Image of Thomas Ma, Co-founder of Sapphire Apps

Mastering Social Platforms And Influence To Make Sure Your Mobile Apps Trend

Social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Reddit, and Instagram can be powerful springboards to make sure your apps trend and rise the ranks to engage your target audience. Our host Peggy Anne Salz with MobileGroove catches up with Thomas Ma, Co-Founder of Sapphire Apps, who shares top tips, tricks and solid advice app marketers can follow to meet app download and customer engagement expectations. He also explains how Sapphire Apps, which has a portfolio of over 500 iOS apps with a combined following of 15+ million, partners with social media influencers to give them a chance to increase their revenue through trendy apps such as the Emoji Maker.


Hello and welcome to Mobile Presence.  I’m your host, Peggy Anne Salz, with Mobile Groove, where I plan, produce and promote content that allows my clients to reach performance goals and scale growth.  And of course, on this show, that’s what it’s all about – it’s about how to move the needle on your marketing, on your growth, on your apps whether you have a business app, game app, any type of app – and even if you don’t have an app, this is the place to be because it’s all about how to grow your business in a digital and mobile-first world. 

And we’ve talked a lot about, of course, the tips, the tricks, the actionable advice around how to do this but now we’re going to take a step back and we’re going to talk about, you know, what you need to even get to the point that you have to think about growth, and I can think of no-one else better to have on the show than Thomas Ma – he’s the Co-Founder of Sapphire Apps and Sapphire Apps partners with companies to make their apps trend, it’s really going to be great to hear how you do this, Thomas, and how we get ready to prepare for that growth.  So, great to have you on the show.

Thanks Peggy, honored to be on your show, looking forward to sharing some insights into what we do for our clients to make them trend.

Yes, I mean, and trending is big, I just saw an article today, I didn’t get time to read it, unfortunately, but I did bookmark it on exactly what that means to be featured, what exactly that means when you’re trending.  I’m just curious, I mean, in the early “days” of the app store, it was like yes, I have to feature, I have to move up the ranks.  Is it still that way today, is it even possibly even more important because we have so many changes around featuring – is it really that golden ticket, that silver bullet?

It sounds surprising but today trending doesn’t do as much as your marketing strategy.  What we’ve noticed is when apps trend, it’s like they get a good boost of downloads but it is the organic downloads, meaning people are searching and downloading it because they’re hearing it from friends.  That’s what gets the most engaged users for the people that we work with.

Yes, it sort of dovetails with what I’m hearing at conferences these days too, it’s like featuring was great, it was a way that when the app store was rigged that way, it was like Oh I’m featured and now I’ve solved discovery problems, I’m in the money but it’s transitory. You stop featuring, you stop spending, you start losing market share or just falling down in the charts.  So you do this through organic growth – organic outreach, it’s about making apps trend.  Could you just tell me a little bit more about Sapphire Apps?

Yes, so really simple, we specialize in FOMO marketing and this is Fear of Missing out marketing, so we partner with like large Instagram accounts, like meme accounts, we even have our own and when we post an ad, we don’t link anything, we make memes and we make it not look like an ad.  So, the typical consumer will be like ha ha, this is very funny and then they’re like wait, what is X-app?  That’s where they get really curious and then they Google the product or they search for it in the app store, and next thing you know, they’re like on the app as an organic customer because keeping in mind when you’re like promoting to people, they’re mainly on their phone in restaurants or whatever, they’re not looking to make the purchase or whatever and so it sinks in.

That makes sense.  So it’s not quite native advertising, it’s more like surprise advertising.  Again, as you said, FOMO, that fear of missing out, it’s like Hey, this is really cool, and then you sort of sneak up on them.  Pretty smart, very smart.  So, let’s take a step back, as I said, a lot of the shows are about Hey, I’m an app marketing ninja and here’s how I calculate my LTV and I think we lose a lot of people who aren’t really at that place yet and I love an article that I saw that you were involved in Inc, just about stepping back and saying to myself OK, how do I know I have something that flies here in the first place?  So, basically, that litmus test to say I’ve got an app that says Yes, now I’ve hit it, now I’ve got it on all bases and now I can go to Sapphire Apps to bring it to the next level.

So, tell me about that list, it’s really interesting, it was things like just start with a Facebook page, test those waters.  I really liked that – walk me through these steps.

Yes, so a lot of people, they always come up to me now that they see what we do and they’re like Hey, I have the next Uber, can you help me out?  And that’s kind of like the wrong mentality.  I always tell people why are you making this app, what problem is it solving?  Are their competitors in the market?  If so, why are you different and how are you going to beat your competitors?  So, the how part is like you finish the product first, without a product, you have nothing.  So, make sure your stuff works.  If it doesn’t work, it’s not going to grow and then you ask your friends, start with that, especially early days when you don’t have the marketing budget, you ask your friends to share on Facebook and share some good reviews about it.  This is what’s going to validate your ideas.

And then you need to measure your engagement on top of that.  So, the key indicator that is good is if the users are sticky and your daily active users are consistent and growing, that’s like a good sign that you’re on the right track.

Because you haven’t spent on marketing, it’s all word of mouth, it’s all buzz, it’s all organic and you’re floating your idea, which is almost like saying I’ve got the minimum viable product here, does it fly?  Should I develop it further?

Yes, and then you’ve got to make sure your landing page is really good because this is what people look at if they aren’t your friends, and they’re not going to know how to react so you’ve got to put yourself in the position of like somebody who has no clue what your product is and the other advice is app store optimization is very key but app store optimization is similar to SEO for Google but in the app store, it’s a very similar strategy so you kind of have to do your research and find out apps in your industry, what keywords don’t have a lot of competitors because if you add this keyword to your app, it’s going to pop up underneath like a popular app, which leads to organic downloads once again.

And does Sapphire Apps, do you help in that or are you really about FOMO marketing or can I go to you and say let’s do it from the start, let’s do like the end to end, advise me on my ASO and take me all the way to Instagram?

Yes.  So, we combine all of it into our marketing strategy, so like what we typically do with the brands we work with, we beat their traditional cost per install, cost per install or cost per acquisition and it’s really leveraging like ASO, for example, to show that we can get a higher organic uplift than you typically can on your own.

So, I want to understand a little bit more about the breadth of brands and companies that you work with because we often think about apps and the first thing we think about, because it was the first really big category, and still the biggest category, is of course games, but it’s not all that and I’m sure you have consumer-facing brands and others in your roster… Who are you working with?

Yes, so, we’ve worked on like this one app called “Howler”, they’re like chat roulette.  We worked with like live streaming music apps, it really varies but the main clients we like to work with are like B to C because we’re really good at marketing to 15 to 25-year-olds.

I know what that means because I’m in the business and I write about this and I research into what the demographics are, what the psychographics are of this segment, but you said it – what’s so special about this particular demographic, what appeals to them?

To be honest, it’s just like the channel that we have the best reach at.  For example, like Instagram, there are a lot of teenagers to people who just graduated college plus I also recently graduated college two years ago, so I’m in the loop with what’s happening in like digital media and that’s how I’m able to like take advantage because I think a lot of brands and corporate are doing it wrong when they promote because they’re always like heavy on instant ROI.  They’re not patient enough and they always want like, you know, hey, buy my product, make sure you download this app and pay money to view the rest of my content, as an example.

That’s not going to happen with this demographic, right, this is a generation weaned on free content.  We learned that one already. 


It just blew the recording industry away.  So, I’d love to hear, if you wouldn’t mind, you could even name and blame – you’re saying corporations, companies, aren’t doing Instagram right – what is it, they’re just like saying here’s a really cool image and now I’ve got you in my trap, now go off and pay something somewhere.  Is that being too simplistic or what are they getting wrong here?

One example could be like, let me think, yes, it’s kind of like what I said before, so like movie companies, you know.  They’re trying to compete with Netflix, for example, there’s a lot of them out there and to access their content, it costs money, they want your credit card – or it could be like a trial but by doing a trial, you get to input your information, you’re not making the process seamless, and it’s just like you have to understand in today’s generation, these people, they just want ease of access.

So, maybe if you have like a content platform, you make it no credit card – you just answer an email, you get in, you get them in the funnel.  Then you have their data.  Once you have their data, you can run like retargeting campaigns to get these customers and they will stick a lot longer.  So, it’s mainly like brands need to be more patient.

That makes a lot of sense actually because you haven’t really – it’s like a try and buy thing.  I don’t want to give you my credit card.  I remember downloading one app and it was like give us all this information and you can have it free but when the time is up, we’re going to start charging unless you stop us from charging.  I was just thinking, I’m not going to get into this at all because you’re going to start charging, I’m going to have to get my money back from you, it’s going to be a mess – how do I know I can stop you?

To your point, it’s just not seamless, it’s not just about being convenient, it’s also about being trustworthy.  What about this demographic and trust, what do you find they trust in advertising or respond to in advertising?

They trust transparency and to be honest, the brand that does it the best is Netflix.  What they do is their shows are good, they promote well but on Instagram, for example, there are many themed accounts that rip their content and reproduce the content.  This is the content that many kids are engaging in, so they probably don’t even know it, they’re probably not doing it on purpose but just because their stuff is so good, it’s getting repurposed and that’s what you want as a brand.

Like, if you want to talk about a brand like – there’s a lot of brick and mortar brands that are like going out of business like Champ Sporting Goods, Sports Authority, Toys R Us, that’s because they’re behind the curve and it kind of sucks to see because growing up, those were the stores that I’d walk in and now, like, I don’t even see the store anymore, it’s kind of sad.

Well, they were looking in their brick and mortar, balance sheet and saying OK, we have to be cheaper than Amazon but then, on the other hand, I’m always hearing that, you know, it’s about the experience and that’s what I seem to be hearing here as well.  Yes, there are people who are always going to go for price, there are people who always want free, but probably you’re also seeing that a good experience can bring people in, in this case for apps that might not have gotten those crowds in the first place, but they’re just looking so good on Instagram. 


So, we have to go to a break right now, Thomas, but I want to hear more about this and in particular, now that we’ve been talking so much about Instagram, love to hear about a little bit of a growth hack for Instagram and also the creatives and just what works in Instagram.  So, don’t go away listeners, we’ll be right back.

And we’re back.  Welcome back to Mobile Presence.  I’m your host, Peggy Anne Salz with Mobile Groove and we have today Thomas Ma, he is Co-Founder of Sapphire Apps and Sapphire Apps, of course, partners with rising companies to make their apps trend.  And Thomas, I’m reading here, 500+ apps that you’ve been involved with?  15 million+ users for those apps, you obviously have a lot of experience.  Can you just look back on some of your case studies and maybe just walk me through one of the case studies, one of the client examples you’re the most proud of.

Yes, to start off, those 500 – my Co-Founder made before he met me and he got all those users through organic ranking, he never spent a cent on customers, they were all paid apps he got people to buy.  And the strategy that he used was like leveraging the app store optimization, constantly scraping the app store, seeing like big brands, if like a big brand has a lot of downloads and there’s low competition for that keyword, he would install it into the app that made sense for that demographic.

So, what would you say is like – I wouldn’t say a growth hack because it’s organic, so you can’t really hack organic growth, right, you can if you’re doing paid promotion, because you say well, I’m going to buy users in the Philippines because they’re cheap or something, that’s something very different.  But what could you say is a key learning from working on these apps with your partner that you could say works, and then we’ll get into like some details specifically around the Instagram platform.

Yes, in the app store, like what my co-founder, what he does is let’s say there’s an app, it could be like Facebook, you want to search the app store searches, put in Facebook blank – that could be Facebook Maps, which could be a highly searched word and if you search that word and maybe like 5 apps pop up, that’s when you want to add that keyword into the app that you’re trying to boost.

So follow the crowd a little bit more than dictate the crowd, because most people are like I’ve got this keyword or I’m doing this because I think it’s going to work but it’s just like watching real people as they’re searching for your app and using that to figure out the keywords, is that correct?

Yes, like right now something on the rise is cryptocurrency.

Oh, yes.

So, what you search is like cryptocurrency space – whatever those people are intrigued in.  And then, yes, you just add it to your…

So what are some tools for that, it’s just like the Sensor Towers of the world, what do I use?

Sensor Tower is something that’s popular, my co-founder uses it a lot, App Annie is very popular and also just running paid search ads to see how strong the keywords perform.

So back to the organic sort of wow factor here, the FOMO that you’re specialized in…  that’s I guess the platform Instagram or do you also do others or is it Instagram where you’re seeing your best results?

That’s what I mainly specialize in and I’ve done Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, so it really depends on the project that I have and mainly like for example Twitter, what we do is we will push content, we’ll get a retweet on all the themed accounts but it’s getting pushed behind like a fake Twitter account that may look like a college student being a student rep.  So, it’s more like trustworthy because if somebody on Twitter sees it’s someone young in the profile picture with a normal name, it’s like Oh my god, this ad just changed my life, here’s a story, blah blah blah.  That’s how we get the users to get into our funnel and then land on our website and then by landing on our website, they usually download our app, but now we’re getting into Facebook Pixel, you know, we’re collecting all that data so we can make an even more targeted like audience to retarget.

And of course Instagram is a great idea to focus on that because we’re reading now about everyone leaving Facebook – I don’t know if it’s quite true but yes, I’m writing a story about that actually for Forbes about some data I saw – very interesting data showing that there’s actually an increase now in engagement on Google as a result, which is what I didn’t expect, so there you go.

So let’s talk about Instagram.  When I look at it, it’s like hey, I’m sharing some amazing photos about my experience but you’re talking about using these photos to just sort of get me very excited about apps, so I go and search for them.  Can you give me an idea about the images or the themes that you’re using to get people’s attention?

Yes, so the first thing is I don’t recommend using photos because those don’t reach as many people as videos, people like to watch videos now and the key strategy is when you have a video, you have to make it a meme-style and what means is there should be text on the top that captures the person’s attention and maybe something in the bottom.

So, one successful campaign that I did for a client was it was the singing app.  I said Is this the next Adele? comment wire and it got over 250,000 views in four hours and it got a ton of organic downloads for the client we worked with.

I’m amazed at that because it’s just such a simple text line, there are people thinking that they have to architect creatives like hell, excuse me, and you don’t.  Is it the next Adele – yes or no – and then rocket it through the roof.

Yes, and people are so fancy with their ads now, which is like you don’t need to spend like hundreds of thousands of dollars just to make super-fancy content because that’s just so obvious now.  Like, if you’re a kid, you’re just like I see that on TV, so you kind of have to trick – not trick them, just show them what’s normal.  The quality doesn’t have to be so good anymore.

And probably, to your point, you know, you’re talking about transparency and trustworthiness – I guess with all the really polished stuff, they say hey, that’s polished, that’s not for me, that’s not talking to me, that’s not one of my tribe – it has to look like, you know, like you could have made it, Thomas, right?

Yes, exactly and you don’t even have to mention the product in the first, you know – it’s called a shout when you work with these like themed accounts – you could just test the water and see how the content performs.  If you notice that the content is like trending, people are just going to ask you, what is this, what is this?  How do I get on this app?  They’re going to find their way because here’s the thing – people, if they see something that they like, they go on Google and the app store.

So how do you get sort of discovered on Instagram?  Let’s just say, for example, you know, I’m not the most active out there but let’s just say for example I had an app and I come to you and I say, Thomas, I’ve got this great app but, hey, I’ve been working at Mobile Groove and I’ve been under the radar for quite a while, a little radio silence, I’m not that exciting – what would you do with me, how would we make me relevant on Instagram?

Yes, so, this is you personally or you as a B to C app for these…

Maybe a B to C app, let’s just say that I’m a bit of a road warrior and I’ve got like this really cool line-up of stuff because I’m so tired of people creating luggage and stuff for your laptop so it’s black, right, so I’ve got this female friendly stuff that is really cool – which I wish someone would create, by the way having just come back from a long trip – and that’s my fashion thing, alright?  That’s what I have.  I’ve got some sort of like fashion B to C app thing, this is my special commerce niche.  What would you do with me?

First of all, I would look into Instagram, I would put in the word fashion, I would find themed accounts and with these themed accounts, you should get an Excel spreadsheet and maybe it lists like 50 to 100 of them and contact them as well to see what their price is.

Second, you have to look at their content, you have to think is this content similar to mine?  So, my rule – like, what I follow is, on my trending accounts, I will favorite content with over a million views and I will repurpose them on my, like the trending accounts that I run because I know for a fact that the content works and if it’s a client, you know, that’s where I’m like OK – we have to replicate this type of advertising and this is going to go trendy and this will get people to convert.

One company that does a really good job is this Business Insider.  They always do like those 60-second clips for cool products that they have coming out.  So, that’s someone I would like, you know, kind of copy when I produce the content.

Interesting.  So there’s a lot of legwork, a lot of research that goes in there – find the trending accounts, a lot of stuff – I’m assuming that that’s something you take over, that you do or is it something where I have to get a tool and prep this for you?

Yes, it takes a while – you really have to build a process and I’m lucky that I have like the team to help me out with the process.  It’s not just like me solo like doing it like I train people over time to kind of like do phase one, make sure they find all the accounts.  Phase two, save all these videos, download it, put it into a Google Drive for me.  I analyze it and then they upload the video for me and then that gives me data for the people that I may be working with.

I’m fascinated that it’s that type of a system really.  It’s probably something that you had to sort of put together yourself, there are no rules for this and there is, and probably like each person has their approach and sort of their algorithm and their equations for figuring out, OK, what is then really an account worth targeting in the first place?  Yes, it’s relevant but you have to look at the videos, you have to get a feel for I guess the fit with the brand, right?

And to be honest, no-one really knows the answer, that’s what you have to test.  The problem I see is people are too ROI driven and what that means is if they see a page and they’re like, that’s not my theme, that’s the wrong way to go because you could be missing out on potential customers – you don’t know who’s following that themed account.  If your video does good and lets ’s say there are 20,000 views, a lot like maybe 2,000 of those people can look up your product organically and then that’s where you have your Facebook Pixel.  So you have that data and you can retarget with Facebook ads.

I’m fascinated with this, Thomas, I mean I always knew it was a little bit tough to crack but you obviously have an approach that makes this sound scientific, although the KPIs and the return on investment are kind of vague – I’m going to look forward to deep diving into that with you, so listeners, we’ll be cracking the code on how you can get the most out of Instagram, so don’t go away, we’ll be right back.

Hello, and we are back.  Welcome back to Mobile Presence.  I’m your host, Peggy Anne Salz with Mobile Groove and we have Thomas Ma, he is who is Co-Founder of Sapphire Apps and I have to say, Thomas, I would also say an Instagram ninja or wizard – can we do that?

That sounds good to me.

I like Instagram Wizard, for some reason.  We’ve got growth ninjas – this is about growth – and the reason I’m saying that is because it’s a platform that, as you said, it requires some patience but it does deliver and you have to think outside the box.  So, I’m wondering if you could just share like the mindset that an app developer, an app company, a brand has to have going into this?  You definitely have to be B to C to get the most out of it, this is not where you would go if you, you know, make tractors or something – although I know tractor fans, on the other hand, I’ve got a couple on my street actually who go out to these meetings and put together all tractors – so I won’t diss them… but, on the other hand, it has to be a fit – what’s the mindset here, what should I be saying to myself as I go into this?

Yes, it’s similar to what I said before.  Just like don’t look at something and just assume it won’t work – you don’t know until you try.  So, that’s really important because like I said, the corporate people, you know, in the big companies, they look at everything that’s in the front – they don’t try until they know that somebody succeeded but by the time that happens, that can be too late because that’s why I think the brick & mortar companies are like they’re starting to figure out that right now and that’s why they’re closing all their stores.

Well it is true, I mean, I’ve done a lot of shows, I do a lot of things in the business, like, well what is the return on social media and it’s like, well it’s warm and fuzzy, it’s not tangible so you’re not going to like it but on the other hand, with this demographic, it can make or break your business.

So, granted, there aren’t really KPIs but still, what is a sign for you of success, what is it that tells you when you’re doing a FOMO campaign, when you’re doing this, that says Hey, I’m on the right track?

Yes, the biggest one is the organic uplift.  Looking at the organic downloads, especially if it’s a cost per install.  Now, if it’s CPA, that’s where we look at the traditional cost.  So, let’s say they spend $10 grand, they should be getting a return on $30 grand.  Now, if they gave my company $10 grand and we turned it into like $40 or $50 grand, that’s success in my book because we showed that we outperform whatever they’re doing and what we do is like it’s honestly, it’s very random at times.  That’s why I just tell people to look at CPA because people will get very confused if I break everything down.

Just curious, I mean, because sometimes you think, Oh, this is going to be a bottomless pit, this is going to be a fortune, I’m going to have to deal with influencers or deal with people and it just gets to be like hurting fleas but you’re making it sound very organized, which is what I like about this.  So, in an organized manner, what kind of budget would I need to come to with you?

Yes, so our budget, like, we do a $20,000 pilot and we ultimately work with people who have run tests themselves.  We don’t want to pick up any projects with zero like marketing experience because then we have no-one to compare to.

Right, it makes a lot of sense.

Yes, you don’t want people to get disappointed because, like I said, a lot of people, they think Oh, I have money, I have the best app idea – let’s get 10 cent downloads.  That’s not realistic.

I’m just curious how you keep up with everything on Instagram because you said you know, you take a look at what’s at the trending channels and sort of like the Instagrammers, influencers there, and of course that’s a moving target, that’s changing every day.  I mean, what is it – you don’t sleep or…?

I think I get my eight hours of sleep pretty well but I’m building the accounts as well.  Like, I have a 35K account, you know, it’s art themed and yes, yesterday I found out the content I posted three days ago hit 250,000 views and I’ve never hit that before.  I’ve passed 250,000 for this account.  I had two pieces of content and it was just because they were heavy engagement and it’s because the Instagram algorithm is changing.  So, now there’s a big emphasis on the explore page and making sure people can consume your content as they’re scrolling up and down.

Thomas, we have to have you back, we have to have you back.  We’ve had a lot of people like talking about how to hack Snapchat, we’ve had tons of people saying Twitter is also a good platform and it makes sense – if you’ve got a news app, then Twitter is definitely a great place to go.  Not too many talking about Instagram – you’ve convinced me it deserves another look if you’re a brand or marketer and it certainly deserves a follow-up here on Mobile Presence.  So I hope you would come back at some point.

Yes, I would be happy to come back.

Awesome – so, we will do that, we’ll have a little bit of like, you know, course material, a crash course in really getting the most out of Instagram, I’m excited about that, that’s my spontaneous decision for today but for right now, how do people stay in touch with you?  Obviously, there’s going to be something on Instagram but listeners who are listening in, they’re saying Hey, I need Thomas, I need to own Instagram – how do they do it?

Yes, they can Google my name, Thomas Ma, my LinkedIn will pop up.  My good friend, Arsin, he has a CEO firm and he ranked my name so that’s one way.  The second way is email, it’s

OK, and listeners, if you want to keep up with me through the week or find out more about how you can be a guest or sponsor on Mobile Presence, then you can email me,, Mobile Groove is also where you can find my portfolio of content marketing and app marketing services.  Of course, not Instagram, Thomas, I’m going to learn that from you…!  And that, my friends, is a wrap, of another episode of Mobile Presence.  Until next time you can check out this and all other earlier episodes of the show by going to or you can find our shows on iTunes, Stitcher, Spreaker and iheartRadio simply by searching Mobile Presence.  So until next time, remember, every minute is mobile, so make every minute count.  We’ll see you soon.

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