23 Jan 2008

Facebook Groups vs. Pages

Facebook recently released a new feature designed for companies and charities to set up an online presence called a "Page." There's further detail in the Terms of Use document here.

This new development has left some in Higher-Ed who were early to embrace Facebook in a bit of a quandary. Some may have already set up Facebook Groups, to have a presence on the service and allow thousands of undergraduates to show their affiliation or appreciation for a particular club, sport, facility or service. For example, would an undergraduate library make a Facebook Page to have an official online presence, or would it continue with the Group it set up a year ago? How about the Alumni Association, or for that matter the university as a whole?

An interesting technical feature is the tie-in with the Facebook event stream. So for example if a prospective student becomes a "fan" of a particular university's Page, his or her friends will see that show up in their newsfeed. Or on a more micro level, a grad student confirming attendance at a department conference might broadcast that event to his or her friends via the same system. Facebook is promoting this as "viral spread" of marketing messages for corporate customers, but it's not completely irrelevant for building on-line community in the academic world.

What, then, are the major differences between Groups and Pages?

  Group Page
Applications None Most
Active Outreach Post to Profile
Post to Profile
Send Update to Fans
Event Invitations Invite Members Invite Fans
Metrics None Comprehensive
Control of Associations Partial Yes


While it might seem like a small part of why you would want to set up a presence on Facebook, Applications can actually dramatically enhance your ability to manage your content and provide a compelling experience.

For example, adding in one of the many RSS Reader Applications enables you to leverage the content updates you are probsuitableably already doing on your &privileged;main" online presence. Why bother cutting and pasting when RSS can do the work of syndicating the content on your Facebook Page? Here's an RSS Application installed on a Facebook Page that supplies an active, constantly-updated list of grants and fellowships from a MySQL database with a MovableType front end installed on depts.washington.edu. If a grant's deadline or description changes, the data is brought automatically up-to-date through the same workflow processes already in place for the website.

Facebook Groups cannot contain Applications, meaning you're forced to copy-and-paste content rather than use RSS. In addition, you miss out on all the other functionality of Apps -- such as Zombies.

Active Outreach:

When you want to bring attention to your Facebook presence, you have more options with a Page than with a Group. Group updates are pretty much dependent on either 1) members taking an active interest in the group by visiting regularly, and/or 2) members' personal News Feed settings being configured to show sufficient updates from the a group.

Neither variable is under the control of the group owner. In the latter case, there is no guarantee that your members haven't configured their News Feed to the following setting:

This may result in your members being uninformed about what's going on in your group. Worth noting here is that the precise interplay between these sliders and the kind of information displayed is not well-documented. In addition, the sliders represent a relative proportion between competing kinds of information streams. If a user has no other activity to report at all, it's possible Group updates will appear in the absence of anything else suitible. Regardless, what's clear is that even in a best-case scenario, Groups must compete against a number of other information streams.

Facebook Pages, on the other hand, support a new kind of notification within the informational ecosystem: Updates. These updates stand alone and are much less likely to get lost in the stream of friend updates and other kinds of notifications.

These appear in a special subsection of your users' inboxes, helping segregate it out from the rest of the messages that users may be receiving on Facebook

As Fan Pages are newer and not as widely-known as other, earlier features such as Profile Pages and Events, it's safe to say that Page Updates have a priveledged position in the otherwise-overwhelming flow of updates and notifications in Facebook. An actual Update looks like this:

Interestingly enough the Fan Updates contain tools that empower recipients to either "opt out" of further updates from your Page, or even "report spam." Users can also specify which of the Pages of which they are Fans can notify them -- in essence, an opt-out feature.


Facebook Pages -- but not groups -- can also utilize the built-in demographic information on users to create micro-targeted ads. If a campus group wanted to hire a part-time undergraduate programmer, for example, they could reach only that target audience:

Other uses for social advertising might include drumming up enrollment in small, specialized classes -- departments are already spending money on this problem when they print up posters advertising courses and hang them in hallways.


Binding an event to a Facebook Page or Group gives you some more options versus having the event associated only with your personal Facebook Profile. For example, you can utilize the built-in 'mailing list' of Fans or Members as a target for an invitation.

Common to both Pages and Groups is the "address book" interface, which allows you to select all or some of the related members or fans to invite.

Updates as Notification Strategy:

Setting up a Facebook Page, as opposed to a Group, gives you a powerful took in the Update feature to draw attention to content. There is a somewhat fuzzy relationship between the Page-specific Update feature, which is capable of sending a picture, video, event or other item to the fanbase, and these data types' built-in Share feature. One difference is that Events which are pushed in a Fan Update lack the contextual RSVP buttons which a true Event Share features. Here is a Page-bound event which was pushed through the Update system:

Users must click through to the event itself, and the special icon for the event is not shown. In addition, the time shown in the metadata represents when the invitation was sent -- which is usually irrelevant -- rather than the time of the event itself, which is highly relevant to any RSVP decision.

In contrast, here is an event invitation which arrived in the normal fashion, through the baseline Events application.

In addition to a special icon, it features a special AJAX in-line RSVP function:


Facebook Pages alone offer the ability to track who is visiting your page, and how often.

Note that no data is delivered until there are 10 fans signed up, and extensive drill-down on fans is not available until the fanbase hits an (unspecified) number after that. For low-traffic Pages, this renders some of the datamining potential moot.

Control of Associations:

A strange side-effect of the arbitrary way that Facebook has chosen to present Groups is the Amazon-esque "Related Groups" box. This is presumably the results of an algorithm which measures the groups that your members have joined and prints the results on your group's home page. Here are the related groups for the Official Odegaard Library group, which is the undergraduate library at the University of Washington:

Some of these ("Librarians and Facebook," "Library 2.0") are highly-relevant, but the others are more problematic. What happens to the official UW Library presence on Facebook if 'joke' groups start showing up on? These could potentially include groups such as "I write in library books" or "I've had my bag stolen in Odegaard." There is presently no way for Group owners to rearrange, minimize or turn off this associative-logic feature. Update: thanks to Melissa's comment below, I've realized Group owners can actually turn off the "Related Groups" box. If you want total control over your Facebook presence, Pages are better than Groups.

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