You’ve just finished building this life-changing app. You put thousands of hours and dollars development. Now it’s time to unleash it upon the world, get downloads, gain active users, and go viral. Right?

Well, not so fast.

Just getting approved in the app store isn’t enough to start picking up steam and the hockey stick growth curve we’ve all read so much about doesn’t happen overnight. (And honestly, the viral growth you were hoping for is more of a myth than reality. Sorry.)

But don’t despair. Your app can still do numbers, but you have to put in the work.

If you’re trying to increase your number of downloads, there are a number of ways you can go about it, including:

  • An aggressive PR push
  • Organic social media campaigns
  • Influencer marketing
  • Paid search on Google
  • Paid search on social media

We recommend doing all of those, but what we’re focusing on today is paid search on social media, namely on Facebook. Thanks to Facebook’s massive user base and nearly endless advertising options, many app developers see serious success with their ad campaigns on the platform.

What to Do Before Creating Paid Ads for App Installs

Before you spend any money on Facebook ads for your app, look inward first. Clean house and make sure your app is really up to snuff.

We recommend the following to help position yourself for winning campaigns later on:

  1. Create a seamless on-boarding process.
  2. Identify the actions of top users.
  3. Encourage in-app engagement.

Create a seamless on-boarding process.

Before you spend money on ads or make a push for mass downloads, your app needs to have a seamless on-boarding process. If potential users are intrigued by your ad and download the app but never use it, you’ve lost a lot of potential already. The ideal on-boarding process is simple and intuitive and encourages the user to engage more with the app. 

Identify the actions of top users.

If your app has active users already (congrats!), take a look at your most frequent users and try to find out why they’re power users. 

How do they use the app? How often do they use the app? Does the time of day or certain life events change how often they interact with your app? How long do they spend in your app? 

Answering these questions (and making changes in the app based on your findings) can help make the app experience more enjoyable for every user.

Encourage in-app engagement.

Let’s say you have a social media app for music lovers; let’s also that your power users all have 7-10 friends on the app. One could assume that they interact with the app so often because these 7-10 friends are also on the app.

One way to grow engagement could be encouraging new users to invite their friends. If you know that power users who interact within the app all have a certain number of friends also on the app, you should encourage all users to invite more friends so that every user has that X number of friends. 

If you know that power users engage in X number of conversations through the app, you should encourage users to converse more. If you know that power users share X number of songs on your app, encourage all users to share their favorites more often.

It comes down to looking at what your power users are doing and trying to get all users to do those things too.

Once you feel comfortable with your on-boarding process and have set up your app to encourage the most engagement, you’re ready to start thinking about launching a paid search campaign. 

Facebook App Registration and Engagement Tracking

Inside Facebook, you will need to make sure you have your app setup with a Facebook Developer account. You must register your app and install the necessary information from the Facebook SDK for iOS and Android to track engagements before you ever consider paying for ads on Facebook—no exceptions!

The Facebook SDK for both Android and iOS will you help you build more engaging apps and ultimately get more installs for your app.

Building Your Facebook App Install Campaigns

Now that you have your on-boarding in a good spot, you’ve engaged with current active users to drive growth, and you have everything squared away with your Facebook for Developers account, you can now start building out your Facebook marketing strategy.

In our scenario where you’ve built a social media app for music lovers scenario, let’s imagine that you’ve acquired a list of emails for music lovers from another venture outside of the app. You can use that list of emails for your Facebook campaign.

Custom Audience List

With a Custom Audience list, you can create a campaign that targets these music lovers’ emails directly through Facebook. Not all email addresses will match a Facebook account but considering the amount of Facebook users, the majority will. That makes this list a great jumping-off point and gives you a good base to start with in understanding your audience.

From there, you should create a lookalike audience of this email list. Facebook will create this list by trying to match as much of the available information on the email you list you loaded in to other Facebook users. These audiences help you from targeting people who may not even be interested in the app right out of the gate.

Facebook Targeting Options

Inside Facebook, there is a considerable amount of targeting options. (We recommend reading this Facebook targeting guide that details all the targeting options available inside Facebook.)

In the hypothetical case of the social sharing music app, you’d want to target demographics who are interested in things like Spotify, Music Festivals, Music Industry, and Music Videos. These users are most likely to download the app and interact inside the app.

The possibilities are endless for how you can set up your targeting options and there is always room to improve upon your targeting options.

Evaluating the Success of Your Campaigns

How you measure a campaign’s success depends on your business model and goals.

It’s common to measure what it costs you per installation against the value that a download brings you. However, in some cases, a download doesn’t necessarily equal revenue, so you wouldn’t be able to create a model tied to revenue.

In a case where you don’t get revenue from a download, it would be more helpful to look at it in another way: If you get 400 downloads at $2 an install, you would be looking at a media spend of $800. Does this number mean anything to you or your business’s bottom line? What happens with those 400 downloads later on? Will having 400 downloads bring more value than spending $800 on media spend now?

Looking at this example another way, you could consider those same 400 downloads at $2 an install but also incorporate the fact that you acquired 10 highly active users from those 400 downloads. That means your cost to acquire an active user through Facebook is $80. Would this cost per acquisition bring enough value to continue to advertise with paid ads?

At the end of the day, we don’t know if $2 an install is good, great, or bad. That needs to be determined by you and your business needs.

Viewing Your Data in Facebook Analytics

You’ve gone through and set up your Facebook for Developers, right? Because that’s the truly great part about Facebook and the data you get from their analytics platform.

You get to see so much user data! 

We actually went through and created an infographic of a recent Facebook App Install Campaign. 

It’s pretty interesting and addictive once you start seeing that data flow in. You can start to think of all the elaborate ways you can start segmenting your audiences to build better campaigns. 

If you have an app you’d like to get more installs for, it’s important to do all the upfront work of fixing your app internally first. Do as much as you can without spending on marketing before you move to paid advertising. Once you’re ready for that next step, do the extra work of building out smart campaigns to increase your prospects instead of advertising to any person with a Facebook account.

Like we said, there is no road map to exponential growth. Focus on building a great experience for your new and current users and targeting the right audience to build interest. With smart design and marketing, you never know: You just might go viral.


Learn more about making a successful Facebook campaign when you work with our team of experienced digital strategists. Contact us today to get more information on how we can help you get the installs you want.


Jay Buerck

Learn more about Jay Buerck