teenagers using cell phones


Last October, Facebook purchased the viral polling app TBH with the intent of attracting more teenagers to their platform.  The problem was the app didn’t become anything for Facebook.  The intent was for the app to help Facebook get as many as 2.5 million new users, but it didn’t quite happen that way.  As a result, Facebook has shuttered the app, due to low usage. The scary part is that the app cost just under $30 million.  And while that may sound like a hefty price tag to you and I, it may end up paying dividends for Facebook down the road.

When it comes to social networking, Facebook has been losing a ton of users – specifically teens – to their competitors.  While one of those competitors is Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube are still pulling in a ton of new users.  Teenagers often think of Facebook as something that an “old person” uses.  And they’re not exactly wrong.  While I’m no longer a Facebook user, a lot of my friends and people my age use the platform.  Facebook came to the world just before I graduated from university.  Which meant, I was still in that space where I wanted to become “friends” with people I went to school with. Now, I’m in my 30s, and Facebook is still struggling to find a way to attract younger people.

But here’s the rub, if you will.  Purchasing this app, was actually a sneaky way for Facebook to collect users.  TBH admits that they actually use “psychological tricks” in order to get more teenagers to use the service.  That’s insane, isn’t it?  Tricking people through mind games in order to get more users on your platform?  I’d also say that it’s a bit shady, wouldn’t you?  Look, I have no problems with marketing campaigns or advertising as a way to gain more users, but this feels a bit much.  But listen to what they did:

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.

Obsessed with luring teens into using your service?  That doesn’t sound good to me.  To me, this just amplifies what we already know about Facebook and some of their shady practices.  Thankfully this didn’t exactly work, and now they are “shuttering” the app due to low usage. The more we find out about Facebook, the less I like it.