Why Facebook is NOT a real community platform

… and why Marketers should be aware of the difference

Social networking LIKEThere is much buzz around regarding the influence of online communities. And the truth is, if you are trying to build a loyal brand following, engaging with your customers’ tribes and your brand community, online communities are an important aspect of social/new media marketing.
But some people seem to think that the panacea to creating a community is setting up and maintaining a Facebook page. The idea is that these will create an engaged brand community, because, well… Facebook is the place where most people “hang out”. Sounds reasonable,but.. But do Facepook Pages really do the trick? I’d caution against this assumption – because actually, Facebook page “likes” are more like an inferior email lists and quite different from  real online communities – and here are seven reasons why:

1) In real online communities the participants debate with each other. Take a look here or here. In online communities, including brand-specific ones (brand communities, to be clear) user-to-user communication is the main focus. The users may debate company news, but, company-generated posts are not the main point. Pretty much nothing is company generated: The result is ultimately much higher credibility: user-to-user simply has much more impact, than company generated communication with which users can interact…

2) Brand communities create loyal users: In a recent survey, 60% of visitors of online brand communities (that are those that use forums/bulletin board etc, not that like a page!) end up buy the product they were recommended in a community. Moreover, once they have bought the product chances are they may return to the brand community and discuss the product, seek support if necessary etc etc. This means they are joining the tribe of your users – which in turn means they are likely to develop more brand loyalty. Yes, there may be far fewer people in a forum – but those that are there are highly loyal. Where would you rather be?

3) Yes, Facebook allows you to create a big audience fairly quickly, probably more quickly than through forums etc… But did you also know that if the audience doesn’t interact (like or comment on your posts) regularly with what you are posting, then your page will slowly disappear from their news feed? So while you may think that all 300,000 people who “like” your page  have seen your update, actually only a fraction may have the opportunity to see it. Which makes it much less effective than email lists, as you are actually loosing the very people how have “signed up” to get your news.

4) Related to the above, you can, of course, pay to have users see your post. Not a bad idea, apart from… well, they are the one’s who already like you in the first place. This is a much more expensive way of getting people to see your news than, say, an email list.

5) The average engagement rate is ridiculously low: Amazon, one of the top brand pages in the UK has an “average engagement ration” of 0.011%. The Family Guy (yeah, that funny television show…) has a mere 0.087% … For email lists the opening rate is between 20 and 45%, click through rates roughly between 2% and 5% …

6) Facebook content needs to be simple and cute, like the Family Guy stuff. That is what gets you likes quickly. And likes are much easier to get than comments … And likes are essential for your page to appear in the users’ newsfeeds. This is probably fine for quick and simple communication, but pretty hard if you want to actually get consumers to engage or elaborate on what you are saying. In an online community interested users can debate and elaborate, but in an environment where quick wins deep elaboration and engagement will be a tough call.

7) Actually,…  a Facebook page simply has no real tools for the audience to interact in a meaningful way. The audience can like – and they can comment on your posts. But it is hard to keep a user-to-user communication going. The very essence of what creates the buzz in online communities is therefore difficult to achieve!

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not suggesting to stop using Facebook as a communication tool. Or that an email list is in any form a community….But you should be aware that Facebook Pages aren’t the same as a “real” online community, and likes are worth much less than an address on your email list. So don’t abandon those good old tools just yet!