Monday, January 24, 2011

Attn: Business Owners. You Suck at Facebook

So you've decided you want to promote your business through the magic of social networking. You want to communicate with your customers, share information about your business, and possibly generate revenue by leveraging the friends of your existing customers. That's all well and good, but don't screw it up! For the purposes of this article, I'm going to deal with Facebook because it's far and away the most popular, successful social networking site.

There are a handful of different types of "pages" on Facebook. Choose the wrong one, and you minimize your potential business impact, miss out on useful tools for tracking activity, and even potentially frustrate your customers. Like me.

"Personal" pages - these are sort of the basic Facebook pages. They're intended for real, live, regular people. Not businesses, not celebrities, not associations, not schools, just PEOPLE. DO NOT use this sort of page for your business. I'll discuss why below.

"Group" pages - luckily you can no longer create these, but the old ones still linger. They suck. They were intended for clubs, associations, and other, well, groups who needed a dedicated gathering place online and wanted to control who was able to join. Group pages could be "open," allowing anyone to join, or "closed," where you needed permission to join. DO NOT use this sort of page for your business. Again, I'll explain below.

Here's a picture of what you actually see these days when you click the "create new page" link in Facebook:

"Community" pages - these are sort of the replacement for groups, I think. Sort of. Anyway, they're intended for groups of people who share some common interest, from organizations to charitable causes to political activism. They're not intended for businesses. DO NOT use this sort of page for your business.

An "Official Page" - ah-ha, now we're getting somewhere. These used to be called "fan" pages, because you would click the "fan" button to indicate that you liked the page. You can choose from the list you see above, because Official Pages are meant for businesses (like yours), products, organizations (from sports teams to political parties), and celebrities. THIS is the sort of page to use! Why? Read on!

Personal pages are meant to be used by people, so a lot of the information fields don't really apply to businesses. Plus, networking with a "person" in Facebook is a two-way street. Somebody who wants to network with you must "request" that you become their friend, and you must then accept them. Then you show up on their "friends" list and you are in all other ways treated as a "person" in Facebook. It's incredibly awkward, and may be a turn-off for some potential customers. They don't necessarily want you on their friends list, they just want to see when you're having a sale or a special. Another factor - and I believe it applies to both "Personal" and "Group" pages - is that there's a limit of 5000 "friends" for each type. There's no limit for "Official" business pages - you can have 10,000 people "like" your business. Why limit yourself if you don't have to? Sure, 5000 seems like a lot when you have 0, but by the time you're at 4,999, it'll be way too late to say, "Gee, I wish I'd used a different kind of Facebook page for my business."

Worse, a "Person" page can really only be interacted with by other facebook members. If you want people who might not have joined Facebook (yet) to be able to see your page, they won't.

I'm going to skip over "Group" pages because you cannot create them anymore. If you already have a "Group" page, read on to see the merits of an "Official" page and it should quickly become clear why you're in the wrong place. I'm going to skip "community" pages, too. They're just not the right place for your business because it's not what they were made for. Now, on to "Business" pages.

A properly-configured "Official Business" page on Facebook can be a good marketing tool for you. I actually know of some folks who are convinced that Facebook pages are the be-all, end-all of marketing, supplanting everything businesses have learned about marketing best-practices over the last fifty (or a hundred or a thousand) years. I'm not quite on board with that yet, but there are definitely some strong benefits to be had if you're using a Facebook page to market your business. For instance:

As I noted before, "Official Business" pages don't require you to log in to see what's on their wall. Anybody can come visit your page. AND, Business pages have built-in tools, native to Facebook, that let you monitor traffic to see how many visitors you've had, how active the page was, and other useful information. You DO NOT get this built-in to non-Official pages.

Also, clicking the "like" button on an Official page is a piece of cake. It allows interested Facebook users to follow your messages on their own "News Feed," just like a friend, but it doesn't involve them waiting for you to "approve" them as a friend, nor do you show up on their list of friends.

Best of all, Official Business pages were designed specifically for businesses. They have all the necessary fields for you to explain what your business is all about, and doesn't have all of the goofy fields like "interests" that simply don't apply to a business. An Official Business page will make you look professional and web-savvy. It allows you to turn on various "applications" such as discussion forums, coupons and special offers, special events, and even a customized "Welcome Page." If you learn the Facebook-specific HTML (or hire somebody who knows it), you can even tie those applications or the "Start Page" into other websites or databases. You can control access to things like coupons or special offers so that they're only available once people "like" your page. Once you have 25 "likes," you can even set up a custom short-name for your Facebook page so people can find it more easily. Simply, an "Official Business" makes you look like you know what you're doing, and any other type of page makes it look like you don't. Plain and simple.

So from one Facebook user to another, please, please, business owners, get it together. Do it right. It'll make everybody's life easier and really help contribute to growing your business.


  1. Maybe in a follow-up article:

    1) Using an FBML landing page to people who haven't yet liked your page.

    2) Why not to merge your business page with your business place (yet).

  2. With regard to 1. I figured I'm probably not knowledgeable enough about FBML to help anybody who needed to be told not to use a "personal" page for their business. It'd be the blind leading the blind. I do refer to the "Welcome" page above, though.

    With regard to 2., I'm actually not sure what you mean.

  3. #2 - as you probably know, you can create a FB "place" which people can "check-in" to in order to raise visibility. You can then "claim" that place as your business to allow you to customize the page. Furthermore, FB will then prompt you to merge the FB place with your FB page which seems at first to be a great idea. However - the moment you do so, your FB page will look like a FB place (which people are less familiar with) and all of your customizations (landing pages, etc.) will be forever lost - and you can't un-merge!

  4. Ouch! Well, there you have it, folks!

    I'm actually only peripherally aware of FB's "place" pages and have no idea how to create one (I do know that there's Facebook stuff that you can only access from a smartphone, which may or may not be a factor for "place" pages. I don't own a smartphone and don't really plan to, so anything specific to such items is lost on me.), but let Dave's message serve as a warning to Business page owners!