Top 10 Facebook Business Uses

Top 10 Facebook Business Uses
Over the last couple of weeks, I have done several posts relating to Facebook and how businesses and organizations can take advantage of its easy community-building and networking capabilities. Not to mention that it’s free.

Here’s a synopsis of the highlights (so far), with links to the posts with fuller discussion. I started to do a top 10, but then realized I’ve done a dozen. No extra charge for the last two.

  1. Crisis management – creating “dark” sites in Facebook (or on a blog) that can go live quickly to communicate effectively with affected constituencies. Communicate meaning two-way conversations.
  2. Limited profiles – how to set a division between what you reveal to close friends and family vs. business and professional networks.
  3. How Facebook makes everyone a “connector” and why Facebook has reached a Tipping Point
  4. Facebook vs. “White Label” social networking software, and why and when organizations should consider each.
  5. A case study of a group spontaneously formed in Facebook surrounding the I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis.
  6. How Facebook can put the “relations” back into Media Relations
  7. Examples of organizations with Facebook groups, official and otherwise
  8. Why organizations should get in on the Facebook groups land rush
  9. A vision for how Facebook could become a “Cheers” for industry-specific journalist and newsmaker interactions (which is related to the “putting relations into media relations” post.)
  10. And another related post, Toward a Medical News community
  11. The Facebook/social networking session at the Frost & Sullivan MindXChange
  12. The application for the Facebook platform, which ties what I put on this blog into my Facebook profile (and you can “friend me” here)
  13. To make it a Baker’s Dozen, here’s one more, my initial thoughts as I started this Facebook trek.

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B2B Facebook: Limited Profile

B2B Facebook limited profile

Note: I originally wrote this post in August, 2007. Facebook has significantly improved its privacy options since then, and now you have the ability to create a better separation of your personal and professional networking. Feel free to read the rest of this post for background, but be sure to check out Facebook 210: Professional Profile, Personal Privacy for more updated information.

I’m distancing myself from some of my Facebook friends.

Really, I like you all, and if you want to be my friend friends, I’ll be happy to open up more access. Just let me know, and I’ll take you off “restrictions.”

My opacity is for the greater good. It’s my part in helping make Facebook a vibrant B2B tool. Not that Facebook really needs my help; but if I can help nudge it along the business adoption curve, I’ll take some satisfaction.

And whether I actually have any influence in helping to break down resistance to B2B Facebook uses or not, at least I’ll be on record: I believe it’s inevitable that Facebook will increasingly be used for networking in the B2B environment, and that those who start using Facebook for interactions with business partners will be leaders in a trend that will seem obvious in hindsight.

Facebook makes it easy to build or renew relationships. I’ve used it to find several former classmates, even though our age group isn’t among the highest users. And I’ve made some interesting new friends through my blog, and Twitter and Facebook.
Business is all about relationships. And so a tool like Facebook that makes it easier to create, maintain and strengthen relationships will become widely used for business relationships, sooner or later. With people increasingly spending time forming and cultivating personal relationships there, sooner seems more likely to me.
But sometimes, too much information can color perceptions and perhaps even poison a relationship. Some employers may be concerned that employees’ personal actions or beliefs may turn off potential customers.

Part of the concern undoubtedly arises from the perceived “tell all” nature of Facebook’s personal profile. After all, among the questions Facebook asks (and you’re free to not provide it) are your political philosophy and religious views. And we all know politics and religion are the discussions businesses want to keep out of their interactions, because people tend to have strong opinions and knowing that a business associate is of a different political persuasion may chill some commercial relationships.

On the other side, part of the fun of Facebook is finding people in your network who share your views, whether on deeper matters or more trivial interests such as TV shows like 24 or Monk. There are even 93 others in my Minneapolis-St.Paul Network who are, like me, fans of Raising Arizona. Some people think that by interjecting too many business relationships into Facebook, we’ll kill what’s wonderful about it.

I remember some of the same concerns about the internet when it began to be used for commerce. Just after Al Gore had his Big Idea, a significant group — and I don’t know whether it was a minority or a plurality or even a majority — thought the internet should be forever preserved as a pristine digital version of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

But as web access became democratized, people found the web was really useful for commerce. So commerce happened. The purists got over it.

The limited profile probably was first started because of kids not wanting parents to see what all their friends were writing on their walls. But it can work to limit personal information shared with business associates, too.

That’s why I’ve started using the limited profile feature on Facebook. Not because I want to hide anything, but lest I alienate potential work colleagues or journalists who viscerally dislike Nicholas Cage, I’m not letting anyone but close friends and family see my full profile.
So here’s what I recommend: Create a limited profile in Facebook. Deselect everything except Contact Info, Work Info and Status Updates, and also deselect the Mini-Feed.

Then, when work colleagues or internet strangers ask to add you as a friend, you can accept like Scoble, but instead of two clicks (accept, skip this step), you’ll have three, including checking the box so they only see the limited profile. So in this way, as Scoble says, Facebook becomes the new Business Card/Rolodex, but much more powerful because it also is the new media distribution network.

That way your business network members can know how to contact you, where you’ve worked and what you’ve last updated as your status, but other things of a personal nature will be hidden.

This gets a long way toward creating a wall between personal and professional Facebook profiles. The only sticking point is that applications in the Facebook Platform still show up in the limited profile. I can turn them off for all of my friends, but not just for those in the limited profile. So everyone who is my friend gets to see my favorite Weird Al Yankovic videos.

There is a simpler option, and that is to decline friend requests from people who aren’t your family or kindred spirits. You can still use Facebook to send them messages, and you can belong to the same groups. You just won’t see each other’s personal information.

Everything above can be done right now. For a complete and more satisfying solution, a bit of programming will be needed by someone, likely in one of two ways.

The first is for application developers to enable users to block display of the applications in their limited profiles. The better way would be for Zuckerberg & Co. to develop another level of “friend.” Then the existing privacy mechanisms could be used to block these professional associates from access to information from applications like iLike, Twitter or Mac Lover.

People could even set their defaults so that when new friends are added, they are accepted as “acquaintances” or whatever the middle-level “friend” would be called, instead of being given full access.

Just as VeriSign and others developed encryption to make credit card transactions secure and increase confidence in commercial use of the internet as a whole, if Facebook can create these two tiers of friends, or maybe even multiple levels, this will pave the way for maximum B2B Facebook use.

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Facebook Crisis Communications

facebook crisis communications hurricane
Organizations of all kinds need to prepare for crises, whether it be a product recall, a natural disaster or a political issue. Crisis communicators often recommend establishing “dark” sites that are not published to the web, but that can be quickly made public in the event of, well… an event.

One really easy way to do this is through Facebook. As I’ve detailed here, Facebook has three main types of free groups: open, closed, and secret.

You can prepare for events you expect to happen eventually by establishing a secret group in Facebook for crisis communications. For example, a local government agency in southern Florida could create a secret group “Fort Lauderdale Hurricane Information,” and pre-populate it with information from its pre-written evacuation plan.

When Amos, or Bob, or Carla, or Doug or whomever starts heading toward the community, they could simply update the information to reflect current reality and change the status to “Public” and it’s instantly available to anyone. Then place a link to the Facebook group from the organization’s main page to send people there for news updates and discussion. And you can establish a few administrators in advance, too.

For example, you can join my Facebook group called Social Network Options for Organizations by clicking this link. And you can “friend” me by clicking this one.
Groups like this will form in the aftermath of tragedies and crises, as we have seen with this group spontaneously created about the 35W bridge collapse. (In less than six days it’s gotten more than 10,000 members.) And in reality, it’s incredibly easy to create new groups in Facebook, so you may not want to pre-create a group for everything. That way you can name the group more definitively, e.g. with the hurricane’s name.

But what you should definitely do is practice setting up Facebook groups, so that as you develop your crisis communications plan you know exactly what settings you want. For example:

  • Do you want a discussion board?
  • Do you want to enable the Wall?
  • Will you have photos and videos on the site? If so, will you let users upload theirs, or only Administrators.

Then your crisis communications plan could include step-by-step instructions so you can create the new group within minutes when the crisis happens.

Possible arguments against this approach are that Facebook is a “walled garden” and that the information isn’t broadly available on the web. Someone has said it’s a walled garden with a really big gate, but I prefer the analogy of a garden that is ever expanding (by a million-plus members a week), with a six-inch wall. Anyone with an email address can join Facebook in just a few minutes, and once they’ve done that, it takes just seconds to join a particular group.

When you form a new group, for instance, you could send an email to your constituent groups that includes the link to the group. If they are in Facebook already, joining will take seconds. If they’re not, they can sign up with basic information in minutes.
The other reality is that for major public events, groups will form in Facebook. Wouldn’t you rather have the discussion about your company or government unit starting in a group that you form and promote, instead of possibly one formed by an antagonist? You can’t stop those groups from forming, but if you create a group yourself and promote it well, it will be the most relevant by number of users, and likely will have the critical mass to be “the” place people go for news, updates and discussion.

You won’t control the discussion, but at least you will have earned the right to participate. And as the administrator of the group, if you need to get a message to everyone who has joined, you can hit the “Message All Members” link and send an email to everyone who has joined. If someone else has formed the group, you don’t have that option.

Update: In the comments below and on their blogs, Kip Havel and Richard Stacy suggest blogs as an alternative to Facebook groups.

I agree blogs are another good choice for crisis communications. You could do the same thing with, for instance, starting it as an “only people I invite” blog, and then changing it to “public” status when the crisis hits. The advantage is it’s Google-able; one disadvantage is you don’t have the ability to  proactively send a message to an interested group of members…at least not as easily as you can with Facebook.

And of course you could do both: a Facebook group (because some people will look there), but with the associated URL being to your blog. Maybe Blogger also has this kind of “secret” blog feature that can be later opened up; I’m just more familiar with WordPress.

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The Facebook Tipping Point

Facebook has reached its tipping point as a social epidemic, even as it is helping other products, services and ideas reach their tipping points.

In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell identifies elements necessary to create a social epidemic:

  • Mavens
  • Connectors
  • Salesmen, and
  • The Stickiness Factor.

Chip and Dan Heath do a fine job of explaining, in Made to Stick, how to increase the “stickiness” of your ideas.

Mavens are the “thought leaders” who help set the agenda for fashion, technology or other cultural trends. People value their judgments, but without connectors, the maven’s opinions wouldn’t travel nearly as quickly.

When a maven with a sticky idea meets a Connector, it’s magic. Connectors are those people who just seem to know everybody, and when they get a sticky idea from a maven, they pass it on to almost everyone they meet. And Salesmen help encourage the reluctant to give it a try.
Which leads me to my point: with Facebook, by its design, everyone becomes a connector, and many become salesmen.

If the idea isn’t sticky, no amount of connection will cause it to spread. But because of the following elements in Facebook, a somewhat sticky concept can travel quickly.

facebook tipping point

  • News Feed – This feature, which you access by hitting the big FACEBOOK icon at the top left of the page, share highlights of your friends’ activities – and shares yours with them. This is how I found out that Jeremiah Owyang had added the Cities I’ve Visited application, for instance, which caused me to install it myself. That put it both in my Mini-Feed (see below) and in the News Feed of all of my friends. When they added it, the cycle continued. Cities I’ve Visited now has 789,000 users.
  • The Mini-Feed – this is on your profile page, and essentially lists the last several things you have done in Facebook. While the News Feed only has selected highlights of your friends’ activities, the mini-feed is more complete.

facebook tipping point

  • The Groups link – When you click this in the left navigation, you see a two-panel display. On the left are groups your friends have recently joined. On the right are the groups to which you belong that have been recently updated. If my friends have recently joined a group, I’m likely to check it out. If I join, the cascade continues.

facebook tipping point

  • Applications – When I wanted to upload a video, I had to install the Facebook Video application. When my friends see the thumbnail and decide to click to watch, if they haven’t installed the application they are prompted to do so. That’s why Facebook Video has 5.9 million users.

Other Facebook applications explicitly start by prompting you to invite your friends to try it. In the long run I don’t think this is going to be acceptable, especially those that preselect all your friends to receive invitations. This borders on Plaxoesque spamming.
Gladwell’s book talks about the optimum group size, and how people can’t maintain relationships in a group of more than about 150. I agree (I know Malcolm will be so relieved to hear that!), but I think Facebook dramatically ramps up the number of effective connections a person can have.

Just as patient sharing sites like CarePages or CaringBridge have been used to help families of hospitalized patients stay in touch with a broader community to give condition updates, Facebook lets you easily poke or send messages to friends and post status updates that they can check when they think of it. It puts their updates in your path, and yours in theirs. It takes the friction out of staying connected.

Which is why Facebook itself has reached The Tipping Point. With about 90 percent of college students on board, it has serious critical mass in a demographic that’s important for many businesses and organizations. For instance, David’s Bridal has found that people spend more money in the five years after their marriage than they do in any other five year period of their lives, and that it almost always starts with the purchase of a wedding dress. This has opened up huge opportunities for cross-selling honeymoon trips, banking and mortgage services and other products and services one wouldn’t immediately think of as being wedding-related. They call it life-stage marketing.

With its supermajority of the college-educated crowd, Facebook is even a step ahead of David’s Bridal in life-stage marketing, because most marriages happen during or after college.

And with the momentum Facebook now reportedly has, with well over 30 million members and adding 1.2 million a week, most of whom are in the 25-49 age group, this is an epidemic that has tipped and for which there doesn’t appear to be a vaccine.

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Social Network Options for Organizations

Social Network Options for Organizations

Organizations interested in creating social networks for employees, customers or other outside constituents (vendors, business partners, etc.) have three options:
1. Don’t. Create one, that is. Find an existing social networking site that already serves your industry, and participate there. This has several benefits:

  • You don’t need IT support or budget
  • A crowd of similarly interested people is already gathered so you don’t need to build a group
  • If you participate intelligently, you and your organization can be seen as having worthwhile contributions for the community

Among the downsides are that you have no ability to influence the structure and direction of the site. You may be contributing to the conversation, but you are a thought follower rather than a thought leader. That’s fine; the world needs followers, too; without them, so-called “leaders” are just taking a stroll by themselves. And the reality may be that others have taken the lead in forming an online community, so instead of starting another party you should knock on the door and join the one next door. If there isn’t a network like the one you want to build, you could move on to consider options 2 or 3.
2. Create a new standalone social networking site. With numerous so-called “white label” software products available (Jeremiah has a list here) that can carry your organization’s visual identity, creating a networking space is relatively quick and easy. Advantages include:

  • Complete control over the site’s look, including what features it offers and whether any outside advertising is included.
  • If you are the “first mover” in your area of interest to create such a space, and if your organization is big enough to have the gravitational pull to draw others in, your site could reinforce your organization’s thought leadership.


  • It’s not free, and you and your IT department are responsible for it. Anything less than 100 percent uptime reflects poorly on your organization. Some white label vendors also offer hosting services, but you pay for them, and your organization’s reputation is at risk if the site malfunctions.
  • Building a social networking space is different from building a social network. As compared to option 3, a standalone site creates barriers to adoption that can hinder your network’s growth. Your members need usernames and passwords for your site. They need to remember to come back to the site, or you need to remind them through email or RSS feeds. Given its modest penetration to date, RSS will likely not be sufficient for these reminders.

3. Create a group within one of the existing social networking sites. Leading candidates for this are MySpace and Facebook. I have a MySpace profile I almost never visit. I focus on Facebook in this post because I am most familiar with it and I think it’s the most powerful, especially given its open platform that encourages outside developers to create applications to build upon its framework. If someone wants to make the argument that a group within MySpace is as good an option as a Facebook group for an organization looking to form a network, please let me know and I will edit this post and link to you.

Advantages of Facebook groups:

  • They are free, and easy to create. In fact, I created a new Facebook group called “Social Network Options for Organizations” in exactly 7 minutes after I finished drafting this post, including pasting in this post as the first discussion topic.
  • No IT support is needed, and Facebook is responsible for maintaining the servers.
  • You can have your organization’s logo (see this one from the AAAS) emblazoned on your group site. In the case of the “Social Network Options for Organizations” site, I just added a photo of me. Assuming you have a logo already created, putting it on your group site adds another 45 seconds or so to your build time.
  • They are easy to join compared with white label sites. If your potential members aren’t in Facebook yet, the sign-up time is roughly equivalent to a white label site. But for the 31 million current Facebook members (growing by 1.2 million a week), they can join your group in about 5 seconds. They just go there and click the “Join this Group” link.
  • Your organization can form a network of networks. Say you want to have one network of customers or constituents and another of vendors, business partners or allies and still another of employees. In Facebook you can create all of those groups in less than an hour, and people can join whichever groups are appropriate for them.


  • The site has advertising. This is much less intrusive in Facebook than in MySpace; just one ad per page at the most, in the left-hand navigation or on the bottom of the page. But it’s a free service, someone has to pay. Facebook offers sponsored groups, so if advertising is a big problem for your organization I think you could likely pay to not have ads.
  • The feature set is basic. You can upload photos and videos and have a discussion board, as well as the Wall. You can choose not to have any of those features. The white label products likely offer more customization, but the Facebook interface is elegant and pleasing and the feature set is expanding. For example, I believe videos for groups is a new function; previously I think you could only add videos to personal profiles. And with outside companies developing applications for the Facebook platform, undoubtedly some of them will extend functionality for groups. If there is some feature you particularly need, I believe you could get a programmer to develop an application to add it for your group.

These are some of the factors to consider as you are exploring how your organization can become active in online social networking. Even if you do decide to use a white label product, you also should have a Facebook group, if for no other reason than to serve as an outpost with a link to your organization’s white-label site. If you don’t create a Facebook group for your organization, someone else likely will.

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