In-App Messaging With Firebase

Welcome to Firebase In-App Messaging & Analytics. With these services, you can segment your user base and provide a personalized user experience in the form of in-app messages.

Version

  • Kotlin 1.3, Android 8.1, Android Studio 3

Imagine this: After a few years of development, your travel agent mobile app to book flights anywhere around the world is getting more traction.

However, you must stay ahead of the competition, so you decide to test a new feature to allow users to purchase flights and activities at the same time.

To start small, you decide to deliver targeted suggestions and measure their impact on your conversion rate. That’s where Firebase Analytics and Firebase In-App Messaging can help.

With these services, you can segment your user base and provide a personalized user experience in the form of in-app messages.

To test these services in different scenarios, you’ll run a test app that randomly creates flight bookings for different users.

In this tutorial, you’ll learn how to:

  • Set up a new Firebase In-App Messaging campaign.
  • Trigger in-app messages based on events.
  • Send in-app messages to different audiences.

Open Android Studio to begin!

Getting Started

First, download the project by clicking on the Download Materials button at the top or the bottom of this tutorial.

Open the project in Android Studio and build and run the project. You should see something like this:

This app contains three main functionalities. Here’s a detailed look at each section of the user interface:

  • Set User ID: This functionality, which you implement in setFirebaseUserID(), sets the Firebase ID on the current user session.
  • Random Values: This button calls randomizeValues() to randomly select a From/To airport and a preferred activity.
  • Book Flight: This button calls purchaseFlight(), which logs a new event in Firebase called on_booking.

Before these functions will work, however, you must configure Firebase and install Firebase In-App Messaging.

Configuring Firebase

The project already contains Firebase Core, but you must configure it before you can start. To do this, you need a google-services.json file which is a JSON file that contains all the configuration data that Firebase uses internally. To get it, you need a Firebase project, so you can go ahead and create one now.

Visit the Firebase website. You should see something similar to this:

Login using a Google account; if you want, you can take a quick look around the landing page. When you’re ready, click the Go to Console button on the upper-right side of the screen.

You’ll now create a new Firebase project by clicking on the Add project card, as you can see below.

For this tutorial, you’ll use the name Travel Exp for your project name and then you’ll choose a location for both Analytics and Firebase database. Your setup should look similar to this:

Read and accept the terms, if needed, and click Create Project.

Now that you’ve finished the first step, you should see a success message:

Click Continue and you’ll see the project dashboard.

Next, you need to add an Android app to the project, so click on the Add Firebase to your Android app card:

Fill in the package name com.raywenderlich.android.travelexp from the starter project and click Register app. The SHA key can be empty for now; you only need it when you are signing an APK.

Now, follow the instructions on the Firebase page to add the google-services.json file to the project and click Next.

Add the firebase-inappmessaging-display gradle dependency and google-services plugin to your app module build.gradle file, like so:

dependencies {
    //Add the following line
    implementation 'com.google.firebase:firebase-inappmessaging-display:17.0.4'
}

//Add the following line
apply plugin: 'com.google.gms.google-services'

Click Sync Now to sync your Gradle files. Now you can start working on the juicy parts of this app!

Note: The app at this point needs Instant Run enabled in Android Studio to work. To check this, open Preferences > Build, Execution, Deployment > Instant Run. Make sure the Enable Instant Run checkbox is checked.

You can read more about Instant Run on the Android Developer site.

Preparing the Fields

So, now you’re ready to start using Firebase In-App Messaging. Before you go any farther, send a test message to verify that you’ve configured the service correctly.

As described in the Firebase documentation, Firebase In-App Messaging only retrieves messages from the server once per day. To speed up the process, Firebase In-App Messaging has a test mode that allows you to send messages to a specific device immediately.

Your first step is to retrieve your app’s Instance ID. In Android Studio, open LogCat and search for the message “InAppMessaging”. This will display your app’s Instance ID:

In the Firebase Dashboard, select the Grow dropdown on the left. Then select the In-App Messaging tab and click Create your first campaign.

You’ll be presented with a screen like this:

Select the Top banner message layout and set the following values:

  • Background: #00c398
  • Text colour: #ffffff
  • Message title: Art expo
  • Body: On this weekend!

Then, click the Test on device button and paste your app’s Instance ID, which you copied earlier.

Click the plus to add your Instance ID, then click the Test button.

Back in your app, you’ll notice that the message hasn’t arrived yet. To show the in-app message, the app must trigger the on_foreground Android lifecycle event. To trigger that event, exit and return to the app using the Home button as shown below.

There it is, your first in-app message!

Your First Campaign

You’ve now tested how to use in-app messaging during development. Now you’re ready to create campaigns that target users more specifically.

An in-app message campaign consists of four key attributes:

  • Style and content: How the in-app message looks and behaves.
  • Target: The audience that will receive the in-app message.
  • Scheduling: When the in-app message will be delivered.
  • Conversion events: Links the in-app message to a conversion event.

You’ve already seen the Style and content attribute in action. You set this attribute when setting the background and text color of your campaign.

Next, you will look at using the other attributes.

Targets

Targets allow app developers to specify which users will receive the message. Campaign targets become more useful as you collect data through behavioral analytics.

You can define a target audience by various parameters including:

Since the “Travel Exp” project is completely new, you’ll start by targeting a message to all users. Later, you’ll learn how to use behavioral analytics to specify the campaign target.

For now, return to the Firebase dashboard. With your campaign still open, click Next to proceed to the Target section. Set the Campaign name to Art Expo. Select com.raywenderlich.android.travelexp as the app target and click Next.

Scheduling

You can send in-app messages at different times including:

  • Immediately.
  • At a defined date and time in the future.
  • When an event is triggered.

For this tutorial, you’ll send an in-app message when a user purchases a new booking. On the Firebase Dashboard, click Next to proceed to the SchedulingEvent + to add a new event and insert on_booking as the event trigger.

Conversion Events

Conversion events help you measure the effectiveness of a messaging campaign.

Developers use attribution analytics to measure the effectiveness of their advertising and growth campaigns. This tutorial will not cover that aspect of in-app messaging campaigns, but you may read about conversion events here.

Running Your Campaign

Build and run the app. This time, select airports under the From/To label and pick a favorite activity. The in-app message should arrive immediately now, because you added the on_booking event.

Note: Firebase by default restricts you to sending a message to your users once a day. This is to restrict you spamming your users with messages.

If your message isn’t being received by your device, this could be the reason why. In this case, delete the app, build it again and try the steps again.

Using Analytics for Personalized In-App Messages

Let’s imagine that you’ve built up a catalog of experiences over time and you’d like to use it to personalize your suggestions. For example, you may want to suggest tea tasting events only to users who ticked the drink tea checkbox. In order to personalize the in-app message, you need to have some idea of what a user likes and dislikes.

Behavioral analytics is a method of collecting raw event data of an application to gain new insights into user preferences. You can apply behavioural analytics to a mobile application with the Firebase Event API. For example, the application could log a new event every time a user books a flight.

From the Firebase dashboard, you then have the option to create different user audiences based on the collected events. For example, you could create an audience for each Activity (Art, Board games, Cheese, Flying cards, Drinking tea) and send different in-app messages to each audience.

During development with Firebase, you can enable the DebugView in order to view logged events immediately on the dashboard. However, it is important to note that for any business analysis operations, it can take up to one day for logged events to be available on the Firebase dashboard. You can read more about this time delay on the Firebase blog.

Where to Go From Here?

Congratulations on completing this tutorial!

You’ve learned how to configure Firebase In-App Messaging in your app and how to target campaigns to different user audiences.

You also touched on the importance of using behavioral analytics to segment your customer base. Behavioral analytics can help you to personalize the user experience in your app.

There is much more to Firebase In-App Messaging, such as:

Of course, feel free to leave comments and suggestions in the forum below! Especially about what you enjoyed and how we can improve the tutorial in the future. :]

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