Our Little Facebook Experiment

facebook-iconEarlier this year my company decided to experiment with ways we could expand our Facebook community. We were excited by the prospect of widening our circle of friends who share our interests in donor action and philanthropy, from the arcane to the mainstream. But we were also interested in testing new options and possibilities for our clients who, unquestionably, have far more important reasons to build their constituencies than we do.

So here’s what we did:

1. We already had a Facebook group which we’d set up in 2008. For starters, we tuned our somewhat insular group (approximately 12 members, available by invitation only), into a more open page where anyone can become a fan. (For more on the relative merits of groups vs. pages, check out this good article from Mashable.)

2. We told our friends that we were now a page and encouraged them to become fans. A few did.

3. We started more actively posting conversation-starters and content on our page: links to articles we found interesting, blog posts, questions, engagement offers, first-to-know announcements, etc. We also integrated our page activity with our other communication channels – blog, website, Twitter, eNews – with an eye toward turning our communications program into a more comprehensive, multidirectional conversation program.

4. Things really got interesting though when we started testing Facebook advertising. We chose Facebook page advertising because of its low cost and ease of implementation. Basically you tell Facebook who you want to advertise to, how much you want to pay per click (they suggest an amount) and what your campaign budget is – i.e you pay per click up to a budget that you predetermine, after which the campaign ends. Our rate per click was somewhere in the $.45 range and we set a modest campaign budget of $75.

Within moments of activating our campaign, fans started to pour in (relatively speaking). Our page, which had leveled off after our upgrades at about 35 fans, was suddenly acquiring 2-3 new fans per minute. Within an hour our number of fans had tripled. We were moving fast.

Too fast. Who were all these new development friends? We looked back at the parameters we’d set for advertising our page. We had chosen individuals in the U.S. who had indicated “nonprofit” as an interest … which was clearly as if we had tried to find people interested in late 18th century opera by targeting people who listed “music” as an interest.

So we tightened our select. As expected, the number of new fans coming in slowed, but our new fans appeared to be more connected from an industry perspective. Our newer fans didn’t just like nonprofits; many worked for them. By the time our campaign ended we had acquired a little over a hundred fans for a total cost of about $75.

Since then, we’ve been continuing to share information and engagement opportunities with our new friends on our Facebook page. We’ve made some great new friends and strengthened our connections with old ones.

But we’ll be the first to admit that we’ve hardly scratched the surface of Facebook’s constituency-building potential for our company. To realize that potential, we should spend more time cultivating conversation in our virtual salon. We should post more and ask more questions, while making sure to keep the quality of our content top-notch. We should use video more. We should use survey tools.

And in doing so, our fans should be inspired to more actively engage with us and one another on our page. Because although we have more than ten times the number of fans that we did when we started, as this post from Beth Kanter affirms, the real measure of your Facebook page isn’t how many fans you have, but how engaged they are with you.

Fortunately, it doesn’t matter that much if my company doesn’t live up to its Facebook community-building potential. Your nonprofit organization, however, is a different story. You have important things at stake: identifying people who are interested in your mission, connecting with them about the issues, motivating them to take action, and inspiring them to support your work financially and with the gift of their time. 

If your Facebook page is helping make the world a better place, or even if it’s merely helping nonprofits like ours, perhaps all of us have compelling reasons to continue to raise the bar on our Facebook pages in 2010. Looking forward to continuing the conversation in the New Year.


2 Comments on Our Little Facebook Experiment

  1. Elliott says:

    Moira —

    Interesting post! How do you feel about the “Causes” application on Facebook? From the outside, it seems to be perfect — free advertising on people’s profiles, easy donation interface, and 25 million users already. What do you think?

    • Eliza says:

      Hi Elliott –

      Thanks much for reading the blog, and sharing! We’re actually working on a new post now about Facebook Causes, and the role they can play for nonprofits.

      Stay tuned for our new post soon,


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