5 shades of Facebook's push retention

August 17, 2015 | 7 Minute Read

... and 0 shades of Twitter's.

My everyday engagement with Facebook usually started with "Friend has birthday today" notification. I would then open app, look at a few posts and that's about it.

I was never a heavy Facebook user. But I likely contributed to their daily active user numbers just off those notifications.

Some time ago, I have started ignoring the birthday notifications. I then started getting notifications about independent actions of my friends. That captured my interest. Why am I getting those?

The answer is rather simple. Retention is Facebook's bread and butter.

Retention is the single most important thing for growth. - Alex Shcultz, VP Growth at Facebook So I've decided to stop using their app altogether and see how hard they try to get me back in.

To see why mobile retention is of my biggest interest, let's look at...

The numbers

Facebook's recent report1 puts the company at astronomical 1.49 billion Monthly Active Users and close to a billion Daily Active Users. Over 87% of those are mobile active.

While those numbers are massive, what is more interesting is that the are little signs of slowing growth. Explosion of the mobile market make this possible.

Facebook's MAU chart:

Facebook Monthly Active Users bar chart. How does it compare to Twitter?

Twitter Monthly Active Users bar chart. While there is certainly more going on, one of the contributing factors to Facebook's strong active user numbers is their aggressive user retention strategy over the years.

Both Facebook and Twitter have pretty solid retention emails - one might argue that they're too damn "solid". But emails are secondary for our mobile age.

There is this one weird trick that Facebook uses. Push notifications.

Twitter hates it.

To get into it, let's first check out all the types of push notifications our blue giant sends.

Then, let's look at what Facebook does when I stop using their app for a few weeks.

Types of Facebook notifications

The 3 I've defined:

  1. Transactional notifications. Those are triggered directly by actions of Facebook users towards the user - friend requests, app invites, comments on posts, likes etc.
  2. Transactional reminders. Birthday reminders go here. Event reminders go here. I'm pretty sure Facebook also sends something like "It's Mother's day, send flowers" or "It's your 3rd anniversary. And you forgot, asshole." if you have your relationships setup. If not, someone has some work to do.
  3. Retention notifications. Those keep you hooked. Didn't open the app today? Here is a reason to do it. Those are the "last resort" notifications for Facebook, they push them only if you don't get enough notifications of type 1 and 2 to get you more active.

Twitter, on the other hand, doesn't really have solid features that would make type 2 notifications applicable. But, they could have some type 3 notifications.

On to the experiment.

Retention notifications I received

I have abandoned Facebook. I didn't login to the App, Web app and didn't open Messenger for over 2 weeks.

Here are types of retention notifications I received during that period:

  • Friend added a photo (or posted photos) - 12 times.
  • You have X notifications - 10 times.
  • Do you know Potential Friend? - 11 times.
  • Find more of your friends on Facebook - 2 times.
  • Friend updated their Relationship status - once.

That's it, just 5 different types. Perhaps there are more flavors that I didn't encounter.

Coincidentally, I also stopped using Twitter for the same period. What I have noticed is that they sent 0 retention notifications to me, their churning user.

Maybe if they did, they wouldn't end up with 1 billion inactive users2.

Heads up! The end of this post has a detailed log of all push notifications I have received from Facebook to my phone.

Retention attempts volume chart

So here is the chart that represents volume of retention notifications Facebook pushed me since I stopped using the app.

Y = number of notifications, X = days

I've added Twitter for comparison. I'm sorry, I couldn't resist.

The takeaway

Twitter's growth team is an unlikely audience for my writing. So let's come up with the takeaways which are valuable to people who could be hacking out their retention strategy right now.

  1. Biggest takeaway here is to prioritize your retention. Or you may end up with 1 billion inactive users. Facebook's VP of Growth knows what's up.
  2. Know your audience. Focus your retention strategies on channels your users frequent. Use push, emails, retargeting ads. Go out of your way. Get. Them. Back.
  3. Never discount mobile, it's the most personal channel. Don't have an app? Use SMS messages. Facebook uses those for users without an app.
  4. Look at the data. With acquisition, people look at sources of new users to optimize them for better results. Reverse this and look at how people reactivate to maximize impact of those channels.
  5. Make it easy to cancel user accounts. If users were inactive and reactivation doesn't work. Ask them to cancel account and state reasons for cancellation. You will get valuable insights from that. If you run B2B business - call them and thank for their business. And that you're sad to see them go.
  6. Communicate frequently. Use any chance to send valuable reminders to users, just make sure they have the power to disable the ones they don't want or need.

Full log of notifications I got

I have intentionally distinguished genders of "Do you know?" and "Added photos" notifications to note that I got more notifications centered about activity of the opposite sex. But it's probably result of more in-depth correlation between immediate popularity of those posts on Facebook and "Friend ranking score".

Retention type notification are bolded.

Day 1

  • 09:10 Today is Dude's birthday.
  • 14:40 Chick added a photo
  • 17:30 You have 2 new notifications

Day 2

  • 07:53 Do you know Dude?
  • 09:00 Today s Chick's birthday.
  • 11:05 Chick posted 2 photos: ...
  • 17:00 Dude added a photo

Day 3

  • 08:19 You have 6 notifications
  • 11:57 Do you know Chick?
  • 13:44 Find more of your friends on Facebook
  • 17:56 Chick added a photo

Day 4

  • 11:59 You have 8 new notifications
  • 14:05 Do you know Chick?
  • 16:53 Find more of your friends on Facebook

Day 5

  • 08:39 Today is Dude's birthday.
  • 17:37 You have 11 new notifications
  • 20:52 Chick posted 5 photos.

Day 6

  • 05:09 Dude invited you to play ...
  • 08:29 Dude added a photo
  • 18:24 You have 16 new notifications
  • 20:49 Do you know Dude?

Day 7

  • 04:27 Dude invited you to play ...
  • 09:57 Chick added a photo
  • 19:17 You have 18 new notifications

Day 8

  • 08:54 Reminder: You have 1 event today.
  • 11:00 Chick updated her status: ...
  • 15:01 Do you know Chick? - This is an interesting one. It happened the next after I met this person. Which most likely means she checked out the profile and Facebook sent this event to me based on that. Or it could be just a coincidence.

Day 9

  • 07:33 You have 19 new notifications
  • 12:00 Chick posted 3 photos: ...
  • 16:07 Do you know Chick?

Day 10

  • 09:43 You have 18 new notifications - Some problems with notifications math started. Not sure why.
  • 11:35 Chick added a photo

Day 11

  • 11:06 You have 18 new notifications
  • 14:47 Do you know Dude?
  • 17:46 Chick added a photo

Day 12

  • 08:25 Chick posted 3 photos: ...
  • 12:09 You have 18 new notifications
  • 12:34 Do you know Dude?

Day 13

  • 15:30 Do you know Chick?

Day 14

  • 12:27 Do you know Chick?

Day 15

  • 13:01 Dude added a photo

Day 16

  • 15:09 Do you know Chick?
  1. Facebook Reports Second Quarter 2015 Results
  2. Business Insider quotes Chris Sacca's "What Twitter Can Be."

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