An internal note from Facebook shows the company using a viral polling app as a “psychological trick” to attract teenagers to the platform.
According to BuzzFeed, following Facebook’s purchase of the viral polling app TBH in October, the social media Masters of the Universe used data and methods developed by the app to help its own growth strategy, specifically targeting teenage users. Internal documents obtained by BuzzFeed News show that TBH explained to Facebook their methods used to attract teenagers and specifically high schools to download its app.
In the private note, the founders of TBH told Facebook how they used a “psychological trick” to acquire large amounts of teenage users, the trick was a combination of grabbing Instagram data from high schooler’s accounts, taking advantage of the average class dismissal time, and targeting youthful curiosity. Facebook shut down TBH last month due to “low usage,” but it would appear that its $30 million acquisition of the app was not a complete waste of money as many of TBH’s user growth methods could easily be applied to Facebook.
“The purpose of sharing these tactics is to provide guidance for developing products at Facebook — specifically ones that have not reached product-market fit yet,” TBH’s founders wrote. Nikil Viswanathan, a tech entrepreneur and co-founder of the popular app Down to Lunch, discussed Facebook’s possible use of these methods saying: “Facebook knows they need to win over the next generation and they need to try everything. They’re smart to spend a little to pick up someone doing something meaningful just so that they can learn.”
TBH noticed that teenagers regularly list their high school in their Instgram bio. TBH would then use a private account to visit a school’s location page and follow all accounts that included the school’s name in their bio. TBH made sure that the private account they used featured mysterious wording in their bio such as “you’ve been invited to the new RHS app — stay tuned!” This creates a sense of mystery and appeals to youthful curiosity. One of these private accounts was made for each high school that TBH wanted to target.
“At 4:00PM when school gets out (The Golden Launch Hour™), add the App Store URL to the profile,” the TBH team stated in their note. The private profile would then be made public which would trigger a notification to all those that had requested to follow the account that they could now see the account’s content. Many would then see the link for the app on the profile and follow it.
TBH noted that the method was perhaps “too scrappy” for a company as large as Facebook, but the TBH team saw “analogous ways to employ these tactics at Facebook.” The team expanded on its plans to implement similar methods on the tech giant’s platform stating: “For example, when using Facebook’s Quick Promos (or QPs), we should avoid providing an instant download link.” The note continues: “Instead, we should request push notification permission to alert the targeted users at a later date. That way, we can collect their interest and contact them simultaneously to ensure critical mass during launch hour.”
The full internal memo can be read below:
At tbh, we built 15 products during the five years of our company. We had many painful lessons about product development that led us to design a systematic method of launching and testing new apps. The purpose of sharing these tactics is to provide guidance for developing products at Facebook—specifically ones that have not reached product-market fit yet.
1. Create a reproducible process of penetrating communities
Traditionally, most products get their initial users through press outreach. However, for social products, this is usually a formula for failure: you end up with highly fragmented users across your audience, meaning the community will not have critical mass. Users won’t be able to find their friends, aside from a handful of Silicon Valley socialites who are actively downloading new mobile apps.
In addition, the initial product is most likely multiple iteration cycles away from product-market fit. However, due to exposure created by the initial launch, the audience will be fatigued and ignore subsequent updates. And the press will also be unlikely to cover them.
Therefore, it is critical to design a process that allows you to launch vastly different product experiences within specific communities so your product can reach critical mass and so you don’t prematurely exhaust your audience’s attention.
How we did it
Our team obsessed with finding ways to get individual high schools to adopt a product simultaneously. We designed a novel method that was reproducible, albeit non-scalable.
Our first breakthrough was that we discovered that teen Instagram users would frequently list their high school in their bios (e.g. “Sophomore at RHS”). We would simply crawl the school’s place page and then follow all the accounts that contained the school’s name. However, we hit a roadblock: users would view our Follow Requests at varying times of the day so it derailed our efforts to get their attention simultaneously.
We eventually identified a psychological trick:
1. Set the app’s Instagram profile to Private.
2. Set the bio to something mysterious, e.g., “You’ve been invited to the new RHS app—stay tuned!”
3. Follow the targeted users.
4. Wait 24 hours to receive the inbound Follow Requests. (They were curious about our profile so they requested access)
5. At 4:00PM when school gets out (The Golden Launch HouseTM), add the App Store URL to the profile.
6. Finally, make the profile Public
This notified all students at the same time that their Follow Request had been accepted—and they subsequently visited our profile, looked at our App Store page, and tried the app.
We conducted these sorts of launches every few weeks until we arrived at the right product. Each time, we further automated the process and spotted inefficiencies. For example, Apple would review our apps slower when they were completely new submissions. So to solve that, we retained that same app binary—and submitted new products as an app update.
While some of our methods are certainly too “scrappy” for a big company, there are analogous ways to employ these tactics at Facebook. For example, when using Facebook’s Quick Promos (or QPs), we should avoid providing an instant download link. Instead, we should request push notification permission to alert the targeted users at a later date. That way, we can collect their interest and contact them simultaneously to ensure critical mass during launch hour. (Credit to [name redacted] for suggesting that method)
Facebook is in danger of dropping from the second most popular in America to the third due to declining traffic.