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A Closer Look at Facebook Events

Lori Halley 18 August 2008 13 comments

Facebook is fast becoming a popular way to publicize an organization’s event, invite guests, and track who plans to attend. Facebook Events may be just what your group needs — but could you be shutting out some of the people who might support your event, by relying solely on Facebook to manage it? The fact is, for non-members of the site, Facebook can feel like a frustrating series of closed doors.

In the Web2.0 world, where the emphasis is on shared information and open access, Facebook is something of an anomaly.  As a result, active users of Facebook may not always be aware of how limited the access is for non-members, especially if you’re automatically logged in when you visit the site and see it only from the member’s perspective.

Before you decide if the Facebook Events feature is the right tool for managing your organization’s event, try this: Bookmark your nonprofit’s Facebook Page, your personal Profile, a Group, a Discussion… then log out, and click back through your bookmarks to visit those pages. What information is still accessible, when you’re not logged in to a Facebook account?

Does it matter?

Let me tell you a true story…

A local nonprofit organized a benefit concert a few weeks ago, and the event should have been a hit — it should have been “standing room only.”  All the right pieces were in place. A popular band had volunteered to play, the cause was a good one, entry was by donation at the door, and the event was heavily promoted on Facebook: on the nonprofit’s Facebook Page and on that of the band, as well as by a good amount of sharing on the personal profiles of fans and supporters of both.

In addition, the nonprofit website and its newsletter included a link to the Facebook Event page where all the information about the concert had been posted. Members and mailing list contacts were sent invitations through Facebook, asking them to RSVP.

Yet, for all that effort, the event had a very disappointing turn-out. And the amount of money donated by those who did attend was barely enough to cover the cost of renting the hall.

What went wrong?

I became aware of this when a friend — a keen supporter of both the nonprofit and the band — complained about having to join up at Facebook in order to get even the most basic time-and-place information about the event. Because he was not already a Facebook member, the publicized Event link led only to the Facebook log-in/sign-up page.

In this case, an even larger stumbling block was that concert seating was limited, and available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Anyone who wanted to get in was required to confirm their attendance through the Facebook Event page. Effectively, that meant that this event was not “open to the public” as intended. It was open only to those who had received a direct invitation to the event, and to Facebook members: those who could access the Event page to register their intention to attend.

The lesson?

If you’re holding a public event, open those doors! Online event registration should make the process easier on the event organizers, yes, but also on those who wish to attend.  Not everyone is a member of Facebook; and not everyone wants to be compelled to register with a website that they might not otherwise choose to join.

That said, the Facebook Events feature has a lot going for it.

The limitations may or may not be an issue for your specific intended use. The key is to be aware of those limitations, so you can plan to work around them and find other ways to keep those doors open.

You can create an Event through your personal profile or through your nonprofit Page, whichever is most appropriate, then send a message to invite your friends and supporters, even if they are not Facebook members. To invite non-members, you’ll just need their email addresses. And non-members can RSVP by following a link that Facebook sends them in the invitation email.

The one big drawback here is that there’s no real way for non-members to know if they have successfully confirmed their attendance. At best, they may notice that the number of attending guests will change by one after they click the RSVP button. To actually view the guest list, however, to see if they appear on it — even if you’ve remembered to customize your Event to make the guest list visible to members — will still require them to login to a Facebook account.

(Ideally, there should be an automatic email confirmation, but at the very least I’d like to see some sort of onscreen acknowledgement that the event registration was successful. It’s common courtesy, for one thing; and it could save you a lot of time in replying to anxious follow-up emails!)

If you cancel your event, Facebook will automatically notify all your guests of the cancellation — a very convenient feature — and you have the option of adding a note to explain the situation.  If you simply make a change to the Event, however — change the date or location, or other important details — there’s no automatic notification from Facebook. But you do have the ability to “Message All Guests” to let them know of the change: Facebook users will receive a message in their on-site Inbox, while non-users will receive the same message by email.

So far, so good — but again, there’s a closed door for those who are not Facebook members. The email they receive will say, “To reply to this message, follow this link”  and the link will take them to a Facebook Inbox page for messages sent to the Event guests. To actually be able to post a reply to your message, however — guess what? 

Again, a Facebook account is required.

We’ve talked before about the difference between a Profile and a Page on Facebook — and the advantages in setting up a nonprofit Facebook Page because it’s viewable by the public and can be listed in search engines.In other words, it is a way to open a door into the black box of Facebook for those who are not members.

Given that, here’s something a bit odd:

Even if you set up a Facebook Event through  your (public) nonprofit or business Page, rather than through your (private) personal profile, there seems to be no way to allow non-Facebook members to view the events listings on the Page, other than through that one-to-one invitation link. In short, even though your nonprofit Page is public, its Events box can only be seen by invited guests and logged-in Facebook members. 

Perhaps this will change, as Facebook continues to refine its new interface, but for now I see it as a fairly serious limitation to your ability to promote an event to the general public.

The bottom line?

If you’re throwing a private event for people you already know and are in regular contact with — particularly if that group is predominantly made up of Facebook regulars — the Facebook Events function may be just what you need. If you’re hosting a public event, however, all those closed doors may cut down on the number of people who are willing to jump through hoops to attend.

By all means, yes, do take advantage of Facebook Events as a way of reaching out to the Facebook members in your contituency and making it easy for them to help spread the word about your event. But until some of those closed doors open up for the non-Facebook world, and two-way communication is enabled, you may want to think twice before relying on Facebook alone for managing your guest list and online event registrations.

Want to learn more about how your non-profit organization can make the most of social media on a small budget? Get updates from the Wild Apricot non-profit technology blog by RSS feed or by email, free!

Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Monday, 18 August 2008 at 6:16 PM


  • HippoTraining said:

    Tuesday, 19 August 2008 at 7:11 AM

    Great reminders.  So true.  

    Facebook is an excellent way of promoting anything through their social network capabilities.  But to exclusively use Facebook to register and provide details would be a big mistake.

    It seems as if that case study you mention got it backwards.  They tried to promote via several methods and send people to Facebook.  I would have done it the opposite way.  Promote via Facebook (and MySpace, Twitter, etc) and send them to a website for details and registering.

    In fact, they should have used a Wild Apricot site, right?!?  

    (or something similar)


  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Tuesday, 19 August 2008 at 9:57 AM

    You put your finger right on it, here, Corey: the case study is one of a backwards strategy! It makes good sense, I agree, to put all your information and activities in one central place (and one where you're in control of access, preferably!) - and then stretch the tentacles out into the social media and social networking sites, to reach the various segments of your readership /membership /constituency.

  • Brad Bell said:

    Monday, 01 September 2008 at 6:40 AM

    It seems Facebook is really an <em>asocial</em> networking site. It gets it's power from <em>excluding</em> people.

    I think people get confused because it's marketed as social networking, but it's business model is based on avoiding networking with most of the internet. Social networking means a reduction in sociality.

  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Tuesday, 02 September 2008 at 6:03 PM

    That's an interesting observation, Brad -- social, yes, but a closed circle. And that is the main drawback that needs to be accomodated if one uses Facebook for promotion. It is a useful channel, but it can't be the only one.

  • Henry said:

    Thursday, 06 November 2008 at 2:37 AM

    Is there anyway to 'vet' who becomes a fan of a non-profit facebook page?

  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Friday, 07 November 2008 at 9:05 AM

    Henry, if by "vet" you mean approve or not-approve a fan, the short answer is "no." The fan gets to decide if they want to be one or not, just like in real life.

    At the moment Facebook doesn't give you a way to remove a fan or prevent someone from becoming a fan of your page if they want to - except for the adge restriction options, if they are under a certain age -  but what you can do is block someone from posting on your nonprofit page. To block a fan from posting a message or video or link or whatever, just look for the block link near their posted content.

  • Duane Mantick said:

    Thursday, 08 January 2009 at 7:29 PM

    being fairly new to facebook, just what the heck *IS* an "event"?  A friend of mine is a singer/songwriter who is currently playing in New Zealand.  There is a "facebook event" and in order to leave a comment I found out (by playing with it, no real instructions were found) I needed to RSVP.  What does that mean?  That I'm actually telling them I'm going to New Zealand (which I'm not) or simply that I am "virtual" attending in the computer sense? It's no wonder there are 8 gazillion questions about events in the FAQ and help areas, nobody knows!  Please reply to my facebook or I'll never be able to accidentally navigate back to the answer.........  :-)

  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Friday, 09 January 2009 at 4:44 AM

    Duane, an Event is something that happens at a specific place and time, to which the organizer(s) invites other people. Sometimes an event takes place in the "real" world -- as when a musician invites people to come here him play at a coffeehouse, for example -- and sometimes it's a "virtual" event like an online chat or a conference call. The "Location" listing for the specific event you're speaking of should tell you whether you'd have to travel to NZ to attend, or not. And if it's a friend who's invited you, you can always send him a message to clarify which kind of event it might be. As far as I know -- and I could be wrong on this, in which case I hope someone else will weigh in and correct me! -- there does not seem to be a way to post on the "wall" of an event page to which you haven't RSVP'd in the affirmative.

    Speaking of RSVPs, I have to share this line from Hal Niedzviecki's NY Times article http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/26/magazine/26lives-t.html about his experience with hosting a Facebook event --

    I would learn, when I asked some people who didn’t show up the next day, that “definitely attending” on Facebook means “maybe” and “maybe attending” means “likely not.”

  • Mike said:

    Friday, 30 January 2009 at 2:01 PM

    What I'm trying to figure out is if there is a way to NOT require an RSVP.  My group is a church.  Let's say we're having a congregational meeting.  I want a good turnout, but I don't particularly care about knowing exactly who is coming.

    Also, we have about 50 people on Facebook out of 300.  The event notice is just one way I'd like to get the word out.  Even if I wanted RSVPs, it would be a pain to deal with the other 250 people.

    Do you know of a way to opt in or out of an RSPV?

  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Friday, 30 January 2009 at 3:14 PM

    I don't believe so, Mike: RSVP is one of the main purposes of the Events application. But it sounds like perhaps you don't really need to use Events -- maybe a simple notice and/or message about your meeting would serve the purpose?

  • Joe said:

    Monday, 02 March 2009 at 9:47 AM

    You can make a graphic with all the event details. Even non-fb members can see the graphic.

  • ian david chapman said:

    Wednesday, 29 April 2009 at 5:28 AM

    If you want to use Facebook to publicize your event but not close the doors to outsiders consider using EventBrite http://budurl.com/1event they have full Facebook connect integration which means that any guest attending can tell their friends directly through Facebooks newsfeed.

    Eventbrite also manage ticketing (for a small commission) and integrate with google maps

    I would also suggest creating an event using Facebook events but to direct the sign ups to your Eventbrite listing. Facebook is the best place in the world to get free word of mouth advertising and doing it this way you get the best of both worlds


  • Dustin Nielson said:

    Wednesday, 20 May 2009 at 1:27 PM

    If you're looking for another way of using events on facebook we've created a facebook application to help enhance the facebook event experience.  http://www.viralevents.net allows you to do more creative things with your events as well as adding ticketing all within the facebook framework.

Sorry, this blog post is closed for further comments.

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