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Facebook advice from zombies

RockYou CEO explains how his apps scale to millions of users in weeks.

Lance Tokuda is the CEO of RockYou, a social network app building company. RockYou makes music and photo sharing apps on Facebook, as well as a very popular "wall" replacement, SuperWall. The app I'm most familiar with, though is Zombies, which I've heard derided as the "multi-level marketing social app" (although, really, isn't that the point?). I tried it for a while but recently uninstalled it since I couldn't get my wife to stop biting my zombie. And not in a good way.

What is the secret of Zombie's success? Lance spelled it out during a talk at the "Graphing Social Patterns" conference in San Jose today. His first point: Forget MySpace. Use Facebook. Its API lets you access the friend network and grow apps virally. Good apps, he says, grow seven times more quickly on Facebook than MySpace.

The Zombie app for Facebook has 197,846 daily active users. Facebook

These are his tricks for taking advantage of the platform:

1. Promotion. No matter how good your app, you can't really expect it to go from zero to a million users on its own. You have to seed it. RockYou advertises to about 100,000 key people when it launches a new app. Once that happens, if the app is good, it can grow to a million users in literally just a few weeks. (A previous speaker, Forrester Research analyst Charlene Li, reminded the audience that you can target advertisements easily to specific groups and geographies.)

2. "Tweak the virality." Ok, really, this is obvious, and I wanted more advice. Lance said there were about 50 things you could do to improve the pass-along signup of an app. The only little actualy tidbit he dropped was to use the ">" character in text to drive people forward to sign-up pages. Tomorrow, he said, the technical sessions at this conference will cover more of the tweaks.

3. Bundle. If you have a large app, you can bundle functionality of a new or smaller app in it to get it growing. If you don't, you can partner with other apps. MySpace used to kick apps off if they did this. Facebook does not have these restrictions. Look for partners who will sell you their coattails.

4. Scaling. Apps on Facebook can grow so fast they can melt down traditional ISPs. Lance recommends Amazon Web Services, which are built to serve growing and bursty traffic without requiring you to pay for capacity you don't use.

Dan Farber at ZDNet covered LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman's keynote.