[This post was originally written by Charles Hull of Archrival | Dachis Group]
In 2007, Facebook launched Facebook Platform so third party developers could create applications that leveraged the Facebook social graph. Platform immediately became a hot property, with thousands of small developers jumping in the game, each eager to launch the next great application on Facebook, each trying to crack the code that would generate the holy grail of Facebook applications, lots and lots of monthly active users.
In the beginning, a few brands made the leap as well – with some notable successes and a few total failures. It quickly became clear that if brands were to be successful on Platform, they needed to provide value with their applications, not simply use it as another medium to push traditional advertising messaging. Over the last three years, some brands have tried, failed and moved on, and some have been successful and have built on that success to establish a strong presence on Facebook. Many brands are still testing the waters and making that first leap. For those brands, here are a few recommendations that will increase their chances of developing and launching a successful Facebook Application.
Keep It Simple
Applications should focus on one simple idea and execute it well. Don’t try to pack every campaign asset you’ve created into the Application canvas page, and don’t try to link together multiple interactive/content hooks, no matter how clever it sounds back in the boardroom.
Build On the Familiar
To lessen the learning curve, build off social ideas and concepts that people already know and are already familiar with. If you introduce an entirely new idea, it has to be easily understood to be successful at any significant level.
Think about ways your brand can add value to a Facebook users Facebook experience – provide utility, entertainment or convenience. If you are a greeting card company, you might want to think about developing an app that tracks friend’s birthdays first, before you build an app that features digital versions of your cards that people can send to friends.
Make it social. Obvious…you would think…
Don’t build an app whose only function is to try and push content or ads at people or get them to sign up for some service and expect people to add or share it or even use it. Will not work, period. Make sure that your app is focused on adding value to the user’s Facebook experience. Empower your users to use the Stream to share things they want to share about things they’ve made/created using your app, not just your canned brand message. On the flip side, Facebook is a part of many users’ daily lives/activities. Don’t clutter or annoy users with excessive notifications, messages, and invitations.
Do Your Homework
Dig around in the Facebook directory and see what apps are popular and most successful and understand why. Look for apps that are based on ideas that relate to your brand, and use that as a jumping off point. For example, if you are an alcohol brand, you might want to consider developing an app that allows friends to send a drink to a friend. This has been done repeatedly on Facebook, so the basic idea works…however, don’t directly copy it. The key is putting your on spin on it to tie it to your brand, and make it different enough to be interesting and fresh. Another alternative is simply sponsoring an existing app that already has a significant user base.
Budget Is Your Advantage
Most of the apps on Facebook are created by independent developers or small shops on shoestring budgets with little resources. As a result, most of the apps are poorly designed, buggy, not very sophisticated, and not premium. If a brand understands what makes for a successful app and adheres to these principles, users will appreciate the production value of a well-designed and developed application that has been built by pros, and that will reflect positively on your brand.
Package The App
Be sure and leverage all the available tools at your disposal on Facebook. Before launching an Application, for example, put resources towards developing a Facebook Page for your brand. This is a good place to house content and assets from other parts of the campaign or from brand archives, as well as provide custom content sections that drive traffic to your Applications. The goal of the page is build a fan base that can be engaged again and again with fresh content long after the life span of a specific application or content piece.
With several hundred thousand apps now available on Facebook, you need to allocate dollars to bring it to the attention of Facebook users once you launch it. Contact Facebook and let them know you are interested in developing an application and get them on board in the beginning. They will help you determine the best way to launch your app and cut through the clutter.
Work With Someone Who’s Done It Before And Knows Facebook
Your agency of record is not likely going to have a clue how to build a Facebook application, even if they have an interactive department. Find and work directly with a shop that has experience building Facebook Applications and listen to their ideas and recommendations, or make sure your agency outsources the Application development to an experienced developer.
Be Prepared To Maintain Your Application
Facebook is constantly changing to meet the needs of its users. This means their API – the tools that Facebook provides developers to integrate apps with Facebook – are constantly changing too. One change to the APIcould dramatically affect the way your application works. Make sure you choose a partner that is able to keep on top of these changes, and be prepared to listen to, budget for, and follow their recommendations in an ever changing environment.
Don’t forget the tracking. Apps offer unique ways to collect user data via forms and track with conversion tracking scripts. How do you turn a fan into a customer? You can’t begin to get to that question without the tracking.
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