'Like' it or not, Facebook's developer program change is the right decision

Shane Schick

According to Facebook, all app developers using its platform should be able to honestly quote a version of Sally Field's famous Oscar acceptance speech: "They 'like' me! They really, really 'like' me!"

Earlier this month, Facebook made some significant updates to its Platform Policies under games and proper use. The first one comes as no surprise: In keeping with recent moves by Google and increased threats from regulatory bodies, Facebook is requiring developers to be up front about any in-app purchase requirements in so-called free-to-play (F2P) games.

The bigger deal for some, possibly, is a prohibition on requiring a user to "like" a developer's Facebook page before gaining access to content or offering some kind of reward such as virtual currency. 

"To ensure quality connections and help businesses reach the people who matter to them, we want people to like Pages because they want to connect and hear from the business, not because of artificial incentives. We believe this update will benefit people and advertisers alike."

The only thing shocking about this change is that it's taken this long for Facebook to get around to it. Still, it often takes new rules to ensure common sense about proper conduct prevails. App and mobile game developers who have used incentives to gain an audience for their Facebook pages--an obviously powerful marketing tool, particularly for indie developers--could not have expected they could game the system forever. 

Just as Facebook wants people to like Pages out of honest interest, developers should always be striving for what I'll call the genuine opt-in. It's difficult enough to get consumers to download an app on their smartphone and keep them coming back. A one-time bribe doesn't do much to solve that problem, and I suspect many of those incentivized "likes" haven't led to substantial returns for any developers who have used them. 

The best (and ultimately, only) alternative to growing a Facebook Page fan base is through strategic, quality content. Fortunately, there is data available to help. A recent blog post on HootSuite, for example, describes a fascinating analysis of Facebook posts by a group of prominent non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Among the takeaways: Posts with images and text overlay win big, as does posting in the middle of the week rather than spamming people every single day. There's also a possibility that developers could learn more by emulating the Facebook Page strategies of Oil Change International than, say, Zynga. 

Developers have until the first week of November to comply with Facebook's new rules, but now is the time to start. Look for the best data. Come up with an aggressive but thoughtful approach to growing and sustaining social users. Experiment, test and repeat. The result will probably be greater success than you'd achieve via incentives, and may even be cheaper. What's not to "like?"--Shane