Wanted: App developers for Facebook

“Viral and engaging” were the two key words that developers and marketers kept hammering during the four-hour Facebookcamp Toronto on Tuesday evening, a free conference for industry insiders interested in creating applications for Facebook.

With an excess of 34 million regular users and about 15 billion page views per month, the world’s hottest social networking site could be a marketer’s candy store –  if developers can come up with the right recipe to monetize Facebook.

Interest in building applications for Facebook has been growing ever since the company opened up its application programming interface (API) to the public in May 25.

For instance, it took organizers only eight weeks to set-up the conference but more than 300 participants had signed up to attend necessitating a last minute change of venue to the larger MaRS building in downtown.

There are currently 2,349 approved applications on Facebook representing more than 100 million downloads. Toronto, with over 700,000 members, used to be the largest Facebook community until it was edge out this month by London, U.K., which has 813,000 members so far.

While current offerings may be “viral and engaging,” the majority hold no profit generating potential, according to some marketing experts.

“Facebook is like an Internet within the Internet and the opportunities are limitless,” says Colin Smillie, Facebookcamp organizer and managing partner for RefreshPartners, a Toronto-based boutique marketing firm specializing in using social media.

For example, he thinks banks and automakers should consider building a Facebook presence to gain access to the site’s hyper-interactive demographic groups. “Imagine a young consumer inviting 50 or more of his friends to download an application that’s tied in with your product and those 50 inviting their own friends to do the same.”

At the moment, there are two ways to make money:

  • Advertising – Unlike other social networks, Facebook has no restrictions from third party developers to run ads on their widgets. Apps that generate a lot of traffic while serving up ads can thrive here
  • E-Commerce – The top Facebook app is iLike, an application that enables users to identify their favourite music. The app also allows users to buy the songs they like and purchase tickets to concerts of their favourite artists

“This a giant advertising stream that you can target any way you want,” says co-organizer Andrew Cherwenka, vice-president of business development for Trapeze Media, an interactive marketing agency headquartered in Toronto.

Since Facebook users populate various clearly defined groups according to their interests, advertisers are already provided with a built-in audience differentiator, he said.

To attract the most users to your application, conference presenters suggest the following:

Keep it viral – Create something that people can download and share with friends in their group. Remember Tamagochi toys? Facebook has a similar application that allows users to design pets and allow their friends to pet and feed it as well. Forget about traditional marketing methods; the users are your marketers, says Cherwenka.

Make it fun – An application has to enable users in an engaging action that can also involve other users. Graffiti on Facebook lets people put their art on their friends’ walls. My Aquarium allows users to create their own online marine collection and show it off to their friends.

Make it useful – Have some stuff you want to get rid of? Ricardo Covo, founder of Web Nodes, a software development company in Milton, Ont., developed an application that enables users to post items for sale or items they are looking for.
Another app, the Lending Club, enables community members to borrow money from each other. Carpool, by Zimride, does just that — connect drivers with passengers so that no one has to drive alone.

Appeal to vanity– Facebook users love to tell their friends what they are doing here and now, according to Meagan Marks, platform evangelist for Facebook.

Marks has the following “ninja tricks” for developers and marketers:

  • Think inside the box – The profile box that is. It is a window to the users “soul” and contains not too subtle hints on interest, networks, group affiliations, recently added and discarded applications
  • Location, location – The message box, wall, canvas page and profile action sections are the most used and viewed areas of a user’s page. They’re ideal spots to put ads or applications
  • Feed the need for feeds – Build applications that keep track of “relevant” interest or provide primary alerts to awaited events. “Facebook users want what’s here and now,” said Mark
  • Promote your browser – You can build apps that will promote or bring traffic to your browser
  • Cross-promote – Build apps that promote one another

Facebook’s control on applications on its site appears to be still in the evolutionary stages. At the moment, there are some apps that share the same functions and perhaps even similar names.

Marks said the company take a fairly hands off approach to the development. Should disputes regarding copyright or licenses occur between developers, she suggest they tackle the issue “outside of Facebook.”

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