In today's social media-driven marketing frenzy, online business owners are expected to be top in their game in using tools like Facebook and Twitter to their advantage. These free tools are increasing in popularity but also in saturation--many people report not reading updates anymore because of "information overload." It's important to keep information fresh, useful and purposeful while adding, if your brand allows, some humor and interesting information.
One of the most common questions I get about Facebook is, "What options should I use? Groups or regular pages?" This is a more complicated question than it seems on the surface, but important for making certain you spend your hard-earned money and precious time in areas that will give you the most bang for your buck. You can certainly have both, but it's important to know what you can and can't do with each.
First, let's take a look at a standard Facebook fan page and some of the options available to you. Pages can be viewed by unregistered users, though you will need to set your security preferences for this. A viewer does not need to be a Facebook member to view your fan page either. You can add extra applications to make your page more personal and send messages to all members using the updates feature. Pages also allow you to see statistics. You can create a corporate "person" page. There are tighter security options now in Facebook than in the past, so be sure to explore what each of those does. I recommend logging out and seeing what you can and can't view while not logged in as a registered user. Fan pages can be useful in helping the viral aspect of social media because "Joe became a fan of." pops up on each persons wall (unless they turn it off or remove it) when they become a fan of your business.
Groups, on the other hand, allow you to send out bulk invitations (for instance, you can ask all of your friends to join the group) and any of your group members can also invite their friends. If you have "friends" on your Facebook page who are acquaintances or just share common interests this is a good way to market.
A group, however, has a limitation of 5,000 members if you wish to send a message. They are generally considered to be best for more personal interaction. I use a group, for example, to help people find online teaching jobs called "Make Money Teaching Online" where members share experiences, job tips and who's hiring. Group pages allow you to set other administrators to see who is requesting to join the group. If you post something to the group page, it will also show up on your personal wall. Some people don't like this because it ties them to their businesses, but this can be useful in creating a "person behind the online business" feeling with your customers. You have more control over participants and permissions with group memberships.
Both groups and fan pages allow you to create discussions and others to reply. Both have a wall for people to write on. Both allow you to share videos and pictures. Both require you to manually remove posts as an administrator if something does not meet your standards or purpose for the page. Both also allow you to create events.
Regardless of which one you choose (of course, you can have both), be sure to update regularly, keep your audience engaged and offer something of value. If you use your page or group purely for promotional reasons, you are far less likely to build loyalty, and there's a good chance that your members and friends won't be returning to your pages anytime soon.
Dani Babb, Ph.D., is the founder of The Babb Group, an online entrepreneur, professor, author, public speaker and consultant. She has a Ph.D. in Organization and Management with a Technology emphasis, as well as an MBA with a technology emphasis. She is featured regularly on top networks such as CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, Fox Business and the Today Show. She is also the author of The Online Professor's Practical Guide to Starting an Internet Business, available from Entrepreneur Press.