If questions from our readers are any indication, there’s still a lot of
confusion about the differences between Facebook’s Profiles, Fan Pages, and Groups — and which
of these might best suit a nonprofit’s social-networking plan. Let’s take a closer look.
Facebook was conceived as a social network of individuals, so
everything starts with the individual Profile. Every member has a
Profile page, created automatically when the account is set up — it’s
the basic unit of Facebook.
And the two main tools available to nonprofits are Pages (or Fan Pages) and Groups. In addition, there are a number of applications
of particular use for nonprofits, notably Causes and Events, but we'll
leave the applications to another day and focus here on the basics.
A Facebook Profile is not a Facebook Page
As Facebook itself explains:
It’s important to understand the difference between your personal
account and your Facebook Page. Your personal account is the regular
user account that you log into when you sign in to Facebook, and this
is the account you use to manage your Facebook Page. Your personal
account profile is separate from your Facebook Page. When you edit your
personal account profile or add content to it, these changes will not
be reflected on your Facebook Page. Likewise, when you edit your
Facebook Page, these changes will not be reflected in your personal
account or your personal account profile.
An organization cannot set up a Facebook account / personal profile page. Facebook’s terms of service
are clear on this point. By using Facebook, you are required to “agree
not to use the Service or the Site to … register for more than one User
account, register for a User account on behalf of an individual other
than yourself, or register for a User account on behalf of any group or entity” among other conditions of use. Updated 02/02/10: Facebook has removed this section from its terms (Statement of Rights and Responsibilities) page since this article was first posted, although the FAQ stil makes it clear that "Profiles represent individuals and must be held under an individual
name, while Pages allow an organization, business, celebrity, or band to
maintain a professional presence on Facebook." Nonprofits and for-profit organizations do have the option to create a Business Account, if they'd prefer not to have their Page tied to an administrator's personal profile, but the functionality of Business Accounts are extremely limited. See the Facebook help FAQ on Business for more information.
In general, for your
nonprofit to establish a fully functioning Facebook presence, some individual in your
organization will need to join and set up a personal Profile page. This
person can then set up a Fan Page or Group — but behind every Page or Group there must be an individual Facebook user
who’s named as its administrator.
So right there we’ve got a question that comes up time and again: What if the individual who sets up your Page or Group decides to leave your organization?
The best suggestion I’ve come across yet is simply this: Make sure you have more than one person in an administrator role. The original “admin” can invite others to share the role, as long as those others are also Facebook members.
Facebook Page or Facebook Group?
As mentioned, Pages (or Fan Pages, as they are increasingly called, to distinguish them from personal Profile pages) and Groups are the two main tools that a nonprofit can use on
Facebook — so I really would like to be able to give a side-by-side
comparison of the features of each.
Indeed, that’s what I had in mind
when I first started drafting this post, several months ago.
But the problem with a feature-by-feature comparison of Pages and Groups
is that the rules keep changing. For example, Facebook used to limit
the numbers of Group members who could be bulk-messaged to 1000, but
the bar has been raised — to 5000, the last time I checked. It’s
hard to keep track of the fast-moving changes at Facebook.
That said, Ann Smarty (Search Engine Journal) made a good start early last October at a “pros and cons” comparison of Pages and Groups,
reporting on Search Engine Journal’s own Facebook experiments — but
even there, a reader was able to update her information within days of posting,
with a comment
“to let you know that Facebook now allows indexing of discussions with
groups that are available globally within Facebook.” As a matter of
fact, there are a lot of interesting insights in that comment thread, and it's well worth reading to learn about others' experiences and frustrations!
More recently, Facebook consultant Mari Smith
has written a fairly extensive comparison of Pages and Groups, suggesting how each might be
used. Her perspective is from the viewpoint of business, but as we know
there’s often a parallel between for-profit and not-for-profit
activities when it comes to communication and promotion. One point she
makes, which I have not seen widely mentioned, is worth noting:
For both Groups and Pages, you do have to manually track any and all
activity. There is no app or feature in Facebook that will notify you
when someone has commented on your Group or Page wall, posted a
link/photo/video, added to the discussion board etc.
Which is best? Mari Smith says, “My short answer is you need BOTH a
Group and at least one Page. Each serves different purposes.”
Features and functions all in, I concur: In practical terms, the biggest difference between Pages
and Groups lies in the relationship they create (or attempt to create)
with your constituents: Pages are for fans. Groups are for members. We don't interact with those two groups of people in quite the same way, or they with us.
This fits with the assessment of others who study Facebook. Indeed, it’s Ann Smarty’s final point too:
- Pages are generally better for a long-term relationships with your fans, readers or customers;
- Groups are generally better for hosting a (quick) active discussion and attracting quick attention.
Here’s how Facebook explains the difference between Pages and Groups:
Pages can only be created to represent a real public figure, artist,
brand or organization, and may only be created by an official
representative of that entity. Groups can be created by any user and
about any topic, as a space for users to share their opinions and
interest in that subject. Pages can be customized with rich media and
interactive applications to engage Page visitors. Applications can’t be
added to groups.
Pages are designed to allow Page admins to maintain a
personal/professional distinction on Facebook, while groups are a part
of your personal Facebook experience. If you’re a group admin, your
name will appear on that group, while Pages will never display their
admins’ names. Additionally, when you take actions on your group, such
as posting on your group’s wall, these actions will appear to come from
you as an individual. However, if you post or take other actions on a
Page you own, it will appear to come from the Page.
As long as a group is under 5000 members, group admins can send
messages to the group members that will appear in their inboxes. If the
group exceeds 5000, admins can’t send messages to all members. Page
admins can send updates to fans through the Page, and these updates
will appear in the “Updates” section of fans’ inboxes. There is no
limit on how many fans you may send an update to, or how many total
fans a Page can have. It’s also possible to restrict access to a group,
so that new members have to be approved, but access to a Page can only
be restricted by certain ages and locations.
For up-to-date and accurate information about what you can and
cannot do with Facebook Pages and Groups, your best bet to to go right
to the source — Facebook’s own help section:
The potential for exposure that Facebook can offer a nonprofit is
clear — even if Facebook itself can be pretty confusing! Being active there can
help you to interact with those supporters who are already Facebook members,
and to gain new supporters within that social network. It may even give
your some benefit in terms of search engine placement.
But in the growing excitement about social media and social networking, it’s
important to remember that no social-networking site can be a one-stop
solution for a nonprofit's online outreach.
Facebook is not a total substitute for building an online community at your own website.
Think of your Page and/or Group as an interactive billboard for your
nonprofit, establishing its overall presence for the audience that
exists within Facebook and serving as one more point at which potential
supporters can find your organization online. And ideally, your Page or Group — or both — will ultimately serve
to guide Facebook fans to your own blog and/or website.
Social networking is increasingly important, but is it wise that any organization should depend completely on a third-party platform to help them connect with supporters?
Embrace the features of Facebook for what they are and what they can do, but make your website the hub of your online community. It's there, on your own turf,
where you can encourage a higher level of engagement, subscriptions to
your blog or email newsletter, active membership in your organization,
conversions to offline actions, and the true two-way communication that leads to more lasting
commitment to your cause.