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Facebook has just launched Fan Box, a new widget. This is great news for brands wanting to grow a Facebook fan page. But it's probably going to drive traffic in the wrong direction for most brands.
Fan Box provides Facebook page owners with a way to attract visitors from external sites. Page owners can simply place the box on an external web page where it will provide a window into their Facebook fan page.
The box will display the number of fans and recent comments. It will also allow visitors to the external site to register as a fan with one-click.
This is a great development for Facebook. It will drive traffic to the site and increase interaction on fan pages. It is an essential move in helping Facebook achieve more for brands with fan pages. Furthermore, it strengthens the case for Facebook as the community hub for brands.
However, there is a downside. Fan pages have shortcomings when used for community building: there are constraints over branding, the community management tools are pretty basic and the data on advocates is significantly restrained.
As a result if brands start to put Fan Box on their own sites, they may be sending visitors and advocates away from a space where they can guide and influence conversations to one where different rules apply.
It's the constraints of the Facebook group that have caused many firms to establish their own online communities. A good example is ASOS. The retailer recently re-focused efforts away from their Facebook page towards their own online community, ASOS Life.
In so doing, they regain ownership of the customer conversations and relationships and can more directly influence brand messages and acquisition.
So how should brands use the Fan Box widget?
The best way for a brand to use the widget is by placement on other people's websites. In most cases brands should steer away from directing their own hard-won traffic to Facebook.
Instead, they should encourage current fans to place the widget on their own blogs or pay for the widgets to be embedded. I suspect the most valuable use of Fan Box will be when it is used in place of a banner advert on appropriate carefully chosen websites.