13 Sure Fire Strategies for Launching Successful Facebook Applications

I spend a fair amount of time browsing through our Facebook application leaderboard to find what applications are growing on the platform. Every day it’s a different picture. Sometimes you find applications that are spamming the platform and other days you’ll find a really interesting application that you haven’t seen before. Regardless of type, there is still a huge potential to build successful applications on the Facebook platform.

While we’ve previously published buzz about the platform being dead, it’s currently far from it. The platform continues to thrive despite its occasional hiccups. Yes, there is controversy about honest versus dishonest developers but the fact remains that you can still build a popular application even with the new hurdles. Below are 13 strategies that you can use to immediately attract attention to your applications. Don’t be surprised if you use these strategies and your server gets overloaded with a massive onslaught of new users!

1. Copy Another Application

They say imitation is the biggest form of flattery. It’s also often times a really good business plan. In the world of Facebook applications, duplicating another Facebook application is frequently a fast track to success. I don’t recommend creating an exact duplicate though since at that point you could run into some legal issues. For those that are not very creative, duplicating applications is frequently the most efficient model for attracting a lot of users.

The highly viral applications, like snowball wars, tend to immediately attract numerous copycats which also often times attract tens if not hundreds of thousands of users. Even the top application developers use this strategy. For example, there is now an entire suite of Mob Wars applications created by Zynga and SGN which are essentially copycats of the original Mob Wars application.

I remember a saying in the movie hackers which was “Mess with the best, die like rest!!” If you modify that phrase a little you can come up with “Copy the best, soar beyond the rest.” Perhaps my derived version is a bit corny but you get the idea. Copy the top applications and there’s a good chance that you will attract a large number of users.

2. Put a New Twist On A Popular App

This is extremely similar to the first strategy that I outlined. If there is a popular application that appears to have an active user base but still doesn’t rank among the top 50 applications, you may want to explore ways to improve it. For example, Zynga’s version of Mob Wars is now one of the most popular applications on Facebook.

In this example Zynga simply provided more development and design resources to improve the application. I would guess that they also invested heavily in promotion in addition to thorough A/B testing. O.k., so perhaps that’s not the best example since Zynga clearly invested heavily in building out Mafia Wars. There are plenty of other applications that need improvements and you can be the one to do so.

This strategy clearly takes more investment then some of the other strategies I outline below. You can’t quickly duplicate larger applications since more development time went into creating them. If you are looking to build lasting value though, you are going to need to invest more significant development resources. So remember, if you can’t come up with an original idea, improve upon an existing one.

As Lupe Fiasco says in the song Superstar, “Did you improve on a design, did you do something new?” Improving upon existing applications can bring you great success.

3. Launch Holiday Oriented Applications

For the past two years, holiday applications have thrived on the Facebook platform. Every time another holiday comes around, I see a temporary spike in application traffic to those apps catering to the specific holiday. With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, love is spreading around Facebook through a number of applications.

One application, “Send Valentine Chocolate“, has attracted over 150,000 users in under two weeks. My guess is that they’ll be launching more holiday applications since they’ve called their company “Holiday Apps“.

There are numerous other applications growing due to Valentine’s day. Browse through our directory of the fastest growing Facebook applications and you’ll quickly find tons of applications for sending valentines, chocolate, love letters, and more. We’re almost two years into the Facebook application and there is still a market for holiday applications.

As always, niche holidays are always an easy grab but it appears that more popular applications are still ripe for the taking.

4. Niche Gifts

The most popular applications tend to have avid fan bases. For example, the YoVille virtual world application, created by Zynga, has an extremely active user base. There are also a number of fan pages that have popped up related to Yoville, a few of which have even become extremely popular. One application that is growing quickly is called “Pet Society Gifts“.

This application has taken advantage of the popularity of Playfish’s extremely popular Pet Society game and has made a gifting application targeted to it. Should you completely rip off another company’s brand? Definitely not. There are some great opportunities to build niche gift giving applications though.

Rochester Gifts is another application that picks an unfulfilled niche and provides them with a gift giving application. The application selects gifts that only locals would know about and then encourages them to donate the gift to friends. One problem with the application? It violates Facebook’s terms of service by unlocking more gifts as a user gives out more.

Regardless of their violation, the application clearly satisfies and unfulfilled niche and on Facebook there is still limitless niche possibilities.

5. Translate Existing Applications Into A Foreign Language

This is a huge opportunity for just about any developer. Take one of the more popular applications (not the most popular since the are probably translated already) and convert it into different languages. Also, a good strategy for choosing which language to translate into is to use our demographic statistics tool to find the fastest growing countries and then translate applications into each country’s native language.

There are now numerous fast growing applications written in Arabic, Chinese, Turkish, Russian, and many other languages. The point is clear: create similar applications in other languages and you’re sure to experience similar success.

6. Post Outrageous News Feed Stories

Last week in my Facebook privacy guide, I highlighted how news feed items published by applications can often times be invasive if not offensive. Regardless of how aggressive some application developers are willing to go for new users, the bottom line is that such tactics are successful at acquiring new users. Personally, I’d avoid trying to launch a similar application but so far “Have Sex!” has proven to be extremely successful.

While I believe the developers in this example may have pushed the limits too far (in that they publish a news feed story every time you visit the application), the model is clearly effective. By publishing news feed stories regularly with outlandish statements you rapidly increase the likelihood of friends of your users clicking through and adding the application.

By itself, this strategy is not extremely useful, but combined with an engaging application, this strategy can attract a ton of new users.

7. Integrate a Way to Rate Friends

This strategy continues to be successful. Jugement, a French application which let’s you rate friends based on various characteristics has experienced tremendous growth over the past week. The application has also followed one of our previous suggestions, “Translate Existing Applications Into A Foreign Language”, by essentially translating the “Compare People” application into French.

Friends for Sale is probably the most classic example of integrate a rating system into their application. While Friends for Sale isn’t simply “rate your friends on these factors”, the bidding on friends creates a natural ranking system among friends, creating a highly competitive environment. I think there is a clear distinction between rating and ranking though, which is why I separated this strategy from the 11th strategy below.

The act of rating friends to determine who’s the most popular, who’s the most friendly, who is the best looking, and others, caters to our inner high school yearbook ranking system. Any time you can list out friends into ranked lists, you are guaranteed to attract the attention of users. Unfortunately though ranked lists only attract temporary attention which is why you need to come up with other creative models for engaging users once you have their attention.

Begin with a friend rating system and you are on the path to Facebook application success.

8. Turn A Popular Fan Page Into an Application

This is something that I think many developers have failed to act on. Fan pages are a great indicator for what’s popular among users of the Facebook platform. That’s why we released out Facebook page statistics tool. For example Kinder Surprise, a popular chocolate egg which comes with a toy inside (and has been banned from the United States), is one of the most popular pages on Facebook.

That’s why it’s not surprising that the Kinder Surprise application is one of the fastest growing Facebook applications. I would argue that this is probably the single most effective strategy for figuring out a good application to build. Whether it’s celebrities, products, politicians, or just general topics, fan pages provide developers with a countless number of good topics to focus on.

Watercooler Inc. is probably the best example of an application developer that has build a large network of applications based around popular topics. While they inspiration probably wasn’t Facebook pages since they didn’t exist when the company launched, the concept is similar: go find the most popular topics and brands and build applications around them.

9. Create the Online Version of a Television Game Show

Yesterday while browsing through our application directory, I noticed that the Deal or No Deal application was spiking in traffic. It’s not surprising considering that it’s still a popular television game show. Similar to the last strategy I mentioned, which is to take advantage of popular brands, this one takes that a little bit further and suggests duplicating television game shows.

There are clearly risks involved. For example, the Scrabulous application went through a number of lawsuits and was forced to rename their application after creating the first version of Scrabble for Facebook. While it’s not a game show, it still had trademarks and copyrights related to the game and the same thing goes for television applications.

One good model is to recreate a television game show but call it something else. For example, I have yet to find a Facebook version of the “Price is Right” but I’m sure tons of people would end up playing it. While you may want to call the application something besides the actual name of the game show, this strategy is pretty much guaranteed to work.

The only problem with this strategy? Well, it takes a bit more programming to recreate a television game show on Facebook. Aside from the hurdles though, this is still a great model.

10. Create Culturally Oriented Applications

Facebook is all about expression of self-identity and part of our self-identity is our affiliation groups. One affiliation group that people tend to be strongly attached to is their cultural groups. Whether it’s religion or geographically related cultural activities, targeting sub-groups of users is always a great way to achieve rapid adoption. Many of the culturally related applications are in other languages so it’s hard for me to come up with a lot of examples, but I would say that the Shabbat Shalom application is one example.

There are a number of other applications that are culturally related but many of them have fairly uncreative application titles though. For example, the “Italian Stuff” application is growing quickly, yet it has a horrible name in my own opinion. There are a number of ways to brainstorm effective cultural applications.

The easiest way is to think of the most memorable places or activities when going on a vacation to any country. Applications based around native food dishes are also a great thing to consider. I’ll leave the brainstorming up to you though.

11. Create a Ranking System

I’ve already mentioned a rating system for friends, but ranking is much different. One of the better ranking systems I can think of is done through Grader.com. The site has a number of ranking systems including the Facebook grader which ranks the top Facebook users and top Facebook pages on the site. Many social gaming applications also have their own internal ranking systems.

These systems are great for incentivizing users to compete against their friends and other users on Facebook. The result is higher engagement and often times you see repeat usage as users try to work their way up the leaderboard. One interesting strategy to get users to return is to provide them with a higher ranking in the leaderboard. For example, users tend to rank higher among their friends then among all Facebook users.

By posting the leaderboard within their friends, it gives the impression that users aren’t really that far from the top spot. This indirectly encourages the user to return to try and gain the top spot.

12. Make People Feel Like They’re Part of an Inside Joke

This rule is a combination of making people feel like their part of an exclusive group as well as stroking their ego by emphasizing their intelligence. The Dunder Mifflin Nifty Gifties application is a good example of this. You can compare it to the “Watercooler effect”, which was when employees felt left out of the loop for not watching a certain television show the night before.

By catering to this sort of behavior, you can easily attract a large number of users by making them feel good for being in on the joke. Like many other strategies, this only generates temporary engagement. You will still need to create something which generates additional value for the user. Inside jokes alone don’t provide much lasting value.

The inside joke strategy will most definitely get you moving in the right direction for attracting a few new users.

13. Generate Creative Quizzes

I hate mentioning this one because there are already way too many quiz applications on Facebook. The funny thing is that this always works though. Browse through a Cosmopolitan magazine, and you’ll see it filled with tons of quizzes that are almost identical to ones they put in previous editions. Quizzes are as enticing as top 10 lists. They never fail to capture the user’s attention.

Encouraging the user to actually click the application is another story, but they’ll most definitely notice the quiz invitation. Quiz applications always rank among the fastest growing applications with our Facebook application leaderboard. Whether it’s “What character in Sex in the City are you?” or “What rock song best describes your life?”, people continuously add these applications.

Quiz applications have extremely short life spans for the most part though so you may want to quickly figure out somewhere to redirect users once they’ve completed the application. One way is aggregating all the quizzes into a single application. That’s what the developer of Quizzes application did. They now have over 35,000 daily active users.

Quizzes are a great step for first attracting users, but as I said, make sure you quickly find out another way to engage the users once they’ve completed the quiz. Also, please do me a favor and don’t create junk applications. Try to come up with something a little more creative!


These are just a few strategies for launching successful Facebook applications but there are many more. A great way to create an instant success is to combine many of the strategies we’ve listed above into one application. Don’t expect to see immediate success though just by using the strategies outline. You need to go through a little bit of trial and error and run thorough A/B testing in order to maximize your application’s “viral potential”.

With a little bit of luck and some late nights programming, you’ll should soon have a suite of new applications that rank you among the most popular Facebook application developers.

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