Paul Allen, CEO, World Vital Records, sees social networking as the future of marketing for his subscription-based genealogy research service. His team created their own social networking site, FamilyLink.com, last spring to help genealogists create family trees and connect with researchers around the world.
FamilyLink now has 30,000 registered users, but Allen saw a bigger opportunity among Facebook’s 64 million active users. “Our own social network is growing slowly, and it’s going to be a big part of our future strategy, but Facebook is the biggest opportunity I’ve seen in 10 years on the Internet.”
When Facebook opened its platform to outside developers last year, Allen and his team moved quickly. In October, they launched a genealogy application for Facebook users called “We’re Related,” which lets people connect to their family members on the network and create family trees. To date, the app has been downloaded by 2.8 million Facebook members, and the activity within the application has doubled, making it the network’s #1 genealogy application.
Along the way, the team has been testing promotional methods, advertising strategies and lead-generation techniques to learn what role such social networking applications can play in their subscription marketing efforts. They’ve even begun developing co-branded apps with partner companies that want to offer family-related content and activities.
Here are eight tips from Allen on how to build a successful Facebook application and monitor its revenue- and lead generation capabilities:
-> Tip #1. Analyze marketing goals for application
Allen and his team rely on well-tested methods for subscription lead generation, such as affiliate and email marketing and cross-promotion with relevant partners, such as genealogy software vendors. So, when they considered creating a Facebook application, they didn’t necessarily expect it to immediately supplant those techniques.
Instead, they analyzed Facebook as a new channel to reach out to current and potential future subscribers. They saw several benefits to joining the platform:
- Free content distribution site
Offering free content to Web users interested in family history is a big piece of Allen’s subscription marketing strategy. It helps them to make connections between living and deceased relatives.
- Improving demographics
Facebook has been attracting a larger number of older users since it opened its network beyond the original college-age audience. Allen’s team has seen a huge growth in Facebook, for instance, among Canadians over 50 -- the typical age of a World Vital Records subscriber.
- New channel for family research tools
Facebook’s members present a new, younger audience for online genealogy tools. The social network creates an opportunity to distribute applications that introduce them to family research.
“We believe there’s a genealogist in every family -- either someone who’s doing it already, or a young family member who will become one later.”
-> Tip #2. Make app easy to use
Allen’s team spent several months trying to build an application that would mimic the functionality of their own social-networking site. But the task of translating their code for the Facebook platform convinced them they were trying to cram too many features into the environment.
Instead, they started over and built a new application from scratch using Facebook’s Markup Language. It now performs a simple function: Allows users to find and link to family members on Facebook so they can build a family tree. “Facebook users want a simple application that does one thing.”
-> Tip #3. Reach out to experts to develop app
After trying to figure out the Facebook platform on their own, the team sought out guidance from two types of experts:
- Facebook personnel and expert applications developers
Allen sent his development and product marketing team to six events with Facebook personnel and developers like RockYou, creator of a popular photo-sharing application. His team compiled advice and techniques used by these experts to develop, test and optimize their own application strategy.
- Stanford University class
The Stanford class had built 100 different Facebook applications. Team members sat in on lectures in which class members discussed techniques they learned through the process.
-> Tip #4. Build viral potential into your app
To generate millions of downloads, you need an application with a strong viral marketing appeal. Allen and his team designed the We’re Related application with features that encourage users to share their family content, invite other members to join their family networks and download the application themselves.
Viral touch points:
o Invitations to join family group
o Sharing privileges to let other members view your family tree
o Requests that family members view your tree
o Family discussion and news feed
o Add the We’re Related application icon in member profiles
-> Tip #5. Promote app with ad campaign
To kick start viral growth, Allen and his team seeded the application among a handful of Facebook users through a paid advertising campaign. For 15 days, the team spent roughly $1,000 a day on one of Facebook’s advertising networks, attracting 75,000 early users, who then began sharing the tool with friends and relatives. Within 29 days of launch, they had 1 million users.
“We got that first group of people to adopt the application, then it went viral. We haven’t spent any money for a long time.”
-> Tip #6. Test lead gen tactics for Facebook app
Creating a new lead-generation channel wasn’t the team’s primary goal for We’re Related. Their focus was building a successful app.
At first, they didn’t create widespread connections between Facebook and their genealogy research database. Instead, they used a handful of limited links, such as:
- Branding the application with the FamilyLink logo and linking it to that social networking site’s homepage.
- Adding a World Vital Records search box to the top of the application, so users could research their family history. That tool resulted in 1,000 people a day trying the World Vital Records platform.
-> Tip #7. Monetize app with ad revenue
Facebook lets application developers keep all advertising or transaction revenue generated from their pages within the network. Allen and his team have been testing several of the Facebook advertising networks.
Although he won’t disclose specific metrics, he says his “effective CPM rate” is several times higher than on other online advertising channels he has used. “We’ve been very, very pleasantly surprised at the ad revenue.”
-> Tip #8. Build apps for other sites
Allen’s team is looking beyond Facebook. They believe all social-networking sites will grow, so they are working on We’re Related applications for other platforms, such as Google’s Orkut and MySpace.
“We don’t view ourselves as just a genealogy company. We view our role as a means to connect families using technology, and social networking is a big part of our future.” Useful links related to this article
Creative samples from World Vital Records’ Facebook application:
World Vital Records: