Facebook Pages, Groups and Profiles Explained

So many changes on Facebook, so little time. Just when you think you understand the differences between Profiles, Pages and Groups, and the functionality and features of each, Facebook changes the landscape — seemingly on a whim. How can any of us keep up?

Here’s a short explanation of each these Facebook page types, with some recommendations of how, when and why to use each one, as well as a guide to some of their subtle quirks.

Facebook Profile

What: A Facebook Profile is meant for individuals only, according to Facebook’s Terms of Service.

Why: If you are a person and want to join Facebook, set up a Profile.

How: With Facebook Profiles, you can connect with others as Friends. You can communicate with them directly through their Facebook Inbox. You can see their status updates in your News Feed if you so choose, and you can share your status updates with all or some of your friends. And now, you can also tag certain friends in your personal status updates.

Caveats & quirks: Facebook threatens to go through and clear out all profiles where it feels that a non-human entity is being represented — such as a company or organization — or even someone whose name is deemed to be fake. Facebook has made some mistakes cleaning house in the past, but my advice is that you shouldn’t set up a Profile for your company or nonprofit — or even for a fictional persona — because you could lose all of your friend connections at any moment by doing so. Why risk that kind of asset loss?

Facebook Page

What: To build a fan base on Facebook, you can set up a Page. Pages can be for individuals, such as authors or celebrities, or for non-human entities such as products, companies, organizations and campaigns.

Why: If you are looking to promote something, a Page is the best solution. That’s because that’s what Facebook intends Pages to be used for, and also because Pages are the only part of Facebook that is fully viewable to the general public who are not logged into the site.

How: People connect with Pages by becoming Fans. On Pages, you can communicate with your Fans via status updates, but your updates no longer automatically appear in their main News Feed like they used to –instead they must click on your Page to see your updates. You can also send an update to fans, but note that they won’t get it in their Facebook Inbox as a message, as you might think. Instead, it goes to their Inbox Updates, which is a separate section; Fans have to know to click on “Updates” on the left side of their Inbox to see them. As admin to a Page, you can tag Fans in status updates, but only if they are also personal Friends of yours.

Caveats & quirks: If you set up your Page a while ago, you may have erroneously set up a Facebook account or Profile for your company and then used that to set up your company Page. This is technically wrong, and could cause problems in the future, so make sure to grant admin privileges to your personal Profile account so that you can maintain control over the Page. If you set up your Page a while ago and selected the wrong category (because Facebook changed categories offered at one point), you cannot now go back and choose a better category. Instead of deleting a Page that isn’t quite right format-wise, you can now enhance your Page with FBML to make up for any features you might be missing.

Facebook Group

What: A Facebook Group used to be the only place to really build a community on Facebook. However, now Groups look very similar to Pages, which look very similar to Profiles. Still, a Groups are spaces on Facebook where deeper discussions are expected, whereas Pages and Profiles tend to elicit shorter comments.

Why: If building a community and engaging in more in-depth discussions are your goals, then Groups are more effective than Pages. Page administrators are anonymous while the admins of Groups are published publicly for all to see.

How: People connect to Groups by becoming Members. Unlike Pages, Groups have a feature where you can message Members and that message goes straight into everyone’s Facebook Inbox as a message. I’m sure Facebook has a reason for not allowing this kind of access to Pages (controlling how much brands can invade our private messaging spaces, perhaps).

Caveats & quirks: I wouldn’t advise a company or nonprofit setting up a Group unless they are prepared to engage in an ongoing dialogue, and are ready for all of the issues and work associated with online community building. Groups, when used properly, are far more engagement intensive than Pages. Being able to utilize the direct messaging feature on Groups may seem like a good idea, but sending too many promotional messages to a Group can result in Facebook disabling your account.

Summary of Features

Here’s a quick reference table of the features of Profiles, Pages and Groups:

Profiles Pages Groups
Good for companies and organizations: No, for individuals only Meant for companies and organizations OK for companies and organizations, but requires more management
Broadcast message to friends, fans or members: Direct into Facebook Inbox Into Updates next to Facebook Inbox Direct into Facebook Inbox
Engage in discussions: Available via the Wall, but not ideal for in-depth discussion Available via “Discussions” tab, but less prominent than with a Group More focused on discussions
Administrator profiles: The individual account holder Hidden from public view Listed publicly on Group main page

What other Facebook Profile, Page and Group features do you think are worth noting?

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