How do you use proven psychological triggers to influence users to download your app?

In this post, I will explore the six principles outlined by the book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini and show you how you can use these proven triggers in your screenshots to persuade users to download your app.

Also in the post, you will find examples of companies that are already using these key principles to influence their users.

#1: Reciprocity

We, as humans, have a tendancy to return favors, pay back debts, and treat others as they treat us. When someone has given value to us we try to show our appreciation by giving value back.

According to the idea of reciprocity, this can lead us to feel obliged to offer concessions or discounts to others if they have offered them to us. This is because we’re uncomfortable with feeling indebted to them.

Cialdini uses the example of Ethiopia providing thousands of dollars in humanitarian aid to Mexico just after the 1985 earthquake, despite Ethiopia suffering from a crippling famine and civil war at the time. Ethiopia had been reciprocating for the diplomatic support Mexico provided when Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935.

Applying this principle: Can you can offer a coupon code for first time users? Or extra features for sharing the app?

Example: Uber gives you $10 off your first ride if you use the code “AppStore”.


#2: Commitment (and Consistency)

Cialdini says that we have a deep desire to be consistent and once we’ve committed to something, we’re more inclined to go through with it.

Even if the original incentive or motivation is removed after we have already agreed, we will continue to honor the agreement.

This principle can also apply to game mechanics. Think of ways you can pull users into the app and gradually increase their committment level with the app.

For example, the popular Words with Friends allows you to play against those in your social networks. This mechanic forces users to commit to the app and continually play the game as not to disappoint their friends.

Applying this principle: Within the screenshots, you can show that you have a consistent track record of publishing hit games (think sequels) and that new levels or updates will happen frequently.

Example: In Angry Birds Friends, the screenshot shows that new levels will be added each week. This shows potential users that the app will consistently be updated.


#3: Social Proof

We will do things when we see other people doing it.

Social proof is so powerful that Stanley Milgram, an American social psychologist, conducted an experiment where he had a group of people stop in a busy street and look up at the six-floor of an office nearby where nothing was happening.

Milgram found that 4% of passersby would stop to join a single person staring up, however that number jumped to 40% when there were 15 people staring up at the office. On top of this, 86% of passersby would at least look up to see what everyone else was looking at.

This principle relies on people’s sense of “safety in numbers.”

Applying this principle: Have you been featured on a popular review site, can you tout your download numbers, or does a particular celebrity endorse your app?

Example: Talking Tom 2 does the perfect job of applying this principle. The app’s first screenshot shows that it has more than 390 million downloads.


#4: Liking

Cialdini says that we’re more likely to be influenced by people we like. Likability comes in many forms – people might be similar to us, they might give us compliments, or we may just simply trust them.

In the book, Cialdini uses an example of how we’re more likely to buy from salespeople whom have similar qualities such as cultural backgrounds, religion, personality traits, etc.

Applying this principle: In your screenshots, use people that are similar to your target market. If your ideal user is a mom, show someone similar to that demographic.

Example: Snapchat is tailoring its first screenshot to their core demographic.


#5: Scarcity

This principle is a bit obvious but perceived scarcity will generate demand. For example, saying offers are available for a “limited time only” often increases sales.

We are more attractive to offers when their availability is limited, or when we stand to lose the opportunity to acquire them on favorable terms.

This explains the popularity of blogs that highlight apps that have recently gone from paid to free for a limited time.

Applying this principle: Can you offer premium features to the first 1,000 downloads? Or can you make your app free for the first 1,000 downloads?

Example: Although the campaign did not run in the screenshots, Mailbox did an amazing job of attracting users to sign up for a waiting list and creating a sense of scarcity and social proof at the same time.

When Dong Nguyen, creator of Flappy Bird, decided to remove the game from the App Store, many were questioning this tactic as a way to create scarcity for the app and increase its popularity.


#6: Authority

We feel a sense of duty or obligation to people in positions of authority. This is why advertisers of pharmaceutical products employ doctors to be their spokesperson, and why most of us will do most things that our boss asks of us.

In fact, we tend to obey these authority figures so much that we will perform objectionable acts when asked to do so.

Applying this principle: Can you highlight an authority figure in your niche that users follow? Do you have a quote from a respected blogger that you can highlight in your screenshots?

Example: Here are a couple examples that really use this principle well.

1Password displays the logos of trusted sites where the app has been featured. This includes a staff pick by Apple (authority figure).

Another example is in the NFL Showdown app by Zynga. Here the app uses well-known NFL players Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in their screenshot.



When creating app screenshots think of them as a banner ad or a billboard. You don’t have to highlight all the principles outlined above, but be sure to include at least two or three.

Using the principles as a starting point, your app screenshots will not only highlight your core benefits, but influence users to pick your app over your competitors.

What was your favorite principle? Is there an app that I missed that uses one of the principles?

Leave a comment below!


Author Bio

Bobby Gill is the founder of Blue Label Labs, a mobile app development lab based in New York, and the editor of, the premier online resource for news, articles and tips for mobile app design and development.

1 comment

  1. Mitch Gn

    I guess one to add would be to keep each screenshot informative and interesting. I know it seems a little silly and simple, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve hit the “back” button on an app store page before hitting the “get” button because of images that told me nothing about the app!

    Otherwise, this list looks fantastic and there’s some great advice in here: Particularly reciprocity, it’s something very powerful and and benefits both the person using the app and the developer.