I'll try & keep this short since i'm still new to the Facebook Platform, and i'm probably making several stupid statements / overlooking a bunch of obvious shit. i believe it was Mark Twain who once said: "better to keep your mouth shut and appear a fool than to open it and remove all doubt... that you don't know your ass from a Facebook App". or something like that. but i've already blown that popsicle stand, so wtf, here we go...
anyway, after spending a month or so using Facebook Apps -- hey ma, now i'm an expert! -- and a few weeks brainstorming apps & working on specs for some of the startups i advise, i think i may have figured out a few things. namely: people are still clueless on how best to design & market their Facebook Apps. more accurately, they're not optimizing apps to use native methods Facebook offers for enabling viral discovery via the social graph. and they're not even using basic website conversion optimization techniques. let me explain...
there are 4 basic ways people discover new facebook apps & add them:
- user browses thru Facebook App directory, finds interesting new app.
- user gets an app invite direct from a friend, accepts invite.
- user sees new app on friend's profile, clicks & somehow adds it.
- user browses thru news feed, mini-feed, or a friend's feed & sees app-related msgs, wonders if they're missing out... & adds it.
(did i miss other obvious ones? notifications? another form of #4 i think)
#1: initially maybe a lot of people were playing around with new apps via the directory, but after the novelty wore off, i doubt the average joe six-pack was bopping around the directory & finding new apps there. maybe geeks like me & other startup entrepreneurs & investors, but not so much the regular user. it's a reference area, but probably not a high-traffic area, at least in the long-term.
#2: until Facebook started ratcheting back on the invite spam, app invites were awesome... just tee up a dialog with all the user's friends pre-selected, get them to click on a button, and BAM! out goes 100+ invites, and perhaps 20% of them converted to new app users. nice. and this happens all before they've even SEEN the damn app! kind of like catching syphilis before you even get to the money shot. ok, so maybe that's not such a nice analogy. anyway, after Facebook limited invites to 10-at-a-time, and then further to only 10-per-day, this has become a significantly less viral / slower growth opportunity. but hey, spam sucks so i do think they made the right call on this one. so not as huge an impact as it was for the first few apps fortunate / visionary enough to get in early. invites are still powerful, but since they probably only happen once per new user, they're not very frequent.
#3: now the obvious way for someone to discover a new app is of course to see it in action on someone else's profile page, and decide "hey, that whatchamacallit is cool! i gots to get me one too!". then assuming they find the right button to push / link to click, they'll also be able to add the app & jump on the bandwagon. now this may not be as immediately viral as the invites, but it probably does happen a lot more often. so over time, this can be a pretty powerful opportunity... that is, *IF* the call-to-action messaging on the profile is obvious, and the workflow after they click is easy to follow.
#4: last but not least, app discovery can happen by users noticing feed notifications / messages about other people adding new apps, or taking certain app-related actions. and herein lies the beauty of the Feed -- the Facebook folks probably knew they were launching Platform at some point so last September they introduced News Feed & Mini-Feed (to much gah-nashing of teeth) and received a huge amount of criticism for not managing / educating the user community as to what was coming. in hindsight, we now know why Facebook was so adamant about not pulling back in the face of such criticism: they knew this was going to be their big viral advertising engine... essentially, the Facebook equivalent of Google introducing paid search results (Adwords). only we didn't understand HOW important the Feed was to the Facebook social networking ecosystem until Facebook Platform launched... and then BOOM! we just saw the biggest viral explosion of application usage & adoption in the history of human civilization. seriously think about that. am i exaggerating? i think not.
ok now that i've bored you to tears, how best to do facebook app marketing?
#1: Spend time optimizing the App Directory listing & About Page for the app? mmm, probably not since most people don't spend a lot of time on these pages (unless your About Page becomes a mini-webpage for your app users). Make them decent, and have an obvious call-to-action, but get on with things.
#2: Spend time trying to get all your new users to spam their friends? ok, probably... but realize you will likely only get up to 10 invites sent out, and each user probably only does it once. if you can get high conversion on those 10, then maybe it spreads virally just from the invite, but that's gonna be difficult & rather unlikely. still good bang for the buck, just not so frequent.
#3: Spend time optimizing the look & feel of your app on the user's profile page? yes, this makes sense. they'll probably see it many times, and their friends may also browse the page and see it many times. so make a good call-to-action somewhere on the app for new users to adopt, and differentiate between the use cases for a) the profile page owner vs b) friends of the profile page owner who are dropping by. the techniques for doing this are not that dissimilar from standard conversion optimization practices on normal websites & landing pages. know your audience, write compelling copy, create a catchy graphic or some kind of hook, & then use a clearly placed link or high-contrast button that catches their attention, and a/b test the hell out of it. rinse & repeat.
#4: Spend time optimizing the feed notification messages & app events that generate News Feed & Mini-Feed messages? ABSO-MOTHAF**KING-LUTELY. people check out feed info all the time, and when they do they see what their friends are doing. and they see what their friends' apps are doing too.
i'm 110% convinced that consistent & creative app marketing & event notification via the Feed is the key to unlocking the viral power of Facebook, not the wham-spam-thank-you-ma'am app invites that everyone is whining about Facebook dialing back down. the available inventory of feed notification messaging for your app -- that is, your advertising inventory -- is essentially limitless AND free, assuming people actually keep your app installed and use it. as long as users have your app running, their actions combined with app events will create feed messages & notifications that serve as constant marketing opportunities for your app. let me say that again: AS LONG AS YOUR APP REMAINS INSTALLED AND IN USE, YOU HAVE A LIMITLESS SUPPLY OF FREE ADVERTISING INVENTORY VIA THE FEED. get it? got it? good.
now, go back and make sure you optimize the hell out of the feed messaging you're doing with your app. here are a few examples of startups / entrepreneurs (Slide, HotOrNot, Yee Lee, others ) i think are doing it mostly right:
if you understand how important SEO is for enabling customer acquisition via Google & Search, then you should similarly understand why SMO -- Social Media Optimization -- is important for enabling customer acquisition via Facebook & Social Networking.
comments? criticisms? i'm all ears. like i said, im sure i've overlooked some stuff here... and i'm eager to find out where i'm wrong or being an idiot. happy to learn as fast as possible what i've missed, and i hope we can all learn together. cuz' this shit is gonna be bigger than Post-Its.
(and for more thoughts on marketing optimization & startup metrics, check out my post on Web Strategy for Pirates: AARRR!)
good luck Narendra & Scott... i think you guys have some great market opportunity to go after ;)
UPDATE2: Justin Smith over at Inside Facebook just totally one-upped me on with his recent piece on Facebook News Feed Optimization (NFO) is the new SEO. Read it. it's fucking brilliant. (damn.)