Facebook Prohibits Promotion of Apps on Competing Social Platforms, Unapproved Soft Offers

Facebook has updated its Platform Polices, prohibiting apps from linking to or promote apps on competing social platforms, and from rewarding users with virtual currency, goods, or downloads through a third-party for taking an action. These policy changes, reported by TechCrunch, will prevent developers from directing traffic from their Facebook apps to off-site destinations, or from incentivizing user actions unless done with Facebook Credits or without the aid of third-parties.

The policy changes were not announced on the Facebook Developer Blog or anywhere else. Facebook may only enforce the ban on linking to competitors in more aggressive cases. Still, fear of enforcement may limit how developers can promote versions of their apps on other platforms such as Google+’s recently launched games platform, hampering growth for both developers and platform owners.

Banning Cross-Platform Promotion

Facebook already prohibited advertising for competing social platforms on its website. Now it’s Platform Policies states “I.11 – Apps on Facebook may not integrate, link to, promote, distribute, or redirect to any app on any other competing social platform.”

This policy update could be seen as an extension of that ban, meant to cover developers who are effectively advertising within the real estate of their own games. Alternatively, it could seen as an limiting developers from driving engagement on other platforms from users whose engagement they won on Facebook. Many Facebook developers currently use banners and pop-ups on their canvas apps, as well as Facebook wall posts to promote their presence across the web.

Much will depend on how Facebook interprets “social platform”. If this is taken to mean other web services offering a very similar developer platform within a social network, such as Google+, it would be more sensible, though a sign that Facebook believes these platforms have the potential to serious complete with it. If the term is interpreted to include vastly different mediums such as mobile or console app and game platforms, it could prohibit developers from offering users a more 360 degree experience, where they could play different parts of the same game or access different functionalities of an app while on their mobile device.

UPDATE: Facebook has clarified that the policy update does not apply to cross-promotion of mobile apps or off-platform apps available through a developer’s homepage. Read more on our sister site, Inside Social Games.

If cross-platform promotion is important to a developer, they may either have to leave Facebook, or silo their Facebook app or game experience while their presence on more open social platforms seamlessly integrate across mediums and platforms.

Fewer Incentive Options

Beginning July 1st when Facebook made Credits the mandatory exclusive payment method for Facebook games, it restricted how developers could reward users. Essentially, developers could only reward users with:

  • Anything if through Facebook’s approved offer partners
  • A developer’s own virtual goods or currency if a third-party isn’t involved
  • Only a developer’s own virtual goods through a third-party if the offer didn’t require a user’s personally identifiable information
The policy change strikes this third option as such: “you may not reward users with virtual currency for engaging in passive actions offered by third parties, such as watching a video, playing a mini-game, or taking an anonymous poll.”
This means that to reward users with the help of a third-party, developers must go through Facebook’s approved offer partners, namely TrialPay and other approved partners that feed it offers. Otherwise they must only be giving away their own virtual goods, and the actions a user takes to earn the reward must only deal with the developer itself, such as watching a video trailer for another one of its Facebook games. These limitations will make it more difficult for developers to monetize, though Facebook likely sees the move as improving the quality of offers seen on its Platform.
Along with restricting developers, this will ban from Facebook all unapproved soft offer providers — those that help developers show video ads, fill out anonymized surveys, or interact with branded content. The only offer providers now allowed on the Facebook Platform are TrialPay, Sharethrough, EpicSocial, SocialVibe, Deal United, and SupersonicAds. All others will have to seek approval from Facebook or do business elsewhere.
These Platform Policy changes impact a wide variety of developers, social platforms and third-party providers, yet they weren’t properly announced. This means some developers are likely unaware that they are violating Facebook’s policies. With enforcement for violations meaning suspension or expulsion from the Facebook Platform that can cost developers lots of money, it was irresponsible not to make the changes more obvious.
It’s these kinds of secretive moves that could push developers to look more into the same social platforms it’s aiming to stifle, while it also makes efforts to improve discovery and virality for games and apps at the same time.

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