Facebook Makes Badoo Change Its Viral Mechanics, Leading to a 75% Drop in DAU

Developers don’t have to explicitly violate Facebook’s policy to feel the wrath of the site’s enforcement team, as we’re reminded in a dramatic case today.

Last month we covered how social quiz app Badoo had gained 2 million daily active users in a few weeks using aggressive viral tactics such as placing roadblock in the user experience for users who weren’t sharing their quiz answers to the walls of friends. Then suddenly, the app lost 75% of its DAU. It’s now been revealed that Facebook requested the developer make significant changes to the app, triggering the decline.

The situation is an example of the subtlety of Facebook’s enforcement strategy. If a developer pollutes the site’s user experience even without violating a specific policy, Facebook won’t hesitate to threaten it with an audit and potential removal if it doesn’t comply with requests for changes. While this enforcement method is subjective and coercive, preserving trust in the Platform by coming down on abusive apps is in the best interest of the developer and user communities.

Badoo‘s social dating and friend finding site boasts 112 million registered users, which it monetizes through the freemium model where users pay for increased visibility and the ability to message strangers. To feed the top of the funnel it needs to draw in as many new users as possible. Its Facebook app was designed to do just that. Rather that focus on content, Badoo recently stripped away much of the functionality for new users except for its viral mechanics.

Users answer questions written in large font about their friends, but might not notice the tiny pre-checked box indicating their answers will be posted to that friend’s wall. If users uncheck this box, they see a pop-up roadblock with suggestive language asking whether they want to “Let friends know!” or “Keep them ignorant”. These two tricks combined to drive explosive growth of the app, which drew our eye, and Facebook’s ire.

Between April 13th and 15th, Badoo dropped from 4.1 million to 1.2 million DAU. Lloyd Price, director of marketing for London-based Badoo told the Financial Times that “After working with Facebook last week, we made requested changes to our application which has resulted in an initial drop in daily active users.” The app is now beginning to stabilize at just under 2 million DAU.

The app made the required notice about publishing to a friend’s wall quite inconspicuous, and added friction to the experience of refusing publication, but neither of these tactics are against the rules. Badoo didn’t have to make the changes, but it did instead of risking closer scrutiny of its compliance, which could have lead to an outright shut down. Facebook has disabled spammy quiz apps in the past, such as when it temporarily shut down Phrases worldwide, leading to swift 3 million DAU drop after it was reinstated outside the US. Badoo must have reasoned that going dark for a few days would have hurt it worse than the changes.

Facebook is sending the message to developers, “This is our Platform. Innovate and experiment, but don’t mess with the users.” Some developers previously told us they felt that Badoo was breaking policies, although Facebook told us at the time that it wasn’t. This new enforcement might confuse developers, but it might also encourage some to focus more on following the spirit of the platform rather than the letter of its policies.