Facebook’s head of brand design shares strategies for social apps

Facebook Global Head of Brand Design Paul Adams offered marketers at Pivot Conference in New York City recommendations for applying Facebook’s product development principles to their own apps and social campaigns on the platform. These include “Build many lightweight interactions” and “Design, build and ship in six weeks.”

Adams, who leads the creative solutions team at Facebook, says brands and agencies often mistakenly build apps that are too “heavy” and “immersive,” when they should be enabling people to take many lightweight interactions over time. He compares marketing to developing a relationship with a person.

“People’s perceptions of other people aren’t immediate,” he says, noting that there isn’t typically a single event that leads two people to become best friends or fall in love. Similarly, marketers shouldn’t expect to change perceptions and have users take significant actions right away, he says. Apps and campaigns should be more conversational and allow back and forth interaction.

As marketers try to do this, Adams says, they should try not to emphasize “getting people to share.” Instead, they should “focus on why people talk.”

Sharing has both taken on and lost some meaning with Facebook. When marketers think about encouraging consumers to share, they lose sight of what sharing truly is and why people do it. Ultimately sharing is a means to an end for talking, Adams says, and people talk to build relationships, manage how others perceive them and to help others. Thinking about those motivations may help marketers create the type of content and experiences that people will want to share on Facebook.

Along the same lines, Adams says it is important to design the News Feed stories of an app before designing the rest of an app. This tends to be the last step of the app design process, but Adams believes this should be reversed because News Feed is where the majority of people will discover an app. Adams notes that there are three places to reach users on Facebook: News Feed, a page and canvas. Marketers are often drawn to canvas because it is a large white space that can be fully customized. In reality, there are few times that a user will visit canvas before seeing something about an app in News Feed. Without compelling News Feed stories, an app is going to have difficulty growing organically.

“You should design first for what people see first,” Adams says. “Reverse engineer to get the best story possible from your app.”

As for examples of companies doing it right with Facebook apps, Adams frequently used the Lay’s Do Us a Flavor campaign as an example. Consumers were invited to come up with their own new flavor of potato chip and vote on other people’s ideas by using an “I’d eat that” button. Those actions were shared through Open Graph, creating engaging News Feed stories, he says.

Adams also emphasized the importance of building quickly, getting a product out and iterating. He shared the following principles that Facebook operates by: “If you don’t ship, it doesn’t exist;” “Design, build, ship in six weeks; “After you ship it, change it.” He encouraged marketers to experiment more frequently rather than investing a lot of time and money into a single project, especially because human behavior can never be fully predicted.