The Hidden Cost of Facebook Applications

Every day I talk with clients and prospective clients about developing Facebook applications and the best way to go about it. The reality of the matter is that unless you have some insanely catchy idea that naturally goes viral, chances are you are going to need some help. That help comes in the form of marketing. All the larger applications have been launching new apps which they the cross promote. For all the remaining applications (who now make up the majority), it is frequently close to impossible to gain significant traction.

While minimal traffic on Facebook still amounts to more than most websites drive in the first day, there is nothing that can be done to increase traffic except for the following:

  • Build in viral features (invites, news feed postings, catchy profile boxes … see top 5 viral techniques)
  • Invite all of your friends on a daily basis
  • Share the about page of your application so that it ends up in your news feed
  • Pay for advertising

Aside from that there is not much else you can do. This contrasts to websites which once picked up by search engines can immediately start getting traffic and as content is added can grow in size. On this blog for instance, over 50 percent of my traffic comes from search engines. This is not the case for Facebook applications since they can’t be crawled. The result?

As the application market becomes saturated it is going to become increasingly challenging to make your application go viral. Not that it wasn’t already challenging to make things go viral (see the book “Made to Stick“), but without search engines, driving traffic suddenly became a lot more expensive. In contrast to a website, your only hope of success is having your application go viral. While your odds of going viral are significantly increased on Facebook, I question the long-term sustainability. The number of applications that go viral without the assistance of marketing are going to decrease significantly in a short period of time. What do you think?