Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A call for new tools: starting with observations on successful Facebook applications

One of things that I've noticed about the social media revolution is that it seems to be a lot easier to find big, visionary talk than new tools and practical guidelines for how to do it. In any google search I can find thousands of blog posts about how the world is changing but when I searched for advice or models about how to write a new creative brief that would help creatives develop work for a multi-platform world, I couldn't find anything. My direct queries on the various socmed platforms asking for existing models didn't yield much either.

I think it's pretty established now that the world is changing. What we--all of us, but I'm writing for strategic/brand planners in particular--need now are some new tools to help us navigate and develop work for the changing landscape.

So, in the positive, can-do, crowdsourcing spirit of social media, I decided to try for myself in the hope others will complement/supplement/edit/critique my work as I go. I'm not going to start with the digital/platform brief because that's going to take some work. But there are plenty of smaller tools I need to develop as well.

For instance, one of the things I need right now is a set of high level strategic guidelines for developing successful applications. Chances are, like me, both your creatives and your clients are looking for help guiding the development of branded applications on facebook and iphone. The interest has only heightened as we approach the holiday season in which (as my creative director partner Jason Gaboriou recently pointed out) we are assuredly going to see a hailstorm of holiday-themed gift-finder-ish apps.

Just to be clear, I'm not talking about technical guidelines for developers (e.g. what to do with uninstalls) but rather clues to what makes a good experience based on current consumer behavior (though of course the areas overlap these days). Here's my working list. I'm starting at a very high level of generality, because I'm finding it's what my clients and some more traditionally-trained creatives need.

I'm absolutely positive there are people out there who know more than me on this subject so hope they jump in and correct me either here or on twitter @copia

  • Support with marketing, both online and off: the early fantasy of digital media (that people will just find it for themselves) is over. In this very crowded field, you need to help even your loyal consumers find your stuff.
  • Be social: Doh! Facebook is a social medium. App’s should have a social component which means there is a built-in reason to spread it around. Ideally, it should facilitate an exchange of information rather than just a dissemination.
  • Fads are real: We always complain about fads in marketing, but the majority of apps tend to move in and of popularity pretty fast. Consider linking to timely events and don’t expect it to last forever.
  • Keep it simple: Most successful apps do one or two things well. Facebook is simple. It shouldn’t be more complicated than Facebook itself
  • Utility and entertainment is better than utility or entertainment. App’s which actually offer something useful tend to have longer shelf lives. Many app’s have succeeded by just entertaining but they need to be pretty funny.
  • Profiles as content: Facebook connect now enables app’s to customize experience based on user data. Think of user profiles as content
  • Online behavior is still behavior: extend, enhance, supplemnt the most popular and frequent online behaviors: searching, shopping, playing, flirting, (though of course this changes fast as diagram below from 07 indicates).


Gretchen said...

Great post. I'm so struggling with this right now as a planner. Currently on deadline writing a social strategy with real direction, phased approaches, valid recommendations based on real behavioral data. And of course a little bit of intuitive insight. Hopefully between the group of us working through this now we'll have a nice plan we can all share. What is the source of the graph?

Paul Soldera said...

I'd throw in some type of competitive context. Meaningful differentiation from other similar applications. While ads get served, apps are 'chosen' so the competitive context needs to be kept front and center. I guess that is not really a 'user experience' issue, but it feels like it needs to be in there.

sk said...

Thanks Gretchen. Yeah, there isn't enough existing data or at least consistent success to make a lot of hard claims. Graph just came from an old blog post. Thought it was funny that something so recent could look so old. Ah, interesting times.

Good point, Paul. I actually started writing the doc as a set up to need for differentiation/breakthrough point: managing expectations for the firestorm of holiday-themed apps which are about to hit us. But your distinction (served vs. chosen) sharpens the point. Tx