Sometimes people talk about being on Facebook like it’s the great new thing — and traditional community forums are the boring old thing. They question the value of the traditional central website community in light of the prominence of Facebook on the social media landscape. Let’s stop and think about it: The question isn’t as simple as “should we close down our (old) website community in favor of (new) Facebook?” More complex issues are involved.
Is your central website community successful? Not from the point of view of the sometimes massive potential audience on Facebook, but from the point of view of the goals you have for your website community? Does your community produce loyal and engaged community members who are evangelists for your brand? Or, if leads are your goal, does it produce them? And do those reliably (or at least often) convert to sales? Or does your community provide people answers and assistance that reduces your overall customer support costs?
If your website community is successful…
If your website community meets the goals you set up for it, why shut it down? A healthy website community is beneficial at minimum because the customers are on your site. You have the opportunity to get closer to them than you can on Facebook. You have their email addresses, and can send them news and offers that you’re pretty sure they’ll receive (without wondering about whether your news will survive the EdgeRank algorithm). It’s important not to get sidetracked by whether your community’s supporting technology is “old” or “new.” The main thing is whether, as a venue for interaction, it cranks out the results you planned for it in the first place — and that those results still support your current goals.
Can you make it even better?
On the other hand, you may have a lot more customers on Facebook — a potential pool from which you could acquire more website visitors and community members. So if your website community is working, you may be able to give the commuity a boost by starting a Facebook Page and/or integrating Facebook social plugins into it. Facebook touts examples of brands using an integrated strategy to successfully increase traffic, engagement, time on site, and even revenue. If you know your constituency is on Facebook and would likely engage with you there (remembering you can’t be anonymous on Facebook), and if you know you have the resources to run two venues, integrating the two may be the way to go.
If your website community isn’t successful…
If the community on your website has never really taken off, or if it’s past its prime and on the decline, why is that?
- Is it because the company hasn’t put appropriate resources into community management or marketing? (And can you be sure the company would put such resources into a Facebook Page?)
- Is the community run by an organization that has changed its priorities over time, so that the community no longer gets focus? (And would the group that runs a Facebook Page make it a big priority? Or just a side project?)
- For the people who still participate in the website community, why do they come? (And why would your customers on Facebook come to your Page? What are they looking for and what can you reliably provide? And what will you do about the people who still come to the website community? How will you encourage them to move with you to Facebook? Or will you just risk their disappointment?)
Remember, this isn’t about what’s old or new; it’s about business goals, strategic community interaction models, and consistent programming and management of a social environment. How will your Facebook Page differ from your failed website community?
Pursuing an integrated strategy
Whether you abandon your website community and put all your resources into Facebook, or you decide to keep both and work them together, you’ll do best with a strategic effort toward a consistent cultural model for meeting your customers, wherever they are.
If you keep both venues, and if they’re run by different groups (as they commonly are), can you agree on a common strategy for collaboration on a flow between the sites? For example, you might decide Facebook is primarily for acquisition, with an effort to move people closer toward the website for conversion and/or retention. Or perhaps you’ll make a push to bring a more intensely engaged conversational model from your website onto parts of your Facebook Page. Or encourage customers who provide support to other customers on your website to do the same on Facebook. No matter your goal, you’ll need to make content programming, voice, and interaction styles consistent across the two sites — so that customers who know you in one place still recognize you in the other. We’ve run across situations where the website voice and message was quite different on Facebook than on the website — with customers noticing and commenting on the mixed message. “Almost,” they said, “like people in the company aren’t talking to each other” (which they weren’t).
If, on the other hand, you decide to close a failing website community in favor of Facebook, make sure you don’t repeat the mistakes that doomed it. To create and support any online social venue, you’ve got to define a cultural interaction model, provide experienced and creative community management (including moderation), come up with a detailed content programming plan (with a conversation calendar), and integrate the whole program with your greater marketing strategy. No matter where you start your conversations with customers, the nature of the platform doesn’t make success a slam-dunk. Wherever you do it, you have to be serious about your social