Should Your Business Be on Facebook?

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Many businesses using social media are discovering the charms and benefits of Facebook fan pages. It's a nifty little value-added service that allows businesses and organizations to build an interactive page inside the Facebook ecosystem to engage existing or potential customers. It's an intriguing idea, but does your company really need one?

Fan pages are a great way to reach consumers without resorting to direct email (spam) or hit-or-miss mass snail mail (spam in paper form). Since users make the decision to connect with your company, marketing messages will be anticipated not disregarded. People who add themselves to your fan page typically expect to see at least a little advertising come their way.

Fan pages are also a terrific way to reach customers who spend more time online than they do watching television or reading magazines and newspapers. It's cheap, too. Facebook doesn't charge users to create a fan page so the option is available to businesses for the low, low cost of free, making it an attractive option for businesses with tiny budgets.

Of course, fan pages have their drawbacks, too. Since they're located inside Facebook's walled garden, fan pages won't turn up in search engine results so only registered members will even know they exist. Furthermore, this type of marketing has a limited appeal to an even more limited demographic -- that is, people who spend time online and who are also willing to receive marketing messages.

Unfortunately, it's also easy to get lost among the multitude of other pages populating Facebook. Even if you do manage to stand out and accumulate a large fanbase, there's no guarantee they're remember to visit your page in between Mafia Wars and Bejeweled Blitzes.

If you do decide to create a fan page, Social media marketer Samir Balwani notes you can't just slap a page together and expect hoards of visitors overnight. He says there are several elements a page needs, like creating contests or giveaways, in order to gather a large following.

Balwani makes one point in particular that's often overlooked when companies build a page -- make it an information resource, not just an overblown advertisement. It's not enough to simply bark marketing slogans at visitors, be sure to offer plenty of information and insight about your industry. If you sell flux capacitors, make your page a repository of definitive information about them.

Not everyone is convinced that Facebook fan pages are the path to marketing nirvana, however. ZDNet blogger Jennifer Leggio says they make businesses look unprofessional and diminish brand value. Between the visual clutter and lack of variety among pages, she says they just aren't worth the pixels they're displayed on, and could even work against you.

While you're weighing the options of whether or not to try this marketing tactic, remember that you'll need manpower to manage it. Like Twitter accounts, Facebook fan pages are fairly high-maintenance and need to be regularly updated and monitored. A page that looks abandoned is worse than no page at all.

Whether fan pages are worth your company's time is a highly subjective matter. If you're really on the fence, take a look at your competitors. Do they have one? Is it heavily trafficked? Can you do better? If the answers are yes, then give it a whirl.

What do you think of Facebook fan pages? Yea or nay?

This story, "Should Your Business Be on Facebook?" was originally published by Computerworld.

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