Facebook will help mobile apps aim push notifications based on people’s in-app actions

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Facebook wants to help mobile app developers strike a balance between pushing people to use their apps and not coming across as too pushy.

On Tuesday, Facebook officially rolled out a way for mobile app developers to aim push notifications at specific segments of their audiences based on specific things people do in their apps — such as searching for a hotel room in New York City during Thanksgiving weekend, checking out a particular pair of shoes or adding those shoes to a shopping cart without completing the purchase — and deep-link to the relevant section in an app so people can pick up where they left off.

Facebook had announced these targeted push notifications back in April at its annual developer conference, but they’ve been in testing since then. Now any app developer using its Facebook Analytics for Apps service will be able to use Facebook’s targeted push notification system for free, no matter how many people use their apps.

Mobile app developers looking to pinpoint their push notifications are largely limited to the data their apps are able to collect directly from their users, such as how much money they have spent in the app, what content they’ve checked out and what device or mobile operating system they’re using. For now, Facebook is not letting developers aim these notifications based on the social network’s audience data. That makes sense, especially from a privacy perspective. But it doesn’t take advantage of the data that Facebook would bring to the table — like an audience’s demographic information or what Pages they like — which app developers are able to use to target ads bought through Facebook.

App developers also can’t apply their CRM data, at least not easily. There is a workaround that would let an app developer append CRM data to an individual user ID. But it would be on the developer to update that data as necessary. So an airline could affix someone’s frequent flier status but would have to regularly check and change that person’s accrued mileage if it wants to accurately push notifications to app users based on their available mileage.

With Facebook’s in-app action-based push notification targeting, mobile app developers “can build pretty complex segments,” said Facebook Analytics for Apps product manager Josh Twist, to make their push notifications more relevant than “Hey, we noticed you haven’t opened our app in a while…”

For example, let’s say a coffee shop enables people to pay in its stores by scanning a bar code from its mobile app, and the marketer maintains its app users’ rewards status. Using Facebook’s system, the coffee shop could send a push notification to anyone who has saved their payment information in its app and is one purchase away from a free cup of coffee. And since the push notifications can deep-link to a specific section in an app, the coffee shop’s notification could open its in-app mobile ordering menu once clicked.

App developers can set one-time notifications or continuous ones that will be pushed to whoever fits in the defined audience segment over a given period of time. That period of time must be defined, but there’s no limit to how long the time window can be.

In the case of a continuous push notification, a retailer’s app could send an alert to anyone who, between now and Christmas Eve, puts a product in their shopping cart. But here’s the tricky part: for now, there’s no way to cap the number of these “abandoned shopping cart” alerts sent to a single person in order to not annoy them. Facebook gets how that can be a problem and is working on adding a frequency capping option sometime soon, Twist said.

If this type of push notification targeting sounds familiar, it might be because Facebook isn’t the first to offer it. In May 2016, Google’s mobile app platform, Firebase, announced a similar targeted push notifications system, also for free. Twist said his company’s tool differentiates from the competition by enabling anyone on a mobile app’s team, such as a marketing manager, to set up and run a push notification without needing to involve a developer.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

Tim Peterson, Third Door Media’s Social Media Reporter, has been covering the digital marketing industry since 2011. He has reported for Advertising Age, Adweek and Direct Marketing News. A born-and-raised Angeleno who graduated from New York University, he currently lives in Los Angeles.

He has broken stories on Snapchat’s ad plans, Hulu founding CEO Jason Kilar’s attempt to take on YouTube and the assemblage of Amazon’s ad-tech stack; analyzed YouTube’s programming strategy, Facebook’s ad-tech ambitions and ad blocking’s rise; and documented digital video’s biggest annual event VidCon, BuzzFeed’s branded video production process and Snapchat Discover’s ad load six months after launch. He has also developed tools to monitor brands’ early adoption of live-streaming apps, compare Yahoo’s and Google’s search designs and examine the NFL’s YouTube and Facebook video strategies.

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