The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly of Social App Install Ads

By Taylor Odgers | October 8th, 2015

Every day, there are 3.2 billion interactions on Facebook, half a billion tweets and 70 million Instagram photos posted. This means that if you want to reach an audience of mobile users for your app, it’s becoming increasingly important to have a presence on social media. Yet, with so much competition in the app stores, simply having a Facebook page for your app or tweeting your latest updates might not be enough.

Any great UA strategy incorporates a few different channels. The app install ad becoming a staple channel for many developers. Facebook, Twitter, and now Instagram all offer similar advertising options for developers in the form of app install ads. These ads are effective, but by no means cheap. Many developers will only have room in their budgets to promote their app on one network.

For this reason, we’ve laid out the good, the bad, and the ugly of each, so that you can make an informed choice on which one is right for you.


The Good- Sharing is Caring

With 1.3 billion active users, you could say Facebook has a fairly large audience. Even better, is how much that audience loves to share with their friends, and how much useful information you can gather because of it. While you might not care what someone made for dinner or how many times they hit the gym last week, this environment of sharing has created the opportunity for hyper targeting based on interests.

Facebook Insights allows you to drill down into the people that currently like your page to find out what content resonates with them and has two targeting options that can help you find new users.

Lookalike Audiences, allows you to upload a list of all your current players (if you have their email addresses) and their tool will generate a list of people with similar traits for you to target.

On the other hand if you already know the traits of people who will enjoy your app, Interest Targeting allows you to reach people who already like or have a connection to things on facebook that are similar to what you’re offering.

What all is means is that you have a very big pond, and the tools to bait the most promising fish.

😩 The Bad- Facebook First

In the end Facebook will always care more about Facebook itself than its advertising partners, and can you really blame them? In an attempt to keep its own users happy Facebook has decreased the amount of promotional ads that appear in its Newsfeed - app install ads falling into the promotional category. While this in no way means that your ads won’t be shown, they will just be shown less frequently than they might have been before.

😖 The Ugly- UX SOS

Ironically, what makes Facebook’s ads so great is also what can make them a big headache for first time users. With so many targeting options, the process can get a little complicated to get started with. You really need to understand your audience in order for the targeting to be effective, which means a little bit of homework and a lot of testing. Facebook ads are in no way a “set it and forget it” solution, but if you put in some effort you will definitely see some quality installs.


😍 The Good- Mobile First

80% of Twitter interactions happen on mobile, so all of their ads are optimized for mobile. This means there is really no disconnect from users discovering your app one minute, and playing it the next. Twitter is also known as the place to find breaking news, because everything happens in real time. So if you want your app to appear as the next new thing, Twitter is the place to be.

There are also more influencers on Twitter than Facebook, so you have a much better chance of reaching those influencers and making an impression. Even better, If they like your app they could leverage their influence very quickly, which sets the snowball effect in motion.

😩 The Bad- The Same, But Different

The truth is, Twitter install ads are very similar to what Facebook offers, but with a smaller audience. The targeting controls are pretty much the same and the ad unit has the same look and feel. Twitter has been making some big steps to keep up with Facebook, but most reviews will tell you, if you had to choose between one or the other, the Book is still in the lead.

😖 The Ugly- Unstable Ground

Twitter seems to be going through a bit of an identity crisis right now as they are attempting to lock down on their value proposition, years later. They have had an on again, off again relationship with CEO Jack Dorsey and there are some rumours of them ditching their coined 140 character limit. As a developer, this shouldn’t effect your advertising efforts too much (if anything Twitter will be doing more to keep advertisers happy), but if the public loses trust in the network there will be a lot less eyeballs to see your ads.


The Good- Engagement

While Instagram install ads are still very new, initial studies suggest that post-installation, users spent 70 percent more time in the app when it was downloaded via Instagram ads than did those who had downloaded the app in other ways. With engagement rates this high, you are definitely getting your money’s worth - that is, assuming you had enough to begin with (see below).

😩 The Bad- Premium Everything

Instagram ads are a premium, quality product. They are full page ads that should mimic the look and feel of the apps native content. A full mobile screen is some prime real estate and you are going to have to spend a pretty penny for it. The average Cost per Install (CPI) is shaping up to be $4.17 so bring out your checkbook!

You also need to think about the context of the content being shared on the platform. One of my friends always says “you don’t post the life you have on Instagram, you post the life you WANT”. People are meticulous with their posts, trying to find the perfect filter or witty caption that best captures the moment, and you can be certain that they will demand the same for your ads. In no way is a screen shot going to be good enough for Instagram. This means you’re going to have to put a lot more effort into your creatives.

😖 The Ugly- Risky Business

The “newness” of Instagram ads can really pay off for early adopters, but with any product in its adolescence, there are some kinks that need to be worked out. While Instagram is mostly known for its premium content, there is a bit of a darker side to it with.. let’s call it spammy promotions (if you don’t believe me check the hashtag mobile, but beware it’s NSFW). Instagram has been making more of an effort to censor its content lately but it will be a while until it’s completely cleaned up. There is also the possibility that as the platform comes to more maturity, and more app install ads flood into users feeds, engagement rates could decrease.

It’s remarkable to think that just a few short years ago there were questions about how The Big Three social media players would monetize their audiences. They’ve undoubtedly come a long way in bringing brands to their audiences - but that doesn’t mean it’s always a straightforward thing for the app install model. Knowing who does what well - and where your particular app fits into the ad landscape - will give your app a fighting chance in these hotly contested battlefields.

Taylor Odgers
Taylor is the Community Engagement Manager at Tap for Tap an indie-focused mobile exchange that delivers moments-based ads. When not at her desk she can be found in the office VW writing her next post or running outside. For more indie insights check out the Tap for Tap blog or tweet @tapfortap

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