Q&A with UK-based The iPlatform’s Joshua March on Helping Brands Use Facebook

Facebook recently announced a list of 14 preferred developer consultants — companies that the company recommends for building Facebook applications, pages or other forms of expert insight. We recently spoke to Joshua March of The iPlatform. His company is the only non-US one on the consultants list, and in the article below, he explains how he got on, what the challenges and opportunities are for brands (and the companies that work with them) in Europe, and other aspects of developing on Facebook.

Inside Facebook: What kind clients do you work with?

Joshua March: We’re split between working for agencies that have big brand clients (most of which we can’t name) and working directly with brands on variety of projects. We’ve worked with brands like Nestle and McDonalds, and with agencies like Mindshare and Razorfish. With the agency model we may provide full service, filling in the gaps where the agency has little in-house expertise, or often there will be in-house designers that we’re working with and we provide the technical and consultancy support. In terms of direct clients we’ve worked with ITV, Gumtree, Comic Relief, The Conservative Party and Ministry of Sound.

IFB: What kind of projects have you been working on?

JM: About half of our work comes from applications, mostly in the form of bespoke Flash games, but the other half is based around the platform we’ve developed that lets brands run competitions within their pages. It handles moderation, user tracking and the usual admin tasks and complies with Facebook’s requirement that competitions be run from an application. Competitions can be one-off or run daily. We provide this as a white label product and then skin it for the client. It’s not wholly self-serve but it is self-managing once it’s set up.

IFB: How did you find yourselves on Facebook’s preferred developer list?

JM: A number of brands were contacting Facebook about running competitions on the site, and they were then passed on to us because Facebook knew about our competition platform. We’ve also benefitted from the lack of a Facebook Platform team in Europe: media agencies deal with Facebook directly but there’s only really an ad sales team here, yet they’re still asked technical questions. So they’re passed onto our iPlatform team for technical advice and consultancy, especially with San Francisco being 8 hours away. Facebook have been one of our main sources of leads and that’s helped to build trust.

IFB: How do you find the level of social media expertise in London?

JM: It’s extraordinarily difficult to find people who know the social media space in London, but we’ve found we can educate them as long as they’re good in other areas. We’re around ten people at the moment, including consultants for individual projects, and looking to up the full-time number.

IFB: What sort of activity are you seeing from clients on the Facebook platform?

JM: The past six months have seen a lot more interest from brands in Facebook and social media. New media agencies are realising that they can’t build Facebook applications and are bringing in expertise such as ours. We have to educate them as the sign-off processes that brands like to see don’t transition well to Facebook. Facebook development needs more flexibility. Applications for fan pages have a lot of things to sign off on: reviews, comments etc. We almost had a project pulled when the client realised that they couldn’t prevent users from writing reviews about their application.

IFB: Are you seeing much interest in Connect?

JM: Fan pages and applications inside fan pages seem to be where the activity is at the moment. Part of this is that brands often take a year or two to catch up with the newest trends, so we may see more activity with Connect soon. Currently Connect is being seen as experimental budget where fan pages are more part of their main marketing activity. One interesting points is that Connect is probably better suited to the brand project process as you can have much more control over the user experience. You don’t have the same problems of working within the Facebook platform. Also, agencies understand Connect better and can plan strategies better as they’re more similar to their traditional projects than applications or fan pages are.