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Four Reasons Why Nonprofits Should Reconsider Facebook

April 24, 2010

[tweetmeme] Reconsider. To think about again. To reassess. To reevaluate. I have been mulling this post over for months, and with some recent changes made by Facebook, the time has come. Some of the opinions I express below I have had for a while and speak to them in my webinars and trainings, but some are so recent that I am still in the stage of “Seriously Facebook? Really?”.

That said, people love Facebook. The vast of majority of nonprofits love Facebook too. I have been in trainings where if I even hint that perhaps Facebook is a little over-rated, then eyes glare, people shift in their seats, and I have recollections of a few people even walking out. Yet recently, I sense some frustration with Facebook from nonprofits. At a training last week with a lot of long-time Facebook Admins in the room, I saw much head-nodding and eyes rolling. I think the time has come for nonprofits to examine Facebook a little deeper.

1) Nonprofits have been advertising Facebook for free to untold millions for years, and Facebook has yet to return the favor.

Nonprofits throughout the world have sent millions upon millions of e-mails, Tweets, bulletins, updates, etc. asking their supporters to “Become a Fan!” on Facebook. They have heavily promoted Facebook on their websites and blogs, at events and conferences. Essentially, nonprofits have been advertising Facebook to untold millions for free helping it become the powerhouse that it is today – the largest, most active social networking website on the Web.

Facebook has been around six years now and is extremely profitable. It’s time for them to give back. Time for them to launch an Ad Grants Program for Nonprofits like Google Grants. I believe this so much in fact, that I started a Page called “Call to Action: Launch an Ads Grants Program for Nonprofits“. Hope you become a Fan – er “Like” it.

Not that Facebook hasn’t done anything for nonprofits. They helped launch the company Causes. They created Facebook for Good and Non-Profits on Facebook (though they don’t update them very often). They did skip last year’s holiday party and used the money for charity, launched the tech-centric Facebook Fellowship Program, and offered free advertising to a couple of nonprofits working to end cyberbulling. Alright… thanks Facebook. But for the second largest Internet company in the world with 2010 advertising profit estimates to be between $1-2 billion, is that enough?

2) Nonprofits are consistently kept in the dark and left guessing when it comes to Facebook upgrades and changes in the toolset.

Facebook would do well to follow the lead of Twitter, MySpace and YouTube. Those sites let users know in advance when big changes are coming. Facebook tends to leak information that only keeps bloggers and nonprofits guessing and confused. We’re building nonprofits, businesses, and brands around our Facebook communities, and yet every couple of months we wake up to new changes (made primarily to benefit Facebook’s revenue model) that we have to figure out for ourselves and scramble around.  Enough with the mystery Facebook! Time to start thinking of nonprofits as your partners in your mission “to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected”.

The latest change was Facebook Fan Pages becoming “Official Pages”. Now instead of supporters “Becoming a Fan!” they “Like” a Page. A lot of nonprofits will now have to update their website, e-mail newsletters, and most costly, their print materials. Why did Facebook do this? As Beth Kanter explains very well, it’s about their long-term revenue model.

3) Facebook ROI is often overrated.

At the beginning of each of my webinars, I ask attendees where they first heard about the webinar. The answers are always the same: 1) From this blog. 2) From my e-mail newsletter. 3) From a friend or colleague. 4) Twitter 5) LinkedIn 6) Facebook. Personally, my ROI (Return on Investment) from Facebook isn’t that great. It’s somewhere between good and OK.

Those with big name recognition do well on Facebook, but mostly because they have websites, blogs, and large e-mail newsletter lists where they can promote (er advertise) their Facebook Page. Small nonprofits just do not go viral on Facebook. They have to promote the Page like crazy just to reach 1,000 fans.

Not that I think that small and medium-sized nonprofits should abandon Facebook. They absolutely should have an “Official” Facebook Page (don’t go near “Community Pages“). After the Page is set up it takes very little time to manage. Posting 3-5 Status Updates a week is not that time consuming. There is ROI, but it is often overrated. All the major case studies are about large national and international organizations, and their success on Facebook has a lot to do with their brand being well known. Small nonprofits just can not duplicate that success, so in many cases they inevitably get disappointed. It is very important to have realistic expectations about Facebook and what it can do for your nonprofit.

4) Facebook frequently makes shady decisions when it comes to Internet ethics.

Let’s just put all the Facebook privacy and safety scandals from the last few years aside, and look at one real-time example that I think speaks volumes about Facebook’s decision-making process.

I am disturbed that this Page is allowed to continue to exist on Facebook:  “DEAR LORD, THIS YEAR YOU TOOK MY FAVORITE ACTOR, PATRICK SWAYZIE. YOU TOOK MY FAVORITE ACTRESS, FARAH FAWCETT. YOU TOOK MY FAVORITE SINGER, MICHAEL JACKSON. I JUST WANTED TO LET YOU KNOW MY FAVORITE PRESIDENT IS BARACK OBAMA. AMEN”  The Page itself is bad enough (sadly, with over 1,000,000 “Likes”), but some of the content is vile, racist and beyond hateful. It is rumored to be run by a white supremacist in Ohio:

I e-mailed Facebook asking why the Page has not been deleted. Their response:

“While it may be considered distasteful and objectionable to some, the Facebook page in question does not violate our policies. We’re sensitive to content that includes pornography, bullying, hate speech, and actionable threats of violence and we react quickly to remove content that violates our policies when it is reported to us. Facebook is highly self-regulating and leverages its more than 400 million users to keep an eye out for offensive content. We encourage users to report such content and we have a large team of professional reviewers who evaluate these reports and take action per our policies.”

Additionally, both CNN and ABC News covered the anti-Obama Page in the last 48 hours. In both articles, Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes is quoted saying that though the anti-Obama page “may be considered distasteful and objectionable to some,” it doesn’t violate Facebook’s policies.

This is going to be a bit difficult to explain, but here goes:

– The anti-Obama Page was launched sometime last year as  a Fan Page.

– As of April 2010, Fan Pages are now called “Official” Pages and there is new Page in the mix called Community Pages. Here is the difference:

Community Pages are built around topics, causes or experiences. Official Pages are maintained by authorized representatives of a business, brand, celebrity, or organization, and they can create and share content about the entities that they represent. Community Pages, on the other hand, won’t generate stories in your News Feed, and won’t be maintained by a single author.

– The anti-Obama Page (I assume) has now been downgraded to a Community Page because it can not be authenticated (View Facebook Authentication Form). That means that Status Updates from the Page no longer get News Feed exposure.

– Facebook does not delete the anti-Obama Page because, and I am guessing here, it does not violate their policies concerning Community Pages.

Personally, I think Facebook made a bad call here, and in fact the Page could be interpreted as being in violation of their policies. Facebook’s Terms of Service clearly say (under Safety):

You will not post content that: is hateful, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.

Facebook continues to delete breastfeeding photos. Facebook even deleted a poll asking if Obama should be killed, but they won’t delete the the Page about praying for President Obama’s death? I unfortunately have to manage a lot hate and anger on Facebook, and I have learned that hate can be very destructive to a community. The Page is going viral. It is starting to get national press coverage, and I think allowing the Page to continue to flourish will harm Facebook in the end if they don’t take it down sooner than later. It will spiral out of control. More haters will come. Many people will get disgusted and leave Facebook. The company may think they are invincible, but they are not. Great websites before them have come and gone. I think it is time for Facebook to reconsider. To think about again. To reassess. To reevaluate.


Related Links:

How Facebook Community Pages Undermine Nonprofit Official Pages in Facebook Searches
e-Mail Petition: Tell Facebook to Delete a Fan Page that Calls for the Death of President Obama

Facebook Group: Petition Facebook to Remove Page Praying for President Obama’s Death

19 Comments leave one →
  1. April 24, 2010 1:03 pm

    Thank you. I will definitely pass this along… I to, have become tired of Facebook’s changes not being mentioned, beforehand. And, despise the hate and trash that is flung around!

  2. Hatef Yamini permalink
    April 25, 2010 9:27 am

    Kerri, thanks for this excellent article. I especially agree with the notion that nonprofits have provided tons of free advertising for Facebook without a proportionate level of support from Facebook. The same is true of Chase, Pepsi and other mega-corporate crypto-philanthropists.

  3. April 25, 2010 9:44 am

    Our son died in 2007 and we began our nonprofit last year with hopes of helping other parents, educators, healthcare providers, law enforment, and other community groups address adolescent risk taking. We started our facebook page in October of last year and we currently have over 5500 “likers”. I think your point about the relationship between nonprofits and facebook’s success is valid. I believe that facebook would have been profitable even without the constant promotion of nonprofits. However, I believe that if the typical nonprofit advocates the use of facebook half as much as we have done then there is no doubt facebook has the nonprofit world to thank for part of its success. Much of our mission involves the sharing of information. Facebook can be a great tool for this. I just wish facebook recognized in a public and rewarding way that it recognizes the importance of nonprofit in social media. Dale Galloway (

  4. April 25, 2010 12:45 pm

    Thanks for this post. It’s so important to remember that facebook is a private, for-profit company that is really only deeply interested in its own bottom line.

  5. sueannereed permalink
    April 25, 2010 10:10 pm

    I agree that some of Facebook’s practices are distasteful. But as long as they continue to grow subscribers and amount of time people spend on the site, they are still going to be important — especially for non-profits with limited budgets. I do think that non-profits need to look at how much time they are spending on social media and what the ROI of that time is. Christopher Penn and Blue Sky Media recently did a great webinar talking about the ROI of email that had some really great charts about measuring the ROI of email and the ROI of social media – which included “people time”.

  6. April 26, 2010 5:24 am

    Interesting thoughts. Here’s where I struggle with your suggestions:
    1) Do we say the same thing about the Internet or web? Nonprofits have been using those platforms for years, advertising their usefulness without getting any love in return.

    2) Isn’t this also true of the phone and USPS? Nonprofits have been paying for a phone number, advertising it since their inception and getting no love back from the phone company. Nonprofits also advertise their mailing address and send mail through the system, at a cost to their organization, without getting any thing free in return.

    In my opinion, Facebook has become a platform for engagement, communication and outreach. Ignoring it because they are not promoting nonprofits, including nonprofits in their upcoming changes (does the USPS or phone company do that) and leaving them because of their shady ethics (do phone companies or USPS stop hate tactics?) is misguided. Sorry, but if nonprofits followed your tactics, many would be back at Web 1.0 static pages which do not serve them well in a Web 2.0 world.

    Just food for thought from a different view…

  7. nonprofitorgs permalink
    April 26, 2010 6:12 am

    Well Jeff… thanks for the different view. I don’t agree with you though… and I didn’t say nonprofits should leave Facebook.

    On Number 1. The Facebook toolset is limited. Admins can’t post Comments on “Fans” walls… can’t email Fans directly… can’t send Fan Requests… er, Like Requests, whatever. I personally think Facebook limits the toolset on purpose so nonprofits, businesses, etc. have to promote Facebook off Facebook. The Internet doesn’t have these rules and limitations, right? So comparing Facebook to the Internet as a whole doesn’t really work here. Twitter is not limited like that. MySpace, LinkedIn, Flickr or YouTube. You can posts comments, email, send friend requests, follow, etc. Page Admins on Facebook can not.

    The USPS and the phone companies? Nonprofits are not advertising those tools, they just use them. You won’t see “Sign up for AT&T!” or “Buy more stamps!” in a nonprofit e-mail newsletters.

    On Number 2. Nonprofits have at least sent 10,000,000 new users to Facebook over the years. At least. Fans/users are now valued at $3.70 a piece. That’s $37,000,000. Nonprofits have positioned them to make heck of a lot of money. Nonprofits were the early adopters… on there long before mom and pops, even large corporations or universities… we’re talking September 2006. Nonprofits’ “feel good, do good” brand helped Facebook and its branding. I think if nonprofits helped build that company, then they least they can do is give a little back. Like free advertising nonprofits can’t afford to buy anyway…. it’s not any money out of their pocket. Just more good branding for Facebook. That’s just good business in a world where cause marketing works.

    And engagement? I have almost 10,000,000 fans, er “Likes” (so annoying, that change)… I am lucky if I get 10 Likes or Comments on a Status Updates. That’s a .0001 return on “Engagement”. Engagement is totally overrated on Facebook. It’s much higher on Twitter, MySpace, blogging. Facebook is definitely not the end all be all of Web 2.0 engagement. And just because I criticize Facebook, then I am sending nonprofits back to the dark ages of Web 1.0? That’s a little extreme. The highest ROI for nonprofits is still in Web 1.0. The website, the e-mail newsletter, and “Donate Now” buttons… then blogging.

    Personally, I think it’s a little misguided and silly to not question Facebook. I didn’t say nonprofits should leave Facebook. I bolded that statement in the article so people wouldn’t jump conclusions or misinterpret “Reconsider”. I just said we shouldn’t put all our eggs in Mark Zuckerberg’s basket, and now that we’ve been using it for 4 years… let’s cut through all the hype and take a real look at the results and the toolset.

    Finally, a nonprofits’ mission is not to sell products, but to sell an idea, a cause, a virtue. Facebook’s unethical decisions of late are important to nonprofits and their own branding, or at least they should be considered/reconsidered at the very least. Thanks.

  8. JessWBeaumont permalink
    April 29, 2010 3:13 am

    Thank you for these thoughtful words. Perfect timing as I prepare to talk with a nonprofit today about whether they should jump into the FB mix and consider the possible ROI. I just double checked my privacy settings yesterday and found a number of mine set to public or friends of friends when I swear I had gone through and checked them ALL to friends only. I also took this important step: went to my privacy settings under my account to “applications and websites” and clicked on Instant Personalization Pilot program and opted the heck out. Its a really invasive feature that will give loads of people access to what you like, post and what websites you go to. Let’s keep up this critique!

  9. Claudia Sumler permalink
    April 29, 2010 6:05 am

    Your comments about the Obama page are very interesting. Yesterday I saw that there is a similar posting out there for Governor Christie of New Jersey. Unlike the Obama page, it has evidently been traced back to someone in the NJEA. Christie wants the person fired. Perhaps the whole dreadful joke will become a template for anyone who dislikes some elected official.

  10. April 30, 2010 9:27 am

    Facebook is a bridge. Cross over it, but build no house on it.

    I completely agree that advance notice of platform changes would be nice. The ethics are not always the highest anywhere online. And calculating ROI on the Internet is like trying to count the rings in a slice of rainbow.

    Facebook – like all things online – should be treated a little like a mirage. If you can find a way to creatively use it in the moment… today… right now? Go for it. But don’t get too close. It will either disappear or just keep moving away. It’s free . (Unfortunately/delightfully) unregulated. If and when that changes, facebook will be replaced by a new mirage. I’ve been creating websites for 15 years.

    When I started you had to phone Yahoo! about changes to your listing… Domains cost $150 and transferring one required a Notary seal.

    Things change.

    I advise my clients to always float on the backbone of available technology. Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Reddit, Vimeo, FLickr, DimDim, YouTube – whatever – the list is endless. Just (a.) keep a copy of all your digital/intellectual property in case any website goes belly-up, and (b.) invest just enough effort into these technologies to make them work for you, and (c.) always remember that your content is king. It’s the most important contribution you make to your SEO/web success.

    Take the five hours you’d invest in trying to change Facebook for the better, and invest it into creating a new podcast, an iPhone app, or editorial calendar for your website.

    Content is equity. At Facebook the best you can do is rent. So treat it like a rental.

  11. October 8, 2010 11:22 am

    If you are a non-profit it is likely that you came into existence to persuade your community or your world to do things differently. Confronting hatred and other detestable aspects of humanity is part of our job. We can all have proprietary websites where dissent is censored and pretend all is well, but that is just deceiving ourselves. I support people with intellectual disabilities and using social media including Facebook means I confront hatred every day. But those are real people behind that hatred. I am glad I know about it. I am glad I have an opportunity to learn from it and deal with it. The fact that there are people out there organizing their hate is important – we can respond to that, yes, by insisting on censorship where appropriate, but also by countering their hate by offering alternatives for how we want to live our lives.


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