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http://www.bivingsreport.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/facebookgroups_20101007111108_640_480.jpgWhen it comes to social media presence, in our experience the needs of our clients are as varied as their topics. Some are looking to inform or motivate their fans to take a certain action while others might have a more insular focus. It is for the more niche clients that the recent changes to Facebook groups may be more important.

Although the conventional wisdom states that every
organization / cause / candidate should set up a fan page and then do whatever it take to amass a large following,  if your client is focused on a very specific topic or geographic area- A Facebook Group may now be the better option.

For an excellent walkthrough of Facebook Groups including the improved Email, Document and Chat functionality, the blog “ Inside Facebook” is highly recommended.

The following are some guidelines for determining the best approach for a client’s Facebook presence. While your approach should largely dictated by the clients goals and resources, here are some ideas to guide the discussion:

Political Candidates

While your candidate should definitely have Facebook page that allows fans to sing up for emails, donate money, ask questions and so on- What about your supporters? Facebook pages are just not well designed for supporters to communicate with your campaign or with each other.

If you’re working on a large statewide / national campaign, the new functionality of Facebook Groups makes them an excellent way to organize and connect your supporters by issue area, age group or geography. Set up the Group, provide the resources, give your best activists administrative access and let them get to work.

For smaller local or county races, one should consider how many fans you can reasonably expect to be interested in your campaign for School Board / Fence Viewer / Hog Reeve or Sealer of Lime and Brick.
If you are only going to get 500-1,000  fans: Why not direct them to a place where their support can have the most impact? Will anyone outside the area be interested in the dynamics of your race in their newsfeed?  If the answer to this questions is maybe or probably not, consider a group.

Local or Issue Based Advocacy

The most important factor to consider here is exactly what you hope that an online tool, like Facebook will help you achieve. If your a non-profit whose audience consists largely of academics with advanced degrees discussing their latest finding about a rare species of whatever, a  Facebook group may be a better bet. Likewise if your issue is really only going to be of concern to people in a certain geographic area, a group might be a better bet. Finally if your looking for a semi-private place to have privileged, but not secret discussion of campaign strategery, a group may be a better bet.

Above all, while the new privacy settings for Facebook Groups are a step in the right direction, one must absolutely keep in mind that:

  1. You are using a free service. Facebook is probably doing more for you then you are for them.
  2. Facebook does not guarantee anything. (See #8 on the Facebook Privacy Policy)
  3. If you want a truly private and customizable social network, you going to have to pay for it- Consider setting up your own Ning Network.
  4. Never email / post / tweet anything that would cause irreparable harm on the front page of the WAPO.

If you have seen a particularly good examples using the new Facebook groups, please let us know!

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