A little over a year ago I had the privilege of sitting in on the Stanford CS377W Facebook Class final presentation. I got a lot out of the experience and figured it be helpful to share some of it.
The course required students to form small teams and compete against each other building Facebook applications with the most users and the longest visit times. With apps like Dogeball, Yo Mama and Love Child, the presentation was as entertaining as it was informative about how to best build and tweak a social networking application to get your numbers up fast and keep the eyes on the page.
While these applications were designed to run exclusively on the Facebook platform, there are some good lessons here for anyone looking to build successful web applications in today's socially networked, Web 2.0 world. Here is what the students learned and shared in their presentation.
Keep it Simple: Create for Someone Not Everyone
You can't please everyone, so make sure you know who you're targeting with your application and stay focused on what they want and need. We do this at ZURB when we define our Customer Segments and then create Customer Profiles.
Users Only Invite Best Friends
This may seem obvious but keeping this fact in mind when you create incentives and plan your marketing will help you nail it.
~ 500 Daily Active Users is Good
The teams found this to be a magic number. Once this threshold was reached, things really started to take off. Knowing this may help you make a good decision about when to start and stop throwing more on the fire that you are trying to start.
Nail the X,Y,Z
The X,Y,Z referrers to Acquisition, Conversion, Retention. It's important to come up with a good strategy for how you will accomplish your goals at each of these three steps in the cycle. If any one of them is neglected you will have a hard time succeeding.
Measure the Behavior You Care About
This isn't an afterthought. Lost data opportunities can haunt you well into the future. Start tracking with Google Analytics from the get go. Then react quickly to the information you get. Defining the behaviors you want to see is the only way to know how good your changes are and it keeps you focused on the prize.
Have a Great Name
It may be tough to come up with, but it matters. Those applications that did well also had memorable names that evoked emotion, laughter or otherwise just seemed to resonate when shared.
Appeal to Emotion
The applications that grew like wildfire didn't really provide valuable business functions. Instead, most of them had a strong emotional component. If it was flirty, made fun of someone or passed on good will like Bless You it did well. Consider how you can work the emotional angle and you'll likely get a boost in acquisitions.
Have a Strong Call to Action
This may seem like a no brainer but you'd be surprised how much of a boost you'll get when you put a big ol' button front and center with a clear call to action like "Sign Up Now".
Create Incentives, Then Raise the Bar
The first step is to incentivise those you have converted to send you leads (their best friends). This could be as simple as a gold star next to their user name or it could be free service. Then you increase the minimum number of leads or conversions required to receive the reward. You might expect users to begin ignoring the incentive, but more often than not, teams found they had the bar too low and got way more out of the exchange when they raised it.
Take these nuggets into account on your web application and let us know if you don't see some performance improvements.