Fundamentally, people are attracted to social technologies because they like sharing their lives and experiences with friends. In fact, the ability to share is one reason that Jeremiah Owyang has said that email was the first social network. Before Friendster or Tribes, people emailed cute cat videos to each other.
That desire to connect and share with others is the driving user need for Janrain’s Invite Friends functionality. Invite Friends is different than Social Sharing. Where a social share event is a broadcast message to all social connections, Invite Friends allows the user to send a targeted message to selected friends. It’s the difference between a “come one, come all” poster to the Friday night party, and a party invitation delivered through the mail. More targeted, more personal.
This functionality can be used for a number of purposes, like sharing a deal or offer, telling friends about an achievement, targeting a sensitive message to the best connections in the user’s network, or asking a friend to join the user in a new social experience.
Janrain offers Invite Friends functionality for Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Google, Yahoo, and Windows Live (Hotmail). The end result in social networks is a network message (e.g. a Facebook Message or Twitter Direct Message) from the user to their friend; for Google, Yahoo and Windows, the end result is an email from the user to their contact’s email.
The Invite Friends functionality is very easy to implement. It’s based on Janrain’s Contacts API. In order to implement this functionality, you must first ensure that you have asked for the correct permissions from the user. In Facebook, the user has to authorize your site to access their contacts. In email providers, the user authorizes access to their email address book.
The contact list that is returned from Janrain is normalized and available in XML or JSON. If the user has connected multiple identities, contacts from multiple networks can be displayed. Now, you can render those contacts in the way that makes the most sense for your users.
There are a two common options for rendering contact lists.
You can queue them up to be auto-populated from a keystroke trigger, like Gmail:
Or you can import photos and allow users to check which contacts they want to communicate with:
Make sure to allow the user to select all or none of their contacts easily, in addition to toggling a selection for an individual contact easily. Also note that Janrain won’t return any information from a Facebook user’s friend that the friend has not authorized for the user to access.
Another way to leverage your user’s social graph is through a Refer a Friend experience. This is a highly targeted way to maintain the exclusivity of an experience, by limiting access to social referrals. You can enhance the velvet rope feeling by limiting the number of friends that can be referred.
Inviting friends with a targeted message is important functionality to consider for higher value, or more sensitive experiences that don’t make sense for users to broadcast to their entire network. Not surprisingly, they are also more effective marketing messages than anything you could send directly from the brand. Open rates on messages and emails from known contactsare 43% higher than from email marketers, and transaction rates are 2.5 times higher.