Why Brands Should Consider a Facebook App

Guitar Hero, the video game where you unleash your inner rock-legend, totally changed the video game market. When the game was first released, it captured a 91 Score (out of 100) on the very influential Metacritic site. It changed how people thought about “gaming,” not to mention “gamers.” The game was featured on television shows and in magazines. It sparked the sales of new game machines and introduced gaming to an entirely new audience. It was hailed as a wild success in gaming, selling 1.5 million copies and making $45 million.

FarmVille is a video game, released by a company called Zynga. In it, you watch grass grow. Alright, the game is a bit more complicated than that. You play a farmer, growing crops and raising livestock. You purchase seed, land, animals, buildings, and vehicles using a special in-game currency. You earn the currency through experience, but also by actually buying it with your credit card. The game itself is free.

Currently, FarmVille has over 60 million daily, active users. The publisher is private, so there is no publicly accessible financial data available. But there are plenty of estimates. Most of them take a leap from a charity drive that Zynga put on earlier this year, where $320,000 (in real money) was raised in three weeks for a charity. The pundits have multiplied this out, and landed at somewhere in the range of hundreds of millions of dollars being generated annually from the game.

Clearly, there’s something going on here. You have to search pretty hard to find more compelling evidence that social media has disrupted the normal state of business. But, oddly enough, we aren’t seeing very many brands in this space.

The Opportunity for Facebook Apps

While there are several apps developed for the iPhone by brands, there aren’t nearly as many for the Facebook platform. In fact, we hear from brands pretty frequently that they want an iPhone app, but not necessarily a Facebook app. But that certainly wasn’t always the case.

When Facebook first opened up its platform to developers, a bunch of big brands dove in, launching lots of applications with lots of functionality. The problem was, no one seemed to be using any of these applications. Brands were there but the consumers weren’t. Nothing looks more desperate than a branded community with no one in it.

But that was another time and another Facebook. The site has gone through a series of pretty significant changes since the platform was first opened up. The interface, while still a jumbled mass of feeds, tabs, updates, and ads, has simplified what it does with applications. They now live under a tab that is (for some reason) called “boxes.” And while the name could be better, it certainly makes it easier for a consumer to know where these applications are and how to get to them.

The application space itself has also greatly evolved. The first crop of Facebook applications — branded and unbranded — were universally awful. They broke all the cardinal rules of creating good interactive content and functionality. They didn’t provide any inherent value, they duplicated already-existing functionality, they had awful interfaces, and were not even fun to use.

Today, though, we’ve hit a new stride, and Zynga is really showing the way. It started out by creating a great application and a fun game. The fact that it runs on the Facebook platform is almost secondary. The point is not that Zynga created a Facebook app, but that it created an app it thought people would like. It was right and is now benefiting from it.

Why You Should Reconsider Facebook Apps for Your Brand

The Facebook app space is ripe for another round of experimentation from brands, but only if you’re ready to do it in a way that is strategic and focused on generating some real value. Here are a few ways to approach this:

  • First, start with an idea that is Facebook-independent. That is, follow the FarmVille example. Too many brands began by thinking about functionality that they wanted to build that leveraged Facebook itself. Instead, come up with some functionality that you think people would like and will generate value for your brand. Then, think about how launching this on Facebook would improve that functionality. Generally, this is going to mean that you are going to tap into people’s social graph.

  • Second, don’t get too focused on viral spread of your application. Create an app that is for the person who decided to install it. Don’t make the functionality too closely tied to getting him or her to spread it to friends. People are massively tired of companies attempting to turn them into broadcast stations. If people like what you’ve done, they will spread it.
  • Lastly, find a good programmer who understands the Facebook platform, which offers richness that can make your app a truly unique offering. Also, make sure that you have reasonable expectations. FarmVille is clearly a massive success and a business in and of itself. Don’t try to recreate the volume, instead try to learn from its approach.

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