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Facebook has now learned a "psychological trick" to lure teens

Shiladitya Ray

Facebook has now learned a "psychological trick" to lure teens

10 Aug 2018: Facebook has now learned a "psychological trick" to lure teens

In another revelation about Facebook's growth-at-any-cost approach, an internal Facebook note has revealed that the company has learned a new "psychological trick" to lure more teens into using its platform.

Facebook has been consistently losing its teenage audiences to its own platforms like Instagram, as well to rival platforms like Snapchat and YouTube, and might be willing to try anything to retain them.

Origins: It all started with Facebook's acquisition of TBH

It all started in October last year, when Facebook acquired viral polling app TBH for around $30mn.

What prompted the acquisition? TBH had amassed 2.5 million daily active users, mostly teens, within just a few months of its launch, and Facebook wanted to exploit that user-base.

While Facebook killed TBH last month, it learnt a thing or two from TBH about luring teens.

TBH: Without offering anything novel, TBH had amassed 2.5 million users

Facebook cited "low usage" as the reason for pulling the plug on TBH, but an internal note obtained by BuzzFeed News reveals that TBH leaders have been teaching Facebook the method than enabled them to acquire 2.5 million users in a pretty short span of time.

This is particularly noteworthy, considering that TBH had nothing new or innovative to offer as a product.

Fact: The "psychological trick" used by TBH is replicable

"Our team obsessed with finding ways to get individual high schools to adopt a product simultaneously. We designed a novel method that was reproducible, albeit non-scalable," wrote TBH leaders in the confidential, internal Facebook note.

Tactic: The basics of TBH's teenage user acquisition tactics

TBH's obsession with alluring teens resulted in them devising a "psychological trick" that involved a combination of crawling teenage high-schoolers' Instagram accounts, appealing to their youthful curiosity, and taking advantage of school dismissal hours to get them to start using TBH.

TBH has already tested the efficacy of this growth tactic, and Facebook could stand to gain much by using it.

Details pt.1: Details of TBH's "psychological trick"

TBH figured that most high-schoolers listed their schools on the Instagram bios.

First, TBH created a private Instagram account with a mysterious bio (e.g. This is an app invitation X school's students) for its app. Then, it would crawl a particular school's Instagram place page to find teenage users affiliated with it.

Then, TBH would follow these teenagers, and wait for 24 hours.

Details pt.2: How TBH exploited teenagers' curiosity

Many of the teenagers followed by TBH, driven by curiosity as to what this 'new app' might be, would follow TBH's Instagram profile back.

However, these follow requests would stack up owing to TBH's profile being private.

After waiting for 24 hours, TBH would make its profile public during school-ending hours, say 4pm, and the teenagers would be notified of their follow-requests being accepted.

Details pt.3: How TBH got teenagers to download its app

Just before making its profile public and accepting teenagers' follow request, TBH would add an App Store/Play Store URL for its app on its Instagram bio.

Upon making the profile public and accepting follow requests, teenagers would be notified, nudging them to check TBH's Instagram profile.

TBH said that many among them would follow the URL and download its app out of curiosity.

Fact: Facebook could use this tactic to market its products

"The purpose of sharing these tactics is to provide guidance for developing products at Facebook - specifically ones that have not reached product-market fit yet," wrote TBH founders in the internal Facebook note.

Importance: The tactic could allow Facebook to lure teenagers again

While TBH described its method as being too "scrappy" for big companies, it noted that a similar approach could be adopted for products like Facebook's Quick Promos (QPs).

This is particularly important for Facebook, considering that Pew Research Centre's recent survey that found that teenagers, who are a crucial demographic for Facebook's business, were increasingly preferring other platforms to Facebook.

Adoption: It's not beyond Facebook to use TBH's (unethical?) approach

While TBH's method doesn't violate any law or Instagram's terms of service, it does raise questions about how far companies are willing to go to manipulate people into using their services.

Facebook hasn't exactly had the cleanest of track records pertaining to users' privacy, and adopting TBH's (unethical?) strategy could mark a desperate attempt to claw its way back into the teenage market.