Over the past few months I have been tracking the progression of Facebook Connect sites including what sites are implementing them as well as what creative widgets are being developed. Occasionally I even speak about the business proposition presented by Facebook Connect and how it compares to services such as Twitter. Over the past few days I’ve spoken with Facebook who has cleared up a few misunderstandings I had about the service.
Given that I didn’t completely understand everything, I can only imagine that there are numerous developers, business owners, and others who are not clear about what you can and cannot do with Facebook Connect. With a complete understanding of the service, I’ve decided to outline a list of the best practices for any company deciding to implement Facebook Connect.
1. Thou Shalt Consider Out of the Box Solutions
While it’s frequently easy to come up with a better way to implement Facebook Connect (or other technologies), using existing systems can reduce the headache and time to launch for any Facebook Connect implementation. Take our advice: existing services will reduce the headache. Even if you are a programmer, Facebook Connect development can rapidly become tedious and cumbersome. While Connect is a robust platform, bugs are a frequent thing with new Facebook Connect services and as such it’s much better to use a service which is proven.
We will be launching our own out of the box solution for Facebook Connect in the coming weeks but a number of other services have already launched. For example the Disqus commenting platform provides instant Facebook Connect functionality for any blog looking to implement the service. Movable Type has also implemented Facebook Connect and has made it easy for bloggers using their platform to implement it. If you want to stay up to date on existing plugins that work with Facebook Connect check out Facebook’s Plugin Directory. We will also be posting about new services as they roll out on AllFacebook.com.
2. Thou Shalt Provide Multiple Login Options
While some may want to simply implement Facebook Connect as the only login system for their site, providing multiple options for registering or logging in is important. Even on AllFacebook.com we continue to have commenters who choose not to comment with their Facebook account. It’s important to let users connect to your site no matter what method they would like to use to connect. This position would also be useful for suggesting that Google Friend Connect should be used in conjunction with Facebook Connect. Currently though, implementing both Google Friend Connect and Facebook Connect doesn’t make much sense. The main point here is to integrate Facebook Connect with your existing registration system.
3. Thou Shalt Understand Facebook’s Terms of Service
Yes, I realize that there is a ton of buzz surrounding Facebook’s aggressive terms of service for users and one could theoretically argue that the developer agreement is just as ridiculous. As Eric Marcoullier said on Twitter yesterday “FB TOS: We cant delete your data because other people might be using it. FBAPI TOS: U can’t store data cuz user might delete it.” We’ll ignore the conflicting terms for the time being and simply take a look at how to work in the existing environment.
For most, implementing Facebook Connect while not violating Facebook’s terms of service will be easy. For those looking to develop custom applications though, you may quickly find that the tools you would like to build are in fact a violation of Facebook’s terms of service. This is especially the case for those building custom widgets that are intended to be distributed across multiple websites. At the current time, Facebook has not completely clarified what is kosher when it comes to widgets. While the company has released their Fourth Party Code policy, there is still a need for further clarification. Both Disqus, and JS-Kit, two commenting services for blogs have implemented Facebook Connect in ways that push the limits of Facebook’s terms of service. So far no action has been taken and Disqus suggests that they have been working with Facebook on the current implementation but not everything is clear.
4. Thou Shalt Leverage Facebook’s Feed Publishing Capabilities
Social distribution is one of the primary benefits of leveraging Facebook Connect. As your site gets published to users’ feeds, your site instantly has the potential for becoming viral. When running a website, it is your duty to ensure that the site acquires as many new users as possible. Publishing user actions to their news feed is one of the quickest way to drive new users to your site. On blogs, the most frequently used news feed story is the publishing of blog comments as pictured below. Each site has their own actions that users engage in but to be most effective, make sure to prompt users to publish feed stories about the most important user activities.
5. Thou Shalt Build in Basic Community Features
One of the most important components of implementing Facebook Connect is the potential for community features. If you have visitors who have taken the time to register with your site, it would be beneficial to highlight these individuals. Also, making community members to new visitors provides an incentive for new users to join. When I launched a simple community widget on AllFacebook.com, I obtained over 300 new registrants within days. Less than 10 percent of those individuals actually left a comment on the site. This means that there is the potential to immediately capture information about those visitors who are not active community participants.
One feature that should be implemented within the community features of your site is the ability to view which of a user’s friends have already joined the site. If your site provides a common bond between two or more individuals, there is a greater likelihood that they will return to the site in the future.
6. Thou Shalt Leverage Connect’s Invite Feature
The vast majority of Facebook Connecti implementations so far do not include any sort of invite feature. This is somewhat surprising since Facebook’s invite feature is one of the best promotional tools on the Facebook platform. One potential reasons for the lack of widespread implementation of the invite feature is that there is some confusion between Connect’s traditional invite feature and their friend linking tool. I will discuss friend linking as the next best practice for Facebook Connect implementation. If you are a developer or one of your developers is looking for details on how to implement Facebook’s invite feature within Connect-enabled websites, check out the <fb:serverfbml> documentation page in the developer wiki.
7. Thou Shalt Alert New Connect Users to Local Friends
As I mentioned under the previous best practice, Facebook Connect enables you to alert users as to which Facebook friends a user has that are also registered for the local website. This can be accomplished using the <fb:connect-form> tag as described in the developer wiki. I should clarify that the <fb:connect-form> is for defining local relationships yet it’s not necessary to use this method to discover existing relationships on the local site. It’s also possible to use other comparison methods for determining whether or not a user’s friends have registered for your site. my.SXSW for example, checks a user’s friends’ names against their registration database to create a more comprehensive list since Facebook Connect is not a mandatory registration step.
Regardless of how connecting local users to their existing friends is technically accomplished, the point is that it significantly increases engagement if their friends have visited a site. If you are going to implement Facebook Connect then letting users discover which of their existing friends have also registered should be mandatory for any business.
8. Thou Shalt Take Advantage of Application Notifications
In addition to invites and news feed stories, Facebook enables applications to post notifications to a user’s “updates” section. Notifications are also accessible to users within the navigation bar at the bottom of the Facebook.com website. Notifications can most definitely drive additional traffic to your website. Many internal Facebook platform applications have leveraged this capability but very few Facebook Connect enabled sites that I’ve interacted with post notifications. Integrating notifications into your Connect-enabled website will add plenty of value and virality.
9. Thou Shalt Make Registration As Obvious As Possible
One of the greatest opportunities provided by Facebook Connect is the ability to generate new sales leads. While some sites are generated for the purpose of building a large enough user base to survive off of advertising and affiliate income, most businesses want to generate new customers. Facebook Connect presents a huge opportunity for doing so. Providing support for Facebook Connect on my website has resulted in a huge spike in engagement or at least my awareness of new users visiting the site.
After developing a community widget for the sidebar of my site, over 2,000 people joined the community (so far) yet only a fraction of those individuals ever posted a comment. In other words, I was able to access details about who was visiting my site that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to see. The only barrier between me and access to a new user’s identity is the click of a single button. That’s why it’s important to make that button as obvious as possible. The more obvious the button, the more likely it is that a new visitor will register for your site.
10. Thou Shalt Request Extended Permissions
Most sites fail to do this and while Facebook could argue that it isn’t always necessary, I would say that way of thinking is wrong. If you ever want to contact a user again you must request extended permissions. You may not see a reason for contacting users now but in the future, I can guarantee you are going to want to. If a user never comes back to your site and you didn’t request extended permissions, that has essentially become a lost opportunity. Don’t make the mistake of forgetting to request extended permissions because you will most definitely regret it later.
One thing that should be clear about Facebook Connect is that everything you can do on Facebook’s platform, you can do on your website. There are no limitations with Facebook Connect sites. Everything that you could previously (and currently) do on Facebook, you can do on your website. That means you can send invites, notifications, post feed stories, and more. There is absolutely nothing that can be done on Facebook that you can’t do on your own website with Facebook Connect.
When implementing Facebook Connect you should keep these best practices in mind as they will help you provide a better experience for users and assist in maximizing your reach through the Facebook social graph.