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Facebook: Friend, Fan or Group?

So, you’re just getting started on Facebook, and you know this thing is something that could be a big way that you communicate with your customers in the future, but you’re just not sure how to use it effectively for your business. Well, this might help you get started.

Business vs Personal Accounts

Regardless of how you plan to use Facebook, you must start with a personal page.  You’ll go through the process of building up your friend list, setting who gets to see what on your page, and mostly you get to share pictures of your adorable children doing fiendish things.  Or is that the other way around?

Personal pages, though you could theoretically use them to maintain business contacts, should be kept personal.  I wouldn’t necessarily go posting your Social Security number on your page, but as I’ve expressed elsewhere on this blog, social media sites are not about the sales pitch; they’re about connecting with people in a meaningful way.

Therefore, are personal pages a good idea for your business?  Probably not.

Groups For Business

Groups are another option that Facebook offers that allow a bunch of people to assemble on a centralized page to discuss a topic or theme.  They offer several advantages over a personal page:

  • More than one person can moderate a group; on a personal page, only you are allowed to control the content.
  • Groups have the ability to send a message to all members in one step, as opposed to adding a bunch of people to a message from your personal inbox.
  • You can host discussions, which can essentially allow people to interact with one another on topics that you deem important, and the discussions are perpetually there for all to see and chime in when they get a chance.

So groups are the way to go for businesses, right?  Probably not.  Though some of the advantages listed foster a communal connection for your group of followers, there are several disadvantages too:

  • Groups are stored by Facebook in “Ugly URLs”.  Essentially that means if anybody were to try to type the URL for your group in a browser, they wouldn’t be able to tell that it was your group; the URL would probably look like a bunch of meaningless characters and numbers bunched together.  And that’s how search engines would view them too, and that’s not great for growing your online presence.
  • There are no visitor statistics.  You won’t know how many people are visiting your page, and how long they’re there.
  • You can’t promote a group in an ad on Facebook.  That means, there’s probably a demographic of people out there that might be interested in your company but will never know about you because there’s no way you could reach them.  With an ad, you might be able to do it.

So personal pages aren’t the answer.  Neither are groups.  What to do….

I’m a Customer…and I’m your BIGGEST Fan…

Fan pages are the answer.  Fan pages are important because:

  • You can connect with customers and people who just plain like your work via a social media site.
  • You can disseminate information and connect with your fans outside of your own web site; people might not necessarily check your blog or web site every day…but they may be more apt to find out what you’re doing if you’re a click away on Facebook.
  • Fans can provide content for you.  Did you host an event that was really successful? Allow fans to upload silly or candid shots.  It allows them to engage with you as the hub.
  • You can host contests that are solely for people who follow you on Facebook.

Fan pages also offer several advantages over groups:

  • They start off as friendlier to search engines and optimization because they’ll contain the name of your fan page in the URL.  Eventually, when you reach a certain threshold of fans, Faceboook will automatically convert the URL to something even better for search engines (so get your fans up there!).
  • You get some visitor statistics for your page, so you can see when your fans are checking your site and when the best time to interact might be.
  • You can create ads for your page.  Why are Facebook ads so cool?  Because you can target a very specific demographic…Facebook has all the data and you can use it to target your core audience.

Overall, Fan Pages are a pretty clear choice when it comes to getting your business some presence on Facebook.  But don’t try to jump in haphazardly; you’ll need to create at least a personal page first, and then put together a solid strategy for interacting with your customers.  Additionally, I would at least consider enlisting other people in your company (or family) to help manage your page with you.  Doing so will probably allow you to connect more quickly and more readily with your fans.

In the next few weeks, we’ve got a LOT of video material for “Small Business, Big Voices,” among which we’re including a couple of businesses who are making the switch from groups to fan pages.  Be sure to keep a lookout here and please do comment with your own experiences!

UPDATE 8pm EST: I just found this article on Mashable…nice summary and more information on what I discussed in this post: http://mashable.com/2009/05/27/facebook-page-vs-group/

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