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When Building an Online Community, Facebook is Phase 1

When you’re looking to build an online community for your customers, Facebook is the starting point, not the end.

I’ve been reading more posts recently that praise Facebook’s ability to bring customers together online, but question the amount of information and customer data that Facebook gets to hold onto, free of charge, in exchange for a platform.

The question of data ownership comes up. Also, what happens if Facebook suddenly decides to pull the plug on your community, with little or no advance notice?

Over at the Conversation Agent blog, Valeria Maltoni sums up the problem:

When you build a program that relies solely on your Facebook page and with the main goal to increase the number of fans, guess what? You’re doing Facebook a favor. That database you spent social ad money to attract? It’s not YOUR database. It’s Facebook’s, too

I’m an advocate for businesses starting a Fan Page and maintaining a customer community on Facebook. But I’m also an advocate for businesses building online communities to better serve their customers in a dynamic way.

In the short term, Facebook is the answer. But in the long term, I believe that there’s more value in looking into building a branded online community once the Facebook platform has developed, and the company’s culture has been sufficiently augmented to support such a community.

But how do you know when you’ve reached the point where it’s OK to move onto phase two? It’s hard to say. The person responsible for overseeing the company’s online community and social media initiatives should draw up an action plan.

It could be that the main brand should remain only on Facebook, but different branches of the company would be better served with an independent online community.

Start small, and grow from there. Facebook should remain an important part of the company’s online community and social media strategies. But it shouldn’t be the be-all-and-end-all of it.

Photo credit: Crystl on Flickr

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