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Facebook is an easy place to engage a group of people around your brand. The social tools, group functionality and free brand pages give companies, clubs and organizations an unprecedented level of access to a group of interested consumers. The easy advertising tools also allow businesses to promote themselves to the 100 million (or thereabouts) users on the social network, not to mention the social advertising that takes place when someone joins your group or becomes a fan.

But as easy as companies, brands an organizations find the interface and as powerful as the feature set its, messing it up can be easy to do and the negative repercussions very powerful in driving people away from your brand.

With a tip of the cap to Collin Douma (links below), I thought it appropriate to begin a list of Facebook Group and Brand Page Best Practices For Brands. This is, by no means, a complete list, but something we can all add to. (Hint, hint: Comments are a good place for your thoughts.)

Know The Differences

There is a distinction between Brand Pages and Groups but they are subtle and often hidden in technical executions you won’t notice until you try things. Here are some distinctions which should help you decide if you need a Group or a Page. With apologies to Search Engine Journal, I took their chart idea and expanded on it a bit.

The high points are that Pages are publicly accessible and indexed which is important because that fan page can be seen by someone not registered or logged in to Facebook. These pages also show up in search results, so the content there can help with search visibility and reputation management. You can also advertise your fan page via Facebook’s social ads. Group pages can only be seen by registered users and can even be set to private for members only viewing. They can also not be advertised via the social ads function. So if you are trying to reach a broad audience and want as many members as possible, meaning you may even want to advertise what you are doing, go with the Page over the Group. If you’re more apt to invite those you know to the collection of folks, Groups will serve the purpose.

NOTE: Thanks to Collin Douma for the Group-Social Ad functionality correction.

Another difference is that when you send out a notification to all the users of a Group, the message goes to their Facebook Inbox like an email. For a Brand Page, the notification goes into the “Updates” tab which is less personal and often overlooked or ignored by users. There is currently no way to email your fans on a Brand Page, so if personal communication and outreach is your aim, Groups is a better option.

Brand Pages also let you supply much more robust information about your organization as part of the page profiles.

Finally, if your brand or organization has a development staff or might one day add a Facebook Application around what you do, you’ll want to integrate it with your Brand Page. Groups aren’t intrinsically linked to apps since the purpose of Groups is geared more toward informal clubs of people rather than official community places for brands for their fans.

Search Engine Journal has the comparison chart that inspired my version above and some more information, though I don’t agree with their assessment that Pages are better for long-term relationships and Groups are better for hosting quick discussions. Social Media Club Louisville has had a nice Group page on Facebook for a year that has served our purposes very well.

SEJ’s chart also indicates Groups don’t allow the ability to create related events with invitations which we’ve done every month since January. Brand Page events are actually a bit more complicated as you have to send an update about the event rather than a direct invitation to one’s inbox. SMC Louisville only started a Brand Page recently because our membership in the Group page was tied to our Network (Louisville) and wouldn’t let members of other networks join. (This is a setting you’ll choose when you first start your Group. I would recommend setting it to “Available To All Facebook Users” since a person’s network and yours may not mesh.)

Setting It Up

Knowing what you want to use the Group or Page for is fundamental to how you set it up, so decide all this first. Do you want users to be able to post public messages on a wall? Do you want to have related groups or events shown? What about photos and videos? Do you want to allow users to upload them or just the administrators?

Obviously, to encourage participation and dialog, the more you open the flood gates, the better. But you also need to be aware that detractors could gravitate to a page with open permissions. (More on them in a moment.) However, if you elect to turn certain social features off, you will do yourself a big favor by using your Information box or Notes section to list your policies and procedures for your Facebook presence. If you don’t allow images or videos, for instance, explain why and encourage people to send their images and videos to the administrator for uploading. There’s nothing wrong with moderating comments and submissions, so long as you tell the users why you’re doing it and being consistent and fair when deleting or denying submissions.

And make sure to set up more than one administrator. At Doe-Anderson, we call it the bus rule. If you were to be hit by a bus tomorrow, who would step in? Make sure someone else has access to the content to manage the page. The time lapse between the Uptown Express dribbling you down Second Avenue and someone realizing there’s unmoderated filth on your brand page could be long enough to get your group, client or business in hot water.

Providing Content

Nothing makes for a bad Facebook Group or Page than stagnant content. Like a corporate blog or dynamic website, you need to engage people regularly. Even if it’s just posting a new message board topic each week, do something on a regular basis (the more frequent the better) to elicit a response from folks. The frequency depends on your purpose and audience. For example, the Social Media Club Louisville Group page has been essentially a method to invite and solicit RSVPs for our monthly events. So monthly worked. (Past tense because we’ve recently transitioned to a Brand Page.) If we were trying to drive conversation about the Social Media Club and get more people actively involved on- and off-line, we would ramp up the frequency of our content.

Moderating User-Provided Content

The rules for moderating content on Facebook Group and Brand Pages is really no different than those for moderating content on your own website. To encourage conversation, you really need to have an open door policy, but can certainly apply some filters or restrictions, so long as you make it clear you’re doing so. Here are some thoughts, all of which can be applied to message boards, wall posts, picture and video submissions or other content your users provide:

  1. Clearly state your policies somewhere on the page or via a link from the page. The first Message Board entry is a good place to put this. Make it from you and clearly outline what’s acceptable and not on your Group/Page.
  2. Having a policy saying offensive items will not be tolerated is almost a must have. Certainly, this varies depending upon your subject matter and level of offensive tolerance, but cautioning people not to use images or language that is offensive based on sex, race, religion, etc., is important for legal reasons as much as cleanliness of the submissions. But you don’t have to be very detailed, either. “We won’t tolerate anything we deem to be offensive,” is fair and straight forward, plus it gives you some flexibility.
  3. That said, deleting comments that might be critical of you or your organization is not only not cool, it’s a cop out. Instead, you should polish your experience and ability to deal with detractors. Andy Sernovitz has some good ideas on that here. You can also find interesting considerations for dealing with the negative folks from Valeria Maltoni, Connie Benson (via Jeremiah Owyang) and Jeremy Schoemaker (a/k/a ShoeMoney). All these pointers are strong but the essential approach is that if you respond to the negative with an openness and willingness to listen to their beef, they’ll either eventually flip to loving you for validating and addressing their concerns or back down from their stance because they didn’t think you’d respond or anticipated you would just delete their comment. Plus, when you have an engaged community of supporters, they’ll often weed out those bad seeds as a group, thwarting the negative by defending you.
  4. Make it clear what you will and will not tolerate in terms of marketing messages. If you don’t care if folks recommend products and services, say so, but define what you think crosses the line into spam and indicate that won’t be tolerated. If you won’t allow marketing messages at all, be clear. For example, “You are fine to state who you work for, but a description of what your company does is not warranted. Please don’t go that far.”
  5. Understand your competitors will be as tempted as anyone to play in your sandbox. Know this going in and decide how you’d like to handle it. Obviously, I wouldn’t recommend a totalitarian, always delete approach. While you don’t have to tolerate gross pimping of their product, you will be surprised how interesting the conversation can be if you engage them in discussions about the industry. Keep in mind, however, that arguing each other’s finer points only means you’re engaging in a pissing match in front of your own fans. Best to thank them for contributing their opinion and moving on to something good about your product. If you’re really confident, as your fans what they think of your competition and watch them slink away.

I would also recommend “Managing Online Forums” by Patrick O’Keefe, which has an entire section on dealing with the types of users and posts you’ll find in public communications venues. O’Keefe dives in deep and is very thorough in discussing legal considerations and more. The book is well worth the price of admission. ($24 according to the cover.)

There are more specific areas of advice I would give for the use of notes, reviews, wall posts and more, but these are normally very dependent upon your brand, organization, product, service or purpose on Facebook. Instead of diving any deeper, I’d like to know what advice or experiences you would share relevant to Groups or Brand Pages on Facebook. Offer your tips in the comments section and I’ll compile them into a tip sheet PDF for everyone to download and share (with appropriate credit given, of course.)

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is the founder and chief instigator for Social Media Explorer's blog. He is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for CafePress, one of the world's largest online retailers. His opinions are his, not necessarily theirs. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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