Can A Facebook Fan Page Be An Online Community?

A couple weeks ago in one of my end-of-week link roundups, I included a link to a post titled “Should We Close Our Website Community In Favor of Facebook?”, which dealt with the pros and cons of going it alone with a stand-alone online community, versus moving to strictly using a Facebook Fan Page as the community platform.

The post struck a nerve in me when I read it, which is why it appeared in that week’s round-up. But in the days and weeks since reading it, the question stayed with me, and I found myself thinking about it a lot.

It got me thinking about what it means to have an online community. What are the characteristics that come to mind when you think about an online community?

When I think about what makes an online community, one of the first things that comes to mind is personal attention.

Think about message boards and online forums. The boards and forums that have withstood the test of time and the invasion of Facebook have an inherent sense of community and one-to-one interaction. The moderators are familiar with the power users, and get down in the trenches with the new members, helping guide them through the basic rules and regulations that govern that community.

Facebook Fan Pages have a lot to offer, however their base functionality is exactly the opposite of more traditional online communities. Fan Pages are designed to grow. It’s less important to know who your members are, than it is to have the number of members and total active members to grow over time.

A few weeks ago I decided to create a Google alert for the word “Online Community”, with the hope that it would expose me to examples of niche online communities that I’m not reading about in my RSS reader. Each day I get an e-mail with links to stories about different niche online communities that have chosen to build the own online community instead of strictly using the Facebook platform.

Communities like CodeGreenCommunity.net, which describes itself as “a collection of individuals pursuing a common goal of growing a local resilient and sustainable community in the greater Tampa Bay area”; and MyEntre.net, which serves rural Iowa, describes itself “an interactive statewide online community serving all small business owners with live, interactive education, Webinars, peer learning and other business services.”

Both sites have Facebook Fan Pages, but they are supplemental. Most of the meaningful conversation and interaction happens on the website community.

Having a Facebook Fan Page is good to have. But if you already have a vibrant online community operating on an independent website, switching to using Facebook exclusively would likely cause more harm than good.