Using Facebook For Your Organization

Over the last year or so, I have set it as a professional development task to put Facebook to work for some of the organizations in which I am involved, and figure out what it is good for and where it falls short.

Here are a few of my observations:

An organization with a formal existence and a real relationship with its supporters/clients etc. should create a "page" rather than a "group". The "page" format is more conducive to presenting a coherent message and managing your image. It also has useful analytics on traffic, demographics etc.

A group is fine for informal communities of interest, and has a nice "email all" and "invite all to event" feature, but it doesn't let you assume the identity of the organization. You are always you. Note however, that if what you are about is sharing photographs, you should stay a "group". The "page" format no longer allows "fans" to post pictures more than one at a time.

The following suggestions will apply to your "page".

"Brand" your page in a manner consistent with your web page and printed material. This includes making sure the name of the organization is the same in all places.

Keep your content current. This includes wall posts and events. If you don't have the time or interest to regularly contribute content and keep it current, then perhaps you shouldn't bother.

A lot of people create fan pages that have no other purpose than to allow people to define themselves by their interests. (You can be a fan of going barefoot or not being on fire). If you want to create such a page, go ahead but I can't see any value in creating a static page for your organization.

Conversely, remember that being a fan of your page is also a way for people to define themselves. Present yourself in a way that encourages that.

Manage your wall. Delete out of date event content and monitor fan posts. You should, of course, delete anything offensive or inappropriate, though the definition of such will vary depending on the nature of your group. If possible, allow fans to post to the "default" page, but if they become a problem, you can set it up to default to owner content only.

Make sure your website and Facebook page content are in sync. At the very least, make sure they don't contradict each other. The people in charge of the website should also be admins on your Facebook page, even if they aren't the primary caretakers, in case urgent updates are required.

Remember that everything you post to your wall appears on the newsfeed of all your "fans". Be sure that it is useful to them, and avoid "spamming" them with too much. Keep your posts to the minimum needed to reflect well on your organization and its mission. The same applies to your status updates, with also appear on people's newsfeeds. If you inadvertently post an event or some other content to your wall that you didn't intend to push out to your fans at that moment, delete it.

A page does not have an "email all" feature, but can send "updates" to all fans. Again, be sparing and keep your communication to the amount necessary to maintain awareness among your fans without cluttering their newsfeeds with extraneous stuff. Note however, that a post, which reflects on your subscribers' newsfeeds is easy for them to miss if they happen to check Facebook on an irregular basis. The "update" is a more comprehensive form of communication.

If you have a "news story" or a complex message to convey, create a "note". You can share the content of this note via an update if it is necessary, but by creating a note, you provide a stable, linkable and sharable place for your information to reside.

Work hard to build your "fan"base. Get everyone who is involved in the organization and who is on Facebook, to join and to suggest the page to all their friends who might be interested. They should also post it to their "wall", so it will appear on people's newsfeeds. If you have an email list, be sure to send a link to your page to all your email subscribers, inviting them to become fans. I would not, however, recommend using Facebook to send email invitations to join Facebook. This can be very annoying and could alienate your supporters.

You may find it useful to place a Facebook advertisement. These can be targeted by geographic location and by interests reflected in people's profiles. You are charged for these ads per click. As advertising goes, it is pretty cheap, but it will cost you, depending on your reach and interest base, a few dozen or hundred dollars. This does have the value of reaching beyond your existing interest base and networks -- provided you have an organization with a broad appeal and a few bucks to spend.

As a final note: a social networking approach allows your supporters to develop a stronger relationship with you, and you with them--and also lets you see exactly who they are and communicate with them in a more immediate and intimate way than email. It can be very useful, provided you have the time and interest to make use of it.

That should be enough to get started. Go for it, it's free!

Walter