Facebook apps can be a great way to capture the social audience for your small business or venture. But before you invest money in developing an app, make sure it’s right for your needs.

Facebook can be a great platform for businesses to connect with consumers through their business Pages, and Facebook apps can help enhance that relationship. Apps can help you generate leads, hold contests, direct visitors to your website or share updates from your blog.

You can use out-of-the-box apps that someone else has designed, or you can hire an app designer to custom create an app for your business.

Using Existing Applications

Browse Facebook’s apps directory and you’ll find thousands of applications that can enhance a user’s profile or company page. Some are time-wasters, like Farmville, while others provide business productivity tools, like AWeber Email Marketing’s app.

Spend a bit of time looking and you can find apps that will keep visitors on your Page longer. These might include apps that:

  • Send your blog’s RSS feed to your Page
  • Display your Twitter stream
  • Capture visitors’ contact information
  • Manage contests for you
  • Conduct surveys or polls

Naturally, the benefit to using existing apps is that they’re free, and you can read user reviews to know how successful or easy to use they are. The downside is that they may not do exactly what you’re looking for. Some may be able to be tweaked, while others are what-you-see-is-what-you-get.

Hiring a Designer

Nowadays, there are hundreds of Facebook application designers who can help you get exactly what you want out of an app, even if you’re not technical yourself. Simply give them your vision and they’ll turn it into reality. You can create a custom tab that lets visitors click to different pages or complete different actions, and you can update your Page based on your rotating promotions each week.

Designers don’t come cheap, so it’s important to know what you want in an app. They can also help you understand how to get the most out of an application to increase web traffic, email signups or sales, depending on what your goal is.

First Step: What Do You Want?

Whichever method you choose for your app, you need to know what you want it to do and why you want it. Simply adding apps to your Page without purpose will quickly create clutter and turn people off. You want apps that engage visitors and get them to take action. Do you want their email addresses so you can send them promotions? Use an app that asks for the email address in exchange for a free coupon or gift.

Are you looking to promote a contest? Use an app like Wildfire to build your fanbase and encourage the viral spread of the contest on Facebook.

You may simply want to amuse visitors with a fun game, using your logo prominently so they’ll remember you while playing.

Second Step: Set Your Goals

Every marketing tool should provide some sort of ROI, so establish up front what you want to achieve. Is it X new “Likes” on your Page? Y visits to your website? Z email addresses for your database? It may even be a combination of several different goals. Write these down so you can measure actual results against them.

If you are holding a contest or limited promotion, you can measure your results at the end of the period. Otherwise, measure them monthly.

Third Step: Design and Test the App

Or rather, hire someone to design it for you. Work with them diligently to ensure that your vision is being realized. Once it’s complete, use this list of questions to test that the app is running correctly and is doing what you want it to do. If it’s not, send it back to the designer with the bugs or change requests until it runs flawlessly.

Fourth Step: Promote the App

If an app launches in the woods and there’s no one around, no one will know about it. Promote the app on your Facebook Page, Twitter, your website, blog and email. Ask your contacts to tell others about it, especially if it’s a contest (you can offer additional entries for each person they share it with). Incorporate the Facebook application into your larger marketing strategy.