Facebook for Business: Opportunities and Limitations

This is a guest post by Jesse Stay, author of FBML Essentials and blogger at staynalive.com.

Facebook has provided a number of tools that make it a powerful tool not just for individuals, but for businesses and brands as well.  It’s no secret that Facebook has many very powerful tools that will help spread your brand and propel your business into the forefront of existing and potential customers’ minds. However, in their quest to ensure their users come first, I worry that Facebook still hasn’t hit that sweet spot when it comes to giving your brand and your business a place in their network. With the launch of the redesigned profile page this has become even more evident: users have taken first priority in the new design, but nothing has been done to enhance Facebook Pages (the profile page for businesses) on Facebook.  Let’s review some highlights of ways that Facebook can help your business, and then review ways they could make the business experience better.

Ways Facebook Can Help Your Business

Facebook Pages — Facebook “Pages” (that’s with a capital “P”) were created to give businesses their own profile on Facebook.  In fact, originally, the code that made up a Facebook “Page” appeared to be almost exactly the same as that which generated user profile pages.

Pages give your business or brand an identity on Facebook.  With a Page, those interested and following your brand can become “fans”, and when they do so, all their friends will see this. You can store photos, videos, information about your company, and custom applications on your Page.  All activity on Pages gets posted back to your Mini Feed for all your friends to see.  Click here for a detailed overview on what fields you can store on a Facebook Page.

Groups — Groups on Facebook are similar to Pages, but are meant to be built around a group of people rather than an individual business or brand.  Groups have no “become a fan” feature, and do not share as much information with users’ friends as users interact.

Applications — Facebook has a very powerful API that you can have developers write software for to help promote your business on Facebook.  Applications give you full power to say or promote anything you want about your business, and use the social tie-ins provided by Facebook to do this.  For instance, Visa created the “Visa Business Network” application, which takes information about users and allows them to better network with other small business owners.  They even integrated with Facebook advertising by offering those that install the app a credit towards advertising on Facebook.

Advertising — Facebook has a powerful advertising engine that enables businesses to specify a specific demographic target, see how many people that demographic will hit, and advertise to that demographic.  Facebook has also provided even more customized options for other areas of the site which businesses with a larger budget can advertise through. Then there’s  the highly controversial Facebook Beacon – if you do e-commerce transactions through your site you can enable users to share updates on purchases users make on your site amongst their friends.  It has been awhile since I’ve seen anyone use Beacon, however, so it’s hard to tell whether Facebook still supports it.  You can still access this and the other advertising features through the Advertisers link at the bottom of Facebook.

Polls — Facebook Polls are great for marketers looking to get a quick answer about a particular feature they’d like to implement, or just to find out information and opinions from a specific demographic.  You can access Facebook polls via this link.

Facebook Connect — just announced last week at F8, Facebook Connect enables your website to easily integrate with Facebook.  Now you can integrate Facebook into your login process, retrieve users’ friend information, and even post data back to users’ Mini Feed so all their friends can see their activity.  Think of Facebook Connect as the new Beacon, with much more flexibility to do even more throughout your site! Click here to learn more about Facebook Connect.

What Facebook Still Needs To Do

More Application Integration Points for Pages — Applications currently have few integration points into the Facebook Page architecture.  Right now you can count the number of fans a Page has and find information about those fans, but there is no good way to tell statistics about a Page, users visiting the Page, information occurring in the discussion boards or Wall, or even what Photos are being posted to the Page.

Facebook needs to give applications access to every Page component.  Pages give your business power, and if developers can have access to more information, more powerful applications can be built to help promote and strengthen your brand.

More Pages Integration With the Rest of Facebook — Even though the profile page is in the process of a major redesign, Pages appear to have remained in the same bland look and feel as the previous design.  It is now much harder to find a Facebook Page in the new design – they’re at the bottom of the Info tab.

In addition, there is no way to pull in an existing photo album or video into your Facebook Page.  Photos and videos have to be re-uploaded to each Page you want them on – therefore, the discussion for those albums and videos will become segmented.  This reduces the potential exposure for your business.

Skinning and Customization on Pages — I cringe in saying this, but in reality, businesses should have full control over promoting their brand in the way they want to on Facebook.  User profiles should not be skinnable, play music on load, etc.  However, a Facebook Page is different: it is essentially one large social “advertisement,” and Facebook should give more power over Pages to businesses.

Better Access to Business Tools — in the last month, Facebook removed the “Businesses” link from the footer of the Page.  Now, to access Polls, Insights, or Beacon, you have to search really hard to find it – to do so, click on “Advertisers” in the footer of Facebook, then look at the bottom of that page and you’ll see a link to “More Business Solutions”.  Click on that and you’ll be at the same page as the previous “Businesses” link as before.  Facebook needs to find a way to make at least Polls more prominent so more users can find it.  Not only is this a great tool for your business, but also a monetization point for Facebook.

If you haven’t already done so, consider giving Facebook a try for your business using some of the tools mentioned above.  Facebook still has a long way to go, however. If they continue to grow tools for businesses well, they’ll earn more revenue both for themselves and businesses building inside Facebook. For more advice and techniques, feel free to check out I’m on Facebook–Now What???

Please share your thoughts and advice — how have you used Facebook for your business and brand, and what can Facebook do better?