Social networks like Facebook and Twitter have amassed global userbases, redefining relationships and community in the process. But they haven’t tapped every opportunity for digital socialization. Avatar-based service IMVU takes virtual engagement even further with its highly-personalized experiential platform. Today, the platform boasts over 200 million users across mobile and desktop, making it one of the biggest success stories among virtual social networks.

Tapjoy met with Head of Monetization, Darren Markovitz, to discuss the company’s mobile growth and its in-app monetization strategies. Specifically, we wanted to understand how the offerwall drives value in the app, and how the implementation affected IAP sales.

  • Virtual socialization may appeal to 18-24-year-olds particularly, but all demographics value highly-personalized interactive experiences not offered by traditional platforms.
  • The offerwall encourages the growth of IAP revenue — rewarded ads give users a taste of the premium experience, effectively acting as a “free trial” for paid options.
  • Offerwalls are incredibly useful tools that help users view and manage opportunities from several advertisers at once.

Hi Darren, thanks for joining us! Could you tell us a bit about IMVU and your role there?

IMVU is the world’s largest virtual social network, with over 200 million registered users to date. My role is to create and implement monetization strategies through our various advertising and sponsor partnerships. In short, anything on IMVU that wouldn’t be considered an in-app purchase falls under my group’s purview.

How is IMVU different from other virtual social networks?

Definitely creativity and customization! Among our 200 million users are 50,000 content creators who have produced roughly 50 million virtual goods. These acquirable items consist of almost anything you can imagine — you can put furniture or art in a 3D chat room, place your avatar in cars and boats, or outfit avatars with clothing, nails, and distinct eyebrow shades. Each IMVU avatar is unique, and we can monetize their creation by making each virtual good a purchasable item in our economy — whether through IAPs or ads.

According to the IMVU website, the network’s largest demographic is 18-24-year-olds. Why do you think it’s so popular with this particular age group?

There are many factors, but I think personalization is one that’s unique for IMVU. Being able to personalize your avatar enhances the social experience for any age group, and we’ve worked hard to ensure that experience is valuable to 18-24-year-olds as well.

I also think this is a broad demographic that gravitates to our platform because we give them ways to engage that traditional social networks don’t allow for. The ability to share and curate your photos is one thing, but IMVU lets users reach another level by creating a full persona. For an age group that values self-expression and vibrant social experiences, being able to engage with others as whatever you’d like to be can be very meaningful.

IMVU has been around for 15 years! How has the user base evolved in that time? Are more people using the app on mobile vs. desktop these days?

We’ve been around for so long because the users enjoy our service! Mobile is currently our number one destination and represents IMVU’s most active growth channel. Now, desktop users are valuable to us as well — they’re on the platform constantly, quite frankly! — but mobile’s UA potential is something that really can’t be ignored. That being said, we want to let users engage on any screen they choose and will continue to invest in both formats.

How has the rise of influencer culture affected IMVU’s marketing?

We’ve opted to partner with influencers who gravitated organically to our platform instead of bringing on random folks with a ton of followers. Given the size of our platform, we can also make contact with individual users who have that kind of reach. When we do, we find they’re very passionate and already happy to share photos of their content. We think it all creates a more authentic experience and makes going after influencers a fun discussion because they’re already pleased with what we offer.

How does the offerwall play into your monetization strategy? Why do you think users interact and engage so effectively with the offerwall?

For users, offerwalls are the easiest way to view and navigate opportunities from many different advertisers. It’s a far more optimized experience — users can be sure these offers and opportunities are valuable because they’ve been valuable to other users on the platform. Tracking down this content manually would be a real challenge, but we can present these offers as an incentivized interaction. It effectively offers them “cash-back” for real-world purchases they may have already planned to make.

IMVU uses in-app ads and in-app purchases. Do rewarded ads have any effect on IAP sales?

There’s certainly a positive correlation. Players can maximize the advantage of their IMVU experience by getting additional credits from rewarded ad impressions. Giving users a taste of everything we have to offer makes them engage with the platform, and makes them more likely to complete an in-app purchase. What’s more, it lets us grow our user base and monetize users who otherwise wouldn’t be monetized.

I think this strategy is useful for any application that balances paid vs. non-paid experiences. The specific technique can change — using free trials is another example — but the goal is to give users a taste of the best you can offer. Once they’ve had a chance to experience your features, many of them end up wanting more and turn into paying customers. That’s the opportunity that provides real value over the long-term.

How does IMVU continue to drive relevant and effective monetization strategies after 15 years of activity?

First and foremost, we are incredibly selective about the partners we choose to work with. Rarely a day goes by that we’re not getting an email about some new ad opportunity or monetization strategy. But we prefer to have very transparent relationships with our partners because we believe that leads to new ideas and opportunities.

These are the best kind of partnerships, but they can be challenging to navigate. You need to create trust so that partners understand how the revenue they provide leads to increased user acquisition, traffic, and benefits for all parties. Once that trust is established, you can work on solutions together instead of throwing ideas on the wall to see what sticks.

What kind of changes and challenges do you see the mobile advertising industry undergoing in the near future?

The market needs to innovate when it comes to handling privacy. Advertisers have done a fantastic job when it comes to finding out who you are to create relevant ad experiences. Still, incoming regulations are changing how we collect and use data, and the industry will need to adapt. Personally, I’m excited to see how we can handle that challenge together while ensuring we still provide a good experience for the users. That might even be a positive thing in the long run, even if it raises difficulties in the short term.

Are there any major technology updates on the roadmap for IMVU in the future?

The short answer is, yes! Everything IMVU does is about finding ways to make emotional connections through a virtual chat experience. In 2020, we want to make these connections stronger in the only way we know how: By spreading the power of friendships.

Tapjoy would like to thank Darren Markovitz for taking the time to join us. For more insights from our Mobile Champions, check out our interview with Gabrielle Heyman, Head of Global Advertising Sales at Zynga.

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