In its fight to dominate the Internet, Facebook has one key demographic in mind: small businesses, for whom the platform's free, easy-to-use Web tools hold powerful appeal. But should your Facebook page be your main Web presence, or just one in a range of digital communications tools? Here are some pros and cons to consider.
• It's free. Facebook's bigger goal is to get you to pay for advertising and promotion – and for you to draw people onto its site to view other ads – so it gives away what is essentially a basic Web hosting and messaging platform for no cost other than the time it takes you to set it up.
• It's foolproof. As for the time, it's minimal compared with the alternatives. Setting up your Facebook page is no more complicated than filling out a form, though it's worth putting some extra time and effort into choosing attractive imagery and well-thought-out words.
• It's easy to update. No CMS, no extra logins (assuming you already use Facebook regularly) – Facebook pages are designed for easy updating. Changing your hours for the summer? Just edit that part of your page. Want to update your header image to something more seasonal? You can even do it straight from your phone.
• It adds social proof. Once you have a Facebook page for your business, customers and friends can start to "like" it. The result of this is that when anyone who is logged into Facebook views your page, they see not just how many likes you have, but who among their Facebook friends likes your page, which functions as a sort of word-of-mouth advertising.
• It lets you interact with customers. It's easy for customers to send you private messages (or public posts or comments) through your Facebook page, and for you to respond to them quickly and efficiently. It's an alternative to setting up an e-mail address specifically for customer service.
• It's unfriendly for non-Facebook users. Facebook wants everyone to be on Facebook, and it's pulling out all the stops to try and get people there – including showing a huge pop-up encouraging registration or login to people who view your page when they're not logged in. This pop-up blocks your content and drives away customers who simply don't want to use Facebook.
• It needs to be maintained. Every digital property needs a certain amount of maintenance, but with social media in particular, consumers expect to see updates. That means if your last Facebook post was six months ago, people might land on your page and wonder whether you're still in business.
• It might be too social. There are some kinds of business relationships that people like to keep private. For instance, they might not want their entire network to know they're searching for a fertility clinic, or a psychologist, or a plastic surgeon. While Facebook doesn't broadcast that somebody is looking at your page, there is always the risk they might accidentally click a like or share button that then tells their whole network about that click. If your business is in this category, Facebook might not be right for you at all.
• It's not customizable. Facebook pages fulfill the same basic function as any website: putting information online so people can access it. But if you want more control over design or additional functionality such as e-commerce or a blog, your options on Facebook are limited.
• It looks less professional. To many, it simply looks less professional for a business's primary site to be a Facebook page (never mind the facebook.com/mybusiness URL). This may not be true in your particular field, but it's something to consider.
Facebook is a convenient way to communicate with customers, and a Facebook page should be part of the marketing strategy for most small businesses. It's also a good way for new businesses to get the word out while their website is being created. But in the majority of cases, there are too many disadvantages to completely ditch your own website in favour of Facebook.
Kat Tancock is co-founder of Tavanberg, a Toronto-based content marketing agency that helps businesses connect with customers through standout storytelling.