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Big changes to Facebook Pages

, Friday, March 6th, 2009

If your organization is active on Facebook, you’re likely to be affected by some big changes they’re making to their Pages.  You may remember that last year, Facebook rolled out “new Facebook” to its users – a new interface with a different layout for homepages and profiles.  The new format emphasized the news feed and conversations, and introduced tabbed sections that resulted in cleaner, less cluttered profiles.

Facebook is now starting to roll out a similar update for Pages, the profile-equivalent for organizations and businesses.  (To summarize: profiles are intended specifically for individual people; pages are meant to be used by entities like businesses, non-profits, bands, etc.  Users can choose to become fans of pages they like, and receive updates from them.)  Pages are the main way that many non-profits maintain a presence on Facebook, and this new design means doing some rethinking about how best to use Facebook to reach your supporters.  Some of the most exciting updates affect how Pages can interact with their Fans – soon, your Page will be able to post status updates and share items in their fans’ news feeds, just like an individual user.  Overall, it makes Pages more viral – and don’t we all want to be more viral?

You can check out all the details at Inside Facebook.

What do these updates mean for organizations using the web for social change?  I think it means a lot of great new opportunities – and a new way of thinking about Facebook.  Learn more after the jump.

The way people use Facebook has been changing.  Their new interface encourages more sharing and communicating by providing more substantive ways to engage in real, ongoing conversations.  There’s less emphasis on shiny, clickable applications and more emphasis on content.  For most non-profits, this is probably good news. Building applications is expensive, and having them go viral is not guaranteed.  With the new Pages, applications will be less visible and play a smaller role.  What will be more visible is your actions and ideas: you can share not just announcements, but observations, updates, and interesting content, and it will appear right in your fans’ news feed.  They won’t have to go to your Page to interact with you – though they still can.  They can engage in dialogue with you and other supporters, share your updates with a friend, and just be part of the community.  A big limitation of Pages until now has been that updates to the Wall and other discussion areas were never broadcast – if your fans didn’t return to your page, they would never know a new discussion was happening.

This is the “social” in social media.  Engaging supporters in your mission will now mean engaging them in conversation, and starting a flow of ideas.  You can learn from them as much as they can learn from you.  If you interact with them frequently, they’ll be in the habit of listening, and will probably be more active, more engaged, and more excited when you ask them to get involved.

There are some challenges that come along with these brave new communication channels.  You may encounter resistance within your organization – may already have encountered it when you first moved onto Facebook – at the idea of engaging in such open, public dialogue about your mission.  You’ll be subjected to scrutiny and criticism by both your supporters and your opponents, and they’ll have easy access to tell you what they think.  It may take some organizational courage to make the jump and use social media to really engage your supporters.

Then, you have to figure out how you want to communicate.  What will your content be?  What will you ask of your fans?  How often will you update your Page?  When do you want to encourage two-way dialogue, and when do you want to shout out your message?  Here are a few ideas:

  • Repackage your messaging from other media (like email) in a briefer, friendlier form.  Facebook is more geared towards bite-sized pieces of information.
  • Share links, blog posts, pictures, and videos – either from your own site, the news, or relevant 3rd-party sites.
  • Ask questions to spark discussion.  These could range from serious questions about your newest campaign to fun, light-hearted questions just to get people talking.
  • When you promote a campaign on your Page, use status updates to share news with your fans.  Is Congress debating the legislation you’re supporting at this very moment?  Let them know.
  • Keep an eye on your messaging volume and changes in membership.  While the non-profit community has gotten very saavy about determining the “right amount” of email to send, Facebook updates are still somewhat uncharted territory.  It’s safe to say that Facebook users will tolerate much more frequent status updates than they would emails, or even the current form of Facebook page updates.  But how much is too much for your fans?  You’ll have to test and find out.

Besides communication strategy, there are some other ways you’ll need to adapt to the new Page design.  The Inside Facebook article has a good overview of the changes you should plan for and decisions you should make in advance.  Some things to consider:

  • Applications are not dead, but they will be greatly de-emphasized in the new design.  You’ll be able to fit some narrow applications onto tabs of your choice, but most of them will be grouped together on a single tab.  Think about what is most important for you and your users.  Do you want to promote your Cause?  Have you built a cool application that you want to highlight?  Consider which applications you want to show on your wall tab (where all your current fans will land when they visit your page) or your info tab (where new visitors are likely to go).  For organizations with active Causes, you’ll want to move it off the applications tab and into a more visible spot.
  • Now that your Page has multiple tabs, you can choose your default view.  This is the tab that new visitors will see when they first arrive at your page.  You will probably choose either your info tab or your wall – the info tab may make the most sense, especially if your wall is not very active, but if you have lively discussions on your wall, consider sending new visitors there instead.  Remember also that you can create and customize additional tabs, so you could opt to build your own landing tab.

How do you feel about these upgrades?  How will you take advantage of them on your Page?

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