by davefleet on 05/10/2010 08:15

A couple of weeks ago I received a worried call from a friend working in PR for a large company. Her opening question went something like:

“What the heck are Community Pages on Facebook, and why is there one for my company?”

Community Pages 101

Facebook’s Community Pages are an initiative from Facebook to create “the best collection of shared knowledge” on a wide variety topics. Right now the content from the pages is pulled from Wikipedia (if available) and from your friends’ updates, so they’re often pretty bare but apparently Facebook plans to enable users to add content in the future. The social network launched roughly 6.5 million of these when they first launched.

In theory these pages should be a good thing for companies. The intent, according to All Facebook, was to take generic topics that aren’t necessarily brand-focused and to create Community Pages for them. Facebook states:

“Generate support for your favorite cause or topic by creating a Community Page. If it become very popular (attracting thousands of fans), it will be adopted and maintained by the Facebook community.”

So, if your Facebook Page falls into “owned media” in our social media ecosystem, Community Pages would fit more into “earned media.”

Over time, Community Pages would reduce the number of errant brand-related pages set up by individuals – a good move from a brand’s perspective. As Christopher Heine at ClickZ wrote, “Big brands that have seen their official Facebook fan numbers hindered by third-party fan pages will likely welcome the move.” The piece also noted that “community pages will indeed help make official brand pages more distinct from third-party pages and groups on the site.”

Causing Headaches for Brands

Here’s the problem, though – alongside generic causes and topics, Facebook has also created Community Pages for many well-known brands. As my friend put it:

“But we already have a Facebook page! What do we do with this?”

Right now, she can’t do anything.

As Facebook states in its FAQs:

“At this time, there is no way for people who choose to connect with a Community Page to add their own pictures or edit the information.”

Many companies have spent time and money building sizeable communities on Facebook through their curated fan pages. Now they’re seeing Facebook roll out yet another form of pages which undermine their efforts. As it it weren’t confusing enough already, we now have:

  • Pages – representing an organization or person
  • Groups – for communities of interest
  • Community pages – theoretically about topics, causes or experiences but seemingly also about brands

These Community Pages also create an additional challenge for companies – they’re a monitoring nightmare. Community Pages are pretty much impossible to monitor effectively, as right now each user only seems to see content posted from their own network. That means everyone sees a unique page driven by their friends.

As if there isn’t enough noise on Facebook already, companies now have to deal with a third wave of pages about their brands – and this time they have absolutely no control over them.

Let’s take Roots, for example (not where my friend works). They’ve created a reasonable-sized community of roughly 14,000 people through their Roots Canada page, and they maintain it regularly. They run contests and promotions, and have a solid level of engagement from “fans” (or whatever we’re calling them now – “likers”?).

However, that page now has to compete with other Community Pages including Roots Canada and Roots. These pages are effectively off-limits for the company, and compete directly with the community the company has already invested in developing.

This isn’t unique to Roots – do the same for Microsoft, for example. When I searched for Microsoft, for example, four of the eight results shown in the drop-down were Community Pages, at the expense of Microsoft’s own pages for students and for Windows 7.

On Control…

Now, I’m of the view that companies don’t “own” their brand – that brands are really the sum total of peoples’ perceptions about the entity in question. This isn’t about that.

I also get that companies don’t “control” their online presence – I work in social media; I actually appreciate the fact that people talk about things that interest or are important to them .  This isn’t about that either.

This is about the world’s largest social network encouraging companies to set up shop on their network and to invest in their presence there, then pulling the rug out from under their feet and launching a new aspect to the network that dilutes the investment for those companies.

It’s funny if you think about it – in the past Facebook would hand over control of fan pages to companies; now they’ve launched a new type of page that’s designed specifically so that brands can’t control them. It’s quite ironic given Facebook’s repeated moves toward enabling businesses to interact more and more with its users.

Managing Risk For Your Community Page

As for my friend and her concern about her company’s new, unsolicited Community Page, I had limited advice to offer. Most of the content, at least initially, is pulled from sources out of the company’s control, so I really only had two recommendations:

  1. Keep a close eye on your Wikipedia page – your company’s information is pulled from there, so brand-jacking efforts may shift there even more if Community Pages take off.
  2. Enter your company’s official website if it isn’t already included on the page – Facebook lets you enter that, at least.
  3. Pay even closer attention to monitoring other social sites. Facebook still offers no effective way to monitor your brand; however as more and more Facebook content is made available on the wider web, you may see more spill-over if an issue does bubble up, and these pages make it more important than ever to catch those issues when they do.
  4. Prepare in advance for how you’ll react if a crisis does emerge. How will you decide whether to respond? Where will you respond? How? Who will do it? Picture Nestle’s recent Facebook issues but in a forum where, even if you wanted to respond, you couldn’t.

What do you think? Is this move good or bad for marketers, and what other tips would you offer to help organizations manage their Community Pages?