10 tips for releasing your Facebook application, and maximizing growth

So, you’ve got a great new facebook app, and you’re salivating at the prospect of unchecked viral growth? Well, who isn’t. Here’s a few tips on how to get as much traction as possible with your new app (in no particular order):

1. Spend time on your icons and screenshots – This is the first interaction your potential users will have with your app, so it had better be impressive, especially if you have competitor apps already out in the wild. There are three pieces to worry about: an application icon (16 x 16 pixels), an application logo (75 x 75 pixels) and a screenshot of any size you choose (which will be resized to the width of your About page). Make sure you have all of these ready to go before taking your app live. In particular, the screenshot should be a picture of your application in action, not just the logo again. You want your users to see the coolness they will accrue by adding your app–not an opaque logo which could hide an ugly app.

2. Spend time on your app’s copy – Users don’t read much, so you have to be smart in how you describe your app wherever it is advertised. You have the most space in your about page, but you’ll still want to be concise. Focus on how your app is different (better) than other ones, and point out the benefits of using it with exciting (but not over-hyped) language. More important is the copy which will be used in the various directories you’ll submit your app to. You have about 250 characters to wow the audience and win converts, so make your phrases tight and punchy. To be consistent, you can use this same text whenever you advertise your app, or share it with friends on Facebook.

3. Submit your app to the directories – There are two important directories to submit your app to. The most important is, of course, the official Facebook directory (found in your Developer app). To submit your app to this directory, it will need 5 users, though, so you may not be able to do it immediately. Also, be warned that it has been taking multiple days (my apps still haven’t shown up after 5) for apps to appear in the directory. There is also the unofficial New Apps directory, which is currently tracking about 100 apps, most of which haven’t made it into the official directory, with an increasing number of apps added every day. Submit your app here to gain some exposure with the early adopter types–and convince your friends to come vote for you there, so you can show up in the Top 10.

4. Time your release – be aware of the usage patterns of the social networks into which you’ll first be releasing your app (i.e., your friends’ Facebook-using habits). If you want your app to gain traction quickly, make sure people add it while their friends are online and browsing around with nothing better to do than add apps. The sooner you can break into new social circles, the better off your app is.

5. Communicate with users – set up a “Feature Request” thread and a “Bugs” thread in your app’s About page, and visit it often (though you’ll be doing that anyway to see how many users you’re getting). Squash any bugs your users point out immediately, and err on the side of over-posting in response on the forums. Users are more likely to use your product if it looks like you’re actively developing it and adding features. If users have specific problems, it’s appropriate to message them individually and let them know the problem has been resolved, or that you’re working on it. In a social network, the only way you’ll gain traction is via the recommendations of your current users to their friends, so make sure you generate a lot of goodwill.

6. Track your growth – from day 0, set a specific time each day to record the number of users your app has. As your app grows, this will be telling data. You can set up a spreadsheet with a few columns: Date, Time, and Current Users. Then you can create some formula columns that, for each row, give you information like how many new users you had today, and your rate of growth as compared with yesterday’s.

7. Get all of your friends to adopt your app – Don’t be heavy-handed about it, but send tactful messages to your friends, even ones you don’t normally talk to. It’s cool that you’re making an app for Facebook, and some might add it just because you’re their friend. Try and convince them to use Facebook’s “Share” feature to let their friends see the app. See who the biggest social butterfly in your friends list is, and focus on him or her.

8. Submit your app to InsideFacebook.com – in addition to general internet marketing for your blog, let us know about it. We profile a lot of apps, and are more likely to profile yours if you send us a descriptive e-mail–thankfully, if you’ve followed the above steps, you’ve already got some great copy and screenshots to send us!

9. Hang out in #facebook on freenode – If you’re an IRC chatter, hang out with other Facebook devs in #facebook. This is a good place to make connections, and to find devs who might be willing to test your app, and give you feedback. Even if you’re still in the idea stages, it’s a good idea to visit, since these devs have a handle on what apps are being developed already, and you may find your app idea has already been coded. It’s also cool to let others know when your app is released, as long as you contribute generally to the room as well. These folks know a lot about app usability issues, code issues, and what’s going on in terms of real-life Facebook dev gatherings.

10. Don’t be evil – It’s sad and frustrating when you release an app only to find that a similar one made it into the directory just a day before you, and now has thousands of users, while yours languishes at a mere 42. The temptation is there to hop onto that app’s About page and start a thread explaining how your app is better, how the other app’s devs are copycats, and all the rest. But don’t do this–it just leaves a sour taste in the mouth of any potential users who read it. Let your app’s merits speak for themselves through use. If a competing app has better features, add them to your app with some modifications, or think creatively about what’s lacking in your competitor’s app, and hurry to implement and advertise those. In general, don’t resort to lame advertising tactics. It will come back around as bad press sooner or later.

Well, there it is. I hope these are helpful tips for releasing your next killer Facebook app. I have found them to work well while developing and marketing my three apps. And remember, with a social network the size of Facebook, there’s room for all of us! Also, if you have any tips or tricks that I didn’t mention, please feel free to add them in the comments!

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