To friend or to fan on Facebook?

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I’ve been thinking about writing this post for several months now (I’ve actually written it out on my personal blog only to delete it), but I think with the recent surge in organizations and non-profits joining Facebook, it’s definitely time to address the issue.

With the exception of a few groups that were on Facebook early on, I’ve adopted a policy that some could say is stubborn.

I haven’t been adding organizations or businesses as my friends – I wait for them to create a group or a page on the popular social networking site (with an emphasis on pages). It’s not that I don’t want to support your group or not be your friend. I still think it’s a little weird anyway, though I should probably let Chris Brogan’s post speak to that aspect. It’s just that, well, pages give you much more flexibility than anything that you were able to get on MySpace and it protects your followers as well while allowing you to provide another way for folks to keep up with what you’re doing. Yes, seriously…

A conversation that I’ve found myself having more and more with people recently involves trying to figure out how to measure the return on investment into using social media. By using pages on Facebook, you’re able to easily glean some pretty valuable information.

facebookpageThe Insights feature,helps you with infromation about how “sticky” the page is (visit totals) and demographic information (age, percentages, sex, etc.). This allows you to get a better understanding of not only who’s following your organization/business but how you can tailor the message for that audience. People like to feel as though they’re being spoken to directly and not being fed a general message. You can blame that on social media I suppose though I think we’ve always been that way. The tools have just changed to allow for that message to be even more personal that it’s ever been before.

For those that have been concerned about losing your ability to make your existence on Facebook unique, the Static FBML application is available for use on pages, meaning that you can use HTML (or their own unique markup – FBML) and insert buttons, video and the like on the page, making the main section of it look any way you want. Probably the best example I’ve been able to find is BBC America, though there are countless others. If you want others example, you should check out Facebook’s page on Pages (pretty cool, huh?).

It also becomes a valuable tool in terms of sending out messages. Sending a message to your friends (if you have a bunch of them) means that you end up having to resend several times due to recipient limits. Sending a message to your fans from a page means that it will end up in their account’s inbox, making it more likely for individuals to read it and not ignore it. While people tend to pay attention to status updates, your ability to get folks to stop, take notice and paying attention to more information becomes much easier using the page application. The limits still exist on sending out invitations to events, but hopefully you can send out a message and encourage folks to sign up for it on their own.

The ability to share and grow a community is also available as pages can favorite other pages (partnerships) and those favorites can be shared in a prominent place on the page. Fans (or whatever you end up calling them) can still share videos and photos with others without necessarily being their friends.

In terms of speaking to the fans individually, you can always have that be the responsibility of the person who serves as the administrator of the page. Most folks like the idea of knowing who they’re speaking with anyway. For those of you that may be ready to ask about how that applies to using an application like Twitter, that sounds like a post topic for another time.

And we didn’t even get into the differences between Facebook groups or Pages

One thing I’m interested in what your favorite pages on Facebook are right now, if you have any? Which ones stand out? Share the link if possible in the comments.

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