Free Facebook marketing – did I just strike gold? [Update: Answer = maybe not directly]

March 19th, 2011 Jeremy Jeremy

Be sure to read the updates at the bottom…This idea may violate the Facebook TOS but it has sparked some good discussion on alternative ways to do viral marketing.

This post is about an idea I thought up just before heading to SXSW. I’ve told this to a number of people at SXSW and, judging from the response from some of my most respected friends, this may be very, very interesting (someone from the Gaurdian actually shared my idea before I got the chance to).

The idea is this:

1. Release Grades 2 as a free app (no paid version, no lite version – just one app).
2. Place some ads in the app.
3. Allow users to get rid of ads with an in app purchase (maybe $1 or $2).
4. This is the new part: users can also get rid of ads for, say, a month by simply sharing the app on Facebook (which they can easily do right within the app).

1-3 are fairly rare, especially for high quality apps, but I think #4 could really blow this thing up. Some folks don’t hate ads enough to pay to get rid of them but, come on, all I have to do is share this app (which, presumably, I really like any way) on Facebook and the ads will disappear for a generous amount of time? I think a lot of people will go for that.

Say Bob is an average Facebook user and has 130 friends. Bob shares Grades 2 with his friends and goes ad-free for a month. We just lost a month of ad-revenue from Bob but out of those 130 friends I think it’s pretty reasonable to assume at least two of them would download a free, recommended app. So now those 2 new users have the same three choices – use the app with ads, get rid of ads for a dollar, or temporarily get rid of ads by sharing. I either make money from those two users or, if they choose to share, the process continues. Obviously not everybody is going to share the app on Facebook so eventually at some point I’m going to make some money – and probably a lot more than I would have made from just Bob.

This kind of marketing could also be very lasting. I made tons of awesome connections at SXSW so I am pretty sure I’ll have a very big launch but being featured on the top blogs, or even by Apple for that matter, produces big spikes that don’t last too long unless you can manage to stay high on the charts. This Facebook marketing, however, not only has the potential to be viral at the beginning but this kind of marketing has the potential to be very consistent and ongoing and may very well be the key to keeping Grades 2 high on the charts.

Compare that to buying ads or trying to get posters on college campuses. Those things cost tons of money for minimal return. The only cost here is the missed potential revenue from the users who share the app. To me, that is a very small price to pay for the kind of virality this kind of feature might produce. It also has the side benefit of appeasing the folks who hate ads but may not be willing to pay to get rid of them. Win-win all around.

Here’s what I’m thinking it’s gonna look like:

These items all lie beneath the drawer. They are revealed when the user scrolls the drawer all the way up or when the user taps an "x" button located on top of the banner ad.

Speaking of Grades 2, I am aiming to finally submit it to Apple in the next few days so I’ll definitely keep you posted on how the Facebook marketing plays out.

What say you?

UPDATE: it is possible that implementing the following idea might violate the Facebook TOS. Will post another update when I get to the bottom of this (thanks Mogden)…

UDPATE 2: Hello cold water! If you look at Facebook’s page on application integration points, I think we can safely say that the following idea would violate their policy. Bummer. I’m sorry I didn’t look deeper into this before posting. I still think Facebook is a great way to spread your app virally – we just need to find ways to do it that wouldn’t be considered incentivizing.

UPDATE 3: Even though this may violate the Facebook TOS, I’m still glad I posted this because it has sparked some good discussion about ways to encourage viral sharing outside of Facebook.

1. swiftfoxsw mentioned in the comments that Twitter might be an alternative. It is not as ubiquitous as Facebook but definitely may be worth looking into.

2. Cody Fink of MacStories suggested possibly taking this idea into the real world: “Say a friend has Grades, and wants a month free of advertising. He can ask his buddy to download Grades, enter a four digit pin, and both users get Grades for free for one time between those two friends. To get more months for free, you have to ask more friends to download and try grades. I’m thinking like a classic referral code/name model.”

Very good ideas. You might even be able to use the Bump API to skip the whole referral code thing. You bump the phones together and both friends get it free for a month.

3. As a side note, some apps definitely do incentivize Facebook sharing and have gotten away with it. Most prominently, Doodle Jump (according to Ronan) “gives an achievement for posting your score to Facebook.” Also, in the comments Matt Rix says “Head Spin 3D basically does this. A user can get 8 hours of the paid game if they share their scores on Facebook or Twitter.”

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27 Responses to “Free Facebook marketing – did I just strike gold? [Update: Answer = maybe not directly]”

  1. CC Evans says:

    Love all of those ideas. Will definately consider for our app. Thanks for sharing the post. Looking forward to more info on the facebook marketing.

  2. Jeremy says:

    CC: thanks! I’ll definitely post the results.

  3. Oisin says:

    Consider me intrigued! I see big potential here. Really look forward to reading how this works for you. Good luck and thanks for sharing.

  4. [...] I’ve told this to a number of people at SXSW and, judging from the response from some of. facebook marketing – Google Blog Search This entry was posted in Facebook Marketing and tagged Facebook, Free, Gold, Just, Marketing, [...]

  5. I really like this idea. Another thought that comes to mind is giving monthly bonus content for someone who posts.


  6. I like this idea. How often does one user click on ads in one month? A few times? The cost of just a few ad clicks to get new users sounds like a great deal.

  7. Jeremy says:

    Oison: thanks.

    Doug: good idea. The basic concept is to provide some kind of value in return for a Facebook share. I think there are many cases where this could be applied in some pretty interesting ways.

    Alex: I don’t have any really good data on that but I’m pretty sure whatever it is, losing that potential revenue is definitely worth it since we will be pulling in new users. If the new users also share, it just multiplies. If they don’t, we make some revenue – probably more than we would have made from the original user. It also all contributes to the download count which pushes us up the charts.

  8. Mogden says:

    Great idea, but it’s against Facebook TOS to incentivize sharing like this.

  9. Jeremy says:

    Mogden: I thought I checked this. Looking at their TOS (, there is nothing in there about incentives.

    Looking deeper, though, at their Facebook platform policies ( I found this…

    “IV. Application Integration Points

    You must not incentivize users to use (or gate content behind the use of) Facebook social channels, or imply that an incentive is directly tied to the use of our channels.”

    There are, apparently, some gray areas. Reading up on it:

    Will update when I get to the bottom of this.

  10. Andrew says:

    very good idea – I think.
    If my friends recommend a app, I definitely would check it out.

    In my Twitter app I give the users a integrated way to promote the app through Twitter, if they like it – and the users are promoting it for free.
    I guess most people like it, cause the app as 4.5 stars in the Appstore.

    So one thing to your idea: iAd doesn’t deliver ads every time – so users have a adfree version lot’s of times anyway.

  11. Seamus Campbell says:

    Hate ads? No problem! Just push our advertising on your friends and you won’t have to see it!

    I don’t disagree that this is probably an effective idea. But it seems pretty spammy to me.

  12. Matt Rix says:

    Head Spin 3D basically does this. A user can get 8 hours of the paid game if they share their scores on Facebook or Twitter.

  13. Jeremy says:

    I just added a second update to the post: looks like this is, indeed, a violation of the Facebook TOS:

    I thought I looked into it but, apparently, I didn’t go deep enough. Sorry about that (and thanks Mogden for reporting this).

  14. @swiftfoxsw says:

    Hmm, that is unfortunate, it sounded like a really good idea.

    My current game is going to be a single app with ads plus IAP to remove them and I would have liked to implement this in some way.

    I looked over Twitter's TOS and I didn't see anything about incentivizing tweets, so that may be an alternative (A tweet with a hash tag?) Although I don't think Twitter has quite the same reach as Facebook in terms of number of users.

  15. Jeremy says:

    As Matt points out I think other developers have done similar things and gotten away with it but I would rather not put my relationship with Facebook at risk by violating their TOS. If anybody has any more insights or ideas on this, I would be happy to hear.

  16. Jeremy says:

    swiftfoxsw: yeah, Twitter would be another route to think about. Especially among my audience, though, Facebook is more or less ubiquitous whereas Twitter is not. Still definitely worth looking into, though.

  17. Jeremy says:

    I just updated the post with some new ideas. Great discussion, everybody! Keep it up.

  18. Thomas Frank says:

    That’s a fantastic idea? Maybe you could use Twitter rather than Facebook, as some others have said. More and more students are using it every day (although Facebook still outdoes it by a long shot).

    I also really like the idea about sharing with a friend who enters a code. However, at least for me, getting rid of ads probably isn’t motivating enough to go through a lot of work, so it has to be super-easy. How about instead of a code, do what Dropbox does? Enter the email (or Apple-ID maybe) of the referred friend, and then when he/she installs, the app automatically removes ads for you?

  19. Jeremy says:

    Thomas: I am actually looking into using the Bump API. That way users just both load up Grades and bump their phones. I check to see which one downloaded the app first (so I know which user is the sharer and which user is the receiver) and then reward the sharer. This could be really cool.

  20. BlueGlutton says:

    I think that even it violates Facebook TOS it is still an idea to be explored.

  21. swiftfoxsw says:

    After thinking about this some more I thought of TechCrunch contests. In order to enter the random contest you have to “Like” their Facebook page.

    That sounds like incentivizing to me, and TC is a pretty high profile site. I think sharing inside an app for a reward is just like entering a contest where everybody wins :)

    Also apps within FB still seem to have the “invite 10 friends and get something free” which is also along the same lines.

    So I still think there may be some gray area around the FB TOS.

  22. Jeremy says:

    Swiftfoxsw – good point. Looks like there definitely is a gray area, at least in terms of enforcement.

    This morning I’ve also been looking into Appboy’s SDK. Look’s interesting:

  23. Dan says:

    What about a ‘recommend this to a friend’ link that gives people something for each person. Obviously someone could just type and that could get them the desired result, but if it was possible to have the ads removed once the receiver clicked the link, that might work.

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