ADOTAS – There are a large number of successful Facebook applications in terms of number of installs and monthly active users (MAU), a statistic that Facebook provides to track application engagement. Applications such as Mafia Wars or Farmville have high MAU numbers.
However, successful commercial Facebook applications (called business applications in Facebook parlance) are extremely rare, such as “Marketplace,” the application that enables Facebook users to buy, sell and trade with the Facebook community.
Should you decide to create a commercial Facebook app, outlined below are 10 lessons learned:
1. Facebook applications are not long-term: Even if you somehow get Facebook users to install an application, the long-term prospects are bleak. The best approach to marketing on Facebook is to create applications that promote brand awareness. Alternatively, create applications that are hosted on multiple properties — including Facebook — that help with multichannel awareness for a specific campaign.
2. Draw in users: A common mistake for marketers is to force the Facebook user to install an application the moment the user interacts with it. This causes a lot of user opt-outs. Opt-in rates dramatically improve if instead, simple features of the application are hosted on the organization’s Facebook fan page. Once the user gains a level of comfort, the user is more likely to install the application and provide other application permission grants to use the social features of Facebook, such as posting to a stream, inviting friends, etc.
3. Users loathe providing personally identifiable information: Asking users to provide extra data, such as an email address for a sweepstakes campaign, causes high opt-out rates. This occurs because users believe that their information is already available in Facebook. They are suspicious of the application’s intent. It is best to use native information, programmatically, without additional user interaction within Facebook.
4. Free is better than sweepstakes and sweepstakes are better than contests: Facebook users want instant gratification. Therefore, the least perceived effort towards a reward, the higher the engagement. Users will be more compelled to install and engage with an application if they receive a 10-percent-off coupon instantly rather than record a video to win a contest.
5. Launch applications early for organic growth: The least risky approach to a successful application is to release it as early in the program’s duration as possible with the capability to track all user analytics. Teams agonize on what feature(s) will increase virality and engagement around an already existing business goal.
Many times the business goals of a commercial application (e.g. sell more products around the holiday season) are not really conducive in Facebook. In such cases, it’s better to create a new concept and wrap the business goal around the concept.
For example, build an application to display products based on predetermined personas which are matched up to a user, based on a quiz. Quizzes are fun and accepted Facebook interactions while enabling product placement.
6. Buy Facebook ads: Even though everyone is convinced they have the next killer application, very seldom do commercial Facebook applications actually take off on their own. Reserve money for online ads.
7. Watch for Facebook policy changes: Facebook changes policies and backend API’s occasionally and sometimes without much advance notice. Recent examples include the inability to contact sweepstake winners using Facebook mail and changes to the backend java API, which disallows fan pages from posting to a user’s wall. In order to maintain compliance with Facebook’s policies, adjustments are necessary and sometimes time consuming.
8. Design applications that are Facebook friendly: When designing Facebook applications it is important to be aware of the types of actions that Facebook encourages and the types of actions that Facebook does not permit.
Understand the various types of application/user interactions and what they are intended for while ensuring that the application complies with Facebook recommendations. The main types of Facebook interaction, in order of importance, are:
- Activity Stream Posts
Use messages and email sparingly or not at all, if possible. Attempting to circumvent standard Facebook etiquette and protocol is not recommended.
9. Keep application design simple: Guarantee that the recommended 760 pixels width is followed and avoid creating applications with multiple pages with varying heights. Facebook users typically expect simple interfaces. If an application is too busy, it might be better to create a teaser application — a simple Facebook application that previews a more robust application on the company’s website.
10. Cross-browser issues: Ensure that developers test the application frequently in multiple internet browsers. Cross-browser issues can become troublesome if not accounted for.
Just like application development in any new environment, define your objectives, observe Facebook user behavior, understand Facebook backend technology, deploy the application and iterate. This will help ensure a successful experience for all.