Facebook, initially created as a personal social network, has in recent incarnations become popular among marketing professionals for its potential for brand exposure. With a growth rate of 600,000+ users per day the potential audience for brand exposure is staggering, to say the least.
Facebook has two primary outlets for creating a presence for your brand: “Groups” and “Public Profile” (formerly “Fan Pages”).
The first and oldest method, Groups, have almost existed from Facebook’s 2004 inception. Groups work exactly as their name would imply. They serve as a medium for a community of people to express a common interest.
Groups have received little change in functionality or appearance since their initial deployment. Features are limited to a basic discussion thread for users, and a “wall” for users to write on. While these features are important, they do not provide much value to users outside of the ability to communicate on a rudimentary, primitive level.
In addition to the limited (and limiting) features of Groups, the landing page a user is greeted with is relatively sparse and stagnant. Activity within the group from administrators and other users is not accurately reflected, as discussion threads are somewhat hidden and users must scroll down to view wall postings.
What this amounts to is that users are not actively invited to engage with the group. There is no call to action, and no invitation to share information—both of which are vital to the existence and growth of any online community. Users must be invited to connect with your brand, and must be actively invited to participate.
Facebook Public Profiles (aka, Fan Pages)
The newest outlet for brand presence is Facebook’s Public Profiles. Originally called Fan Pages, Public Profiles have evolved drastically and dramatically from their inception several years ago. Originally, Fan Pages copied much of the functionality of Groups, with little differentiation or added value. Since then, Public Profiles have undergone at least two major functionality changes,. The latest change giving Public Profiles most of the same features and appearance of a personal Facebook profile.
The key differentiation between Fan Pages and Groups can be summed up as dynamic vs. static content, which comes largely from the ease of information sharing. Fan Pages immediately greet users with a call to action. Users land on the Fan Page wall, greeted with a text box, link-sharing features and a call to action that simply reads: “What’s on your mind?” This actively encourages users to share links, thoughts and comments.
One of the other key features of Public Profiles is content and activity showing up in user news feeds. This keeps the user actively engaged and encourages return visits to the Fan Page. Groups do not have the ability to publish “status updates”, which limits communication from administrators to messaging, which is far less engaging. Through status updates, administrators and fans can share links, videos, notes and just about any other online medium.
Public Profiles also allow for the integration of Facebook Applications, as with any other user profile. This opens a realm of possibilities for user engagement, as there are applications for games, quizzes, photo sharing and tons of others. At this time, there is still some kinks to be worked out as applications often do not fully work with Public Profiles, but given the potential I believe it will not be long before the issues are fixed and a whole host of applications become available for use with Public Profiles.
Administrators also have the ability to import RSS feeds from a blog, which is then published as a note, which in turn shows in user news feeds and once again engages users and actively reminds the user of both the brand and the blog. Let’s face it: not everyone subscribes to blogs, so importing your blog through a Public Profile is a great way to notify users of new blog posts. Users also then have the ability to copy and post the note to their profile through the “share” feature if they want to share it with their friends.
Profile administrators will also appreciate the “Insights” feature. Insights works much like Google Analytics to track Public Profile traffic, but also provides valuable demographic information. Administrators can view the male/female make up of their fans, as well as age ranges. Administrators can also track video views, picture views and other media views. This, in turn, provides excellent data on what most attracts and engages users thus allowing administrators to optimize content for maximum traction.
Public Profiles are Good, but not Great
As much potential as Public Profiles possess, they are not without their drawbacks. Administrators and fans alike are still not notified of “comments” left on wall postings, requiring administrators to check pages frequently for new activity and comments. The inclusion of Public Profiles in user news feeds is a major step in the right direction, and indication activity notifications may be forthcoming to user news feeds.
Groups are Dead
Given the direction Public Profiles have been heading through the past few updates, it is safe to say that Facebook Groups are dead. The lack of updates in functionality leads me to believe that Groups will either no longer be supported or may be relegated to “maintenance mode”—a concept akin to life-support in the online world.
Brands looking to create a presence would be wise to create a Public Profile as it provides far more user engagement and more potential for viral growth with every upgrade to functionality and features. With a potential audience of over 300,000,000 users, and growing exponentially daily, brands would be wise to establish a presence, given the low barrier of entry and high potential for return.