Last fall, Facebook acquired a viral polling app named TBH that was used by about 2.5 million users per day — most of whom were teens. Facebook has since shut down the app, but it learned a valuable “psychological trick” when it comes to targeting younger users.
“Our team obsessed with finding ways to get individual high schools to adopt a product simultaneously,” TBH wrote in the memo. “We designed a novel method that was reproducible, albeit non-scalable.”
According to the leaked internal memo, originally written by TBH, the “trick” involved analyzing teenagers’ Instagram accounts to figure out what high school they attended. The company then created private accounts for each school, followed its students, and sent them private messages teasing the upcoming release of a new app. Many of the kids followed the TBH account back, and when the company amassed a huge number of followers, it posted a link to download the app and switch from a private page to a public one.
That meant every student who sent a follow request automatically got a message saying they had been approved. What’s more, TBH timed the switch for the end of the school day, when students got their phones back.
While this sort of cheap maneuver would never be used by a company of Facebook’s size, the fact that this idea circulated at all is proof of how far the social media giant could be willing to go to entice new users.