infrastructure and leadership. Due to the technical innovation it has developed in filtering images and text to identify bullying and abusive content, and take action against ‘bullies’ and close accounts, if necessary.
ASKfm has partnered with a number of NGOs and projects, working with schools, and developed safety resources for teens, parents, educators and law enforcement, such as the Princess Diana Award charity’s Anti-Bullying Pro initiative in the UK and the European ENABLE anti-bullying project.
The company is also a member of the Internet Watch Foundation for reporting child abuse images, following best practice in this area of child exploitation.
“The leadership team behind ASKfm’s experience brings a unique philosophy and vision to the table with respect to safety and the well-being of our users,” said Tsaryk.
The company has also launched a Safety Center which includes specific tools, tips and guidance for teens, teachers, parents, and law enforcement. ASKfm sponsors Safer Internet Day and launched a #nobullies campaign to drive awareness of the company’s no-tolerance policy for abusive behavior on their service.
“ASKfm understands that we have a responsibility to the millions of people who use our service every month, many of whom are under the age of 18,” said Tsaryk. “The team is working hard to make users’ experience on ASKfm safe, fun, positive and fulfilling.”
Behind those words is ASKfm’s large and dedicated Moderation team that scrutinizes and blocks suspicious content 24/7. ASKfm’s product team is constantly brainstorming on improvement ideas for making ASKfm even more fun, explained Tsaryk.
Tsaryk continued, “There’s also a big Analytics, Development, QA and Design family that makes all of the genius Product team’s ideas (even the craziest) come true to deliver the best user experience. The Marketing team communicates with the community to let them know about special things and advantages, to share company’s values with the world!”
The current monetization model of Ask.fm is based around banners and native advertising. Users pay absolutely nothing to enjoy ASKfm.
“Our monetization, product, and design teams work hard so that our advertising looks natural and doesn’t irritate users,” Tsaryk said. It’s important to ASKfm that advertising helps them find the products or services they need.
That emphasis on blending monetization with user experience permeates the company. “We conduct a lot of experiments on an ongoing basis to find the best solutions for both parties,” Tsaryk explained, “Even one second can be crucial when it comes to the time it takes for an ad to change.”
“Be modern and flexible, surprising and simple,” he continued, “Don’t forget about user experience. If you think solely about revenue you will lose your audience.”
This impacts ASKfm’s product a lot. “We’ve already added an opportunity to answer with videos, pics and gifs, but soon Tsaryk says “the huge camera update is coming.” ASKfm users will be able to create gifs, add texts to them and edit photos in the way they can just imagine, he explained. “This update will raise the user experience on ASKfm to the new unexpected level,” he said.
A coming update will also give users an opportunity to pose their questions to groups of people on ASKfm. Tsaryk said “ASKfm believes that such a feature not only upgrades the level of users’ communication, but it is also a great solution of discovering like-minded people nearby and maybe future friends, which is wonderful.”
In just two clicks, users will be able to ask 200 people nearby about anything you wonder about. After the question is sent, users start getting answers from different people. It’s like an interactive and really fast survey on what other people think, like or maybe dislike.
As ASKfm continues to evolve with the tastes of its users, we’re excited to see what awesome new features the company rolls out.
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