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August 5, 2009

Dear Facebook — want a new revenue stream that will help arts marketing?

A revenue stream for Facebook -- a benefit for arts organizations!

A revenue stream for Facebook -- a benefit for arts organizations!

When Facebook first launched, many people were confused about the two options available for featuring arts organizations: Facebook Groups vs. Facebook Pages. (I need to stop for a moment and mention that Facebook needs to work out a different name for “Facebook Pages” — isn’t every page on Facebook a Facebook page? Most people commonly refer to Facebook Pages as “fan pages” now, but Facebook has yet to officially update their documentation to reflect this. But I digress.)

In the beginning, there were Facebook Groups and Facebook Pages. Groups offered the very special ability for the arts organization to directly connect with members of the group via a sort of intra-Facebook email system. So you could (and still can) use this tool to send a message that will arrive in the person’s “Facebook email” inbox. Fan pages offered a messaging system called an “update” that would allow you to send a message to all of your fans, but sadly the message would go to place in the user’s profile that most people never check. I’ve known folks to say “Yes, I became a fan, but I never hear from them” only to discover that their fan update inbox was filled with notes they had never seen. Given the checks and balances between the two options, Facebook Groups used to be the better way to go.

About three months ago, Facebook made a very significant change to the way fan pages function, making them much more powerful…

The change allowed Facebook fan pages to post to the individual fan’s newsfeed — that long, scrolling tickertape of never-ending messages from all of your friends. Depending on when you logged into Facebook, this allowed a fan page to place its message right in front of your eyes, where you could comment on it, “like” it, share it, or interact with it in other ways. Each interaction you made would also be shown to your friends on their newsfeeds, and thus your interaction had the potential to become viral. It’s this reason that we now recommend Facebook fan pages over Facebook groups for arts organizations. (Use the group for your intra-company members, use a fan page for patrons).

But that newsfeed thing… here’s the problem. Let’s say you, regular Joe, have two hundred friends on Facebook, and each friend of yours is posting three or four status updates on Facebook every day. So we’re talking six hundred to eight hundred messages in your personal newsfeed stream every day. You are also a fan of several organizations, and those organizations post throughout the day. If you, Joe, login to Facebook a couple of times a day, you’ll see whatever the latest posts in the newsfeed are, but you’re not going to go back and read the six hundred status updates that have happened since you last logged in — You just dip your toe in the stream and read the latest stuff, and go about your other Facebook business.

This means that it is very likely that the fan page post from the Cupertino Theatre Company that came out an hour before you logged in is not one of the posts you’ll see in your most recent newsfeed items.

Now, if the arts organization fan page has a lot of fans, that’s great. Every post that is sent out from the fan page will be seen by a few fans that happen to be logged on at the time the post is sent out, and they will have the opportunity to react to it in the ways I’ve outlined above. It’s a numbers game really. But for a fan page with not many fans, you’re not going to see a lot of interaction, as not many fans will see it when the post is sent.

So, Facebook, want to make some money?

Give arts organizations the ability to buy a new special posting feature:  allow a fan page post to “pause” in the stream of the fans. So that it doesn’t matter when Joe logs into Facebook, he will see the fan page post at the top of his newsfeed, just like it had just been posted a minute ago. All fans of a fan page will see the post whenever they login — not just the select few that happen to be logged in right when the post goes out. Consider this a sort of “perma-post” or perhaps a “stickypost” that sticks around and doesn’t get washed away in the stream. Only the latest post from a fan page would be sticky — this prevents a bunch of posts from “stacking up” in the newsfeed. The post doesn’t need to look any different than a regular post — the patron actually doesn’t even need to know that there is a sort of paid placement happening — to him/her, it will always look like they timed it “just right” and their connection to the fan page will increase. Facebook, I would pay something for the ability to do this, and our clients would too. If you consider that Americans for the Arts estimates that there are roughly 100,000 arts groups in the U.S., and let’s say 40% of them have a presence on Facebook, and 10% of those groups use this service, that’s 4,000 groups. If you charged $20 a month for a “super fan page” with this ability plus a few additional bells and whistles (which would be well worth it to arts organizations), that’s a cool $960,000 a year just from arts groups. Just from arts groups mind you — this isn’t considering all of the other business genres on Facebook.

FB friends, it’s a cash cow that requires very little maintenance and can be self-managed by the user. How about it? -Ron

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