Sunday, February 13, 2011

Facebook Fan Pages - The Newsletters of the 21st Century

"We need to have a Facebook Fan Page, so we can communicate with our customers."

Some years ago, I was working at a company which had been acquired. Our department was shaved thinner, person by person. Until one day, I was approached to write a departmental newsletter. I knew instantly that I was next. There were four people left in the department - my supervisor, a supervisor to whom I reported with a dotted line and their supervisor. And me. I asked politely which *one* of them would be the editor and they replied that they all would. What would the point of the newsletter be? "Communicating with our clients and other departments," I was told. I began a new job search the next day.

Now I see departments, companies and colleges all racing to build Facebook  Fan Pages to "communicate with our customers." And every time I hear that, I can hear my old manager saying, "We're going to do a departmental newsletter."

Are the people you want to reach on Facebook?

If yes, great!

Do they want to connect their personal lives on Facebook with their professional or academic lives?

The first question is a McGuffin. If you are a university department, plenty of your students will be on Facebook. How many of those want to be on your Fan Page? The same goes for employees. They use Facebook to communicate with friends and family. Do they want to have their professional lives intersect that?

If yes, then we can move on to:

What reason do you have for them to join?

This is a huge hurdle. "Communicating with them" doesn't actually have much meaning.
Communicating what? To whom? Why? These are not just irritating questions - they are critical pieces of information you need to be able to answer in order to shape your new Fan Page into something useful.

Communications to employees are not the same as to customers. What might interest one audience is likely to be entirely irrelevant to another. For a university, communications going out to students, staff and faculty all are - or should be - different. Students won't care about faculty or administrative procedures, unless they affect them.

What reason is there for them to ever come back?

You can make it mandatory for every employee to sign up on your new Facebook Fan Page, but you cannot make them read and comment on every post. (Ideally, they would, but that's not a realistic assumption.) As we've discussed before, it's easy to "Like" a Page and just as easy to "Hide" it.

Customers can be drawn back by special deals, new services or contests. If your goal is to communicate with employees or students - what do you have to draw them back? Of course, it is reasonably simple to proclaim that this is the main form of inter-office communication now, but there will always be someone who didn't get that memo. In order to draw people's attention to the site, there needs to be something to make them look. And what drives a customer is not going to be the same thing that will drive an employee. What drives alumni to check in is not the same thing that interests current students.

How often are you going to publish and curate?

One of the least fun aspects of putting together the departmental newsletter was chasing down stories. Most newsletters only survive a short period of time, because there's not *that* much to say about a department and resources get shifted to more important work at some point. Facebook Fan Pages are no different. It's not simple to maintain content over a long period of time - especially if you have multiple audiences, with different agendas.

I recently visited the Fan Page for the school I attended for my Masters degree and was amazed - the entire page was filled to the brim with spam, and most of the "People Who Liked This Page" were fake, spammer's profiles. Clearly this had been set up with good intentions, but left unresourced. I declined to "Like" a school I love, because the page was toxic.

It's a nice idea to have a departmental newsletter Facebook Fan Page, but until you can honestly answer who its for - and why they should care- it'll end up being a white elephant.
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