Facebook Rooms, Mobile Acquisition and Distribution Bets

The fourth app from Facebook Creative Labs called Rooms launched yesterday. It’s created by Josh Miller and his team who joined Facebook after their company got acquired. Rooms is part of a growing number of experimental apps that the company has been building.

My friends who created MessageMe were working on a product like Rooms before they sold to Yahoo recently. It was called TenTwenty and I enjoyed using it as an early tester. TenTwenty had location at the core of the product experience. They didn’t continue with the product but they had a compelling thesis for why it should exist. The thesis was that forums are a great experience on the web but needed rethinking for the mobile world.

Ten Twenty

While growing up, I was a heavy user of Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) and forums. Being an only child that loved computers, I made many online friends through these digital message boards. I still remember how much of my day was spent in front of the computer chatting with people and learning about all kinds of new things.

I got excited when Rooms showed up on Product Hunt. I downloaded it right away and noticed the usage of screenshots as an invite mechanism. It intrigued me and I started thinking about why the Rooms team decided to make the invites like this.

Rooms Invites

Distribution Bets

Compare to the web, mobile apps have a limited number of acquisition channels. Adding to that, people’s mobile attention spans are low and the retention rates for mobile apps are dropping. There are three primary ways to acquire users on mobile:

  1. Buy mobile ads for installs (Facebook being the main mobile ad platform today)
  2. Get people to invite using phone contact importing (requires a compelling reason to invite)
  3. Use existing non-mobile channels to get people to download your app (requires web traffic or email subscribers)

Because of the limited mobile distribution options I believe what the Rooms team has done here is a distribution bet. An experiment to figure out a new distribution method or as some would call it, a growth hack. Josh Miller has tweeted about their thinking where he describes why they are doing this experiment. It’s exactly what I was thinking.

3 steps for coming up with your own distribution bets

  1. Determine what’s possible for distribution within other products and create a user flow to align with it.

  2. Create a hypothesis based on what user behavior you think you can imitate and influence.

  3. Spend time doing user research to learn more about the potential of the bet before you fully commit to building and releasing it.

Want to see how this bet is working? Search Instagram for #rooms.

It’s exciting to see people experimenting with distribution and making bets like this. Since mobile user acquisition is so limited, the apps that will grow the fastest are the ones whose distribution bets pay off. (Click to Tweet)