A Beginner's Guide to Mobile User Permission Requests

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A Beginner's Guide to Mobile User Permission Requests

Permission requests are a central part of the mobile user onboarding process. They set the tone to many things that will take place later on in your product’s interaction with users. We recommend placing a strong emphasis on this matter when thinking about your mobile onboarding design, as this is an investment that will surely pay off.

The following guide will present the basic rules to follow when creating a permission request strategy. It is, in a way, an etiquette manual for mobile marketers, containing the do’s and don'ts of approaching users who have just downloaded your app.

Only Ask for What You Really Need

Greedy apps give the rest of the mobile industry a bad reputation. When deciding which permission to ask users for, don’t take more than you actually need. In fact, you should consider asking for parts of what you need and come back for more when the timing is better (check out the parts about phased mobile onboarding for further details). Whatever you do, don’t let users feel as if your app is taking advantage of the mobile platform in order to spy after their every move. That it a sure way to cause users to lose faith in you and run away from your product.

Explain the Value

When you build your app, a lot of things seem very clear to you, but are far from being obvious to your audience. That’s why we feel so strongly about app onboarding, and that’s why so many apps fail at that. When a first time user installs your product on their device, they are presented with a list of requests that they cannot possibly understand. If you truly make an effort to put yourself in users’ shoes when creating your mobile onboarding process, you will see what a confusing and unpleasant experience this is. Explain to users why you want each and every one of the approvals your app is asking for. Tell them what you intend to do with this data, and what they have to benefit from allowing you access. Never assume that they will just accept your demands, because you will be disappointed.

Wait for the Right Time

Patience is a trait that most mobile users lack, but you should have lots of. Sometimes, it’s better to wait for permission requests until the right moment comes. We’ve discussed this matter when elaborating on the process of phased mobile user onboarding. Instead of asking for every permission right as first time users open your app, wait until they want to use certain feature to pop the question regarding this specific request. For instance, if your app wants access to users’ camera, ask for it when they are about to use the app to take a picture. It would make it that much easier to explain the value of the request and get it approved.

Ask to Send Push Notifications

The reason these requests receive the honor of a separate paragraph, is because unlike other permissions, here users are not worried about you snooping around and using their data. Instead, they are concerned that your app will harass them with endless reminders and notifications. You should know that doing that could very well lead users to give up on your app altogether. When asking to send push notifications, you should explain the value in a different way. Tell users what you want to remind them of, and make sure to create a solid push notifications strategy that will take into account the number of alerts you wish to send, the timing for each one and the triggers. Keep the tone friendly and seasonal and don’t push it.

Promise to Never Share Data

Another hurdle for you to overcome is users’ worry that your app will share their personal data with other apps or organizations. This is especially relevant when users have no clue who you represent and collaborate with. Consider adding your company’s background story to increase credibility and encourage users to approve. In addition, be direct when promising users that you will never give access to anyone else when it comes to their precious data.

Address Security Concerns

Users are not only afraid that you will share their data willingly, they are worried of other bodies hacking your app and taking it without your involvement. This is far more important when your app has any connection to their financial data or private secrets, but is still true even when their basic information is the only thing your app asks for.

When creating your mobile onboarding experience, do your best to give users a stronger sense of security. Allow them to use external payment services such as PayPal, and describe the efforts your app makes in order to protect their data.

Promise to Never Post on Their Behalf

If your app onboarding asks users for access or register through their social media accounts, you should be paying extra attention to this part. Some tech tools make the unforgivable mistake of posting content without asking for permission. If your product does that, you should think long and hard as to why you chose to participate in that travesty, but if it doesn't - make sure to point that out and allow users to relax. That includes posting on user's feed, inviting friends to join the app and other surprises nobody really wants.

Choose the Right Tone and Content

In-app content is always important, but when it comes to permission requests during your app onboarding process, choosing the right approach when interacting with users could make or break your product. Your choice of words very much depends on what you are asking for, and who you’re asking it from (see below the paragraph discussing mobile personalization), but as a general advice, find a tone that makes it clear to users that you are on their side, and avoid coming across as too demanding or impersonal. Giving users a friendly vibe that feels more like a dialogue and less like a list of demands is always a good idea.

Declined? Don't Give Up

Learning from your mistakes is important, and that is precisely what you should be doing after users chose to block your app from accessing their data or sending push notifications. However, in addition to the philosophical lesson to learn here, you should also understand how you can change users’ minds and ask them to change it through their app settings. Before iOS 9 rolled in, users had a long and complicated way to go through, which made it almost impossible for developers to get another chance. Nowadays, apps can get users to perform a short process involving deep linking. Wait for the right time and pop the question once again, only better.

Invest in Mobile Personalization

One of mobile’s greatest strengths is the ability to adjust the user experience based on the type of audience you choose to address. We recommend creating different user profiles and crafting different mobile user onboarding experiences to fit each one. This means that both the order and content of your permission requests may vary, depending on this audience’s specific usage of your product, or where you believe each segment to be more challenging. Investing in mobile personalization over a “one size fits all” approach may very well be what convinces users to give you access to their data or to push notifications. After all, personal details call for a personal approach.


When it comes to mobile users, developers must remember that trust should be earned. When first time users interact with your app, assuming you are not already a well-known brand they have come to know and love, you have to remember how apprehensive they are and why. Don’t assume that users understand the reasons behind each permission request, or that they simply don’t care about these things. Build a comforting, compelling mobile user onboarding process to deliver the right message and get you the data you need. Good luck!

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