According to Facebook, there are now more than 3m active Facebook Pages on the world’s most popular social network. A growing number of them belong to businesses that are trying to tap into Facebook’s massive audience.

For some of those businesses, a Facebook Page represents a significant investment, and for those with a substantial number of fans, a significant asset. But having a web presence on Facebook also creates some challenges. One of them: determining whether or not to promote the company website or the company’s Facebook Page.

An interesting post on Marketing Pilgrim discusses a recent campaign by pen giant Uni-ball, in which Uni-ball’s own website was completely ignored and viewers were directed to Uniball’s Facebook Page, where the company was giving away 10,000 pens.

Steve Rubel of Edelman Digital, who first wrote about the campaign, was fairly critical of it on multiple fronts:

For starters, when marketers promote their social network hubs over their
URLs they risk that more savvy consumers will see right through it. People could
perceive it as a flat attempt to look cool and hip. Consumers already skeptical
of advertising and this just adds to it.

More importantly, he notes that many businesses, especially larger brands, have truly optimized their Facebook Pages (and Twitter accounts, etc.). As Rubel’s notes, “Most are devoid of humans – e.g. employees – and many look like faceless
companies that are trying to check off boxes or slap shiny logos on their site.

In my opinion, most Rubel’s criticisms are valid. I see five big problems with directing users to a Facebook Page:

  • There’s no ownership. A business doesn’t really own its Facebook Page. A Facebook Page is really just leased space in a social media mall. Facebook could change its policies (which it already has), it could lose data, or it could one day go out of business. Perhaps the risks of some of these things are quite small, but businesses should still be strategic when it comes to driving traffic to properties they don’t really own.
  • Not everyone is on Facebook. It may seem hard to believe, but the world’s population is still significantly bigger than Facebook’s userbase. Depending on who you’re trying to engage, an ad that directs viewers to Facebook may be exclusionary.
  • A Facebook Page URL isn’t any more appealing. It may seem that, in theory, there should be less friction in driving traffic to a Facebook Page because lots of people are already on Facebook, but businesses shouldn’t assume this. Without compelling ads (or calls to action), a Facebook Page URL isn’t any more appealing than a website URL. Case in point: even after promoting a Twitter account URL on its menus in 1,500 locations, the restaurant chain Denny’s didn’t drive more than 200 people to follow the wrong person. I suspect a Facebook Page URL would have been similarly unappealing if promoted without a strong enough call to action.
  • You miss out on SEO benefits. If you push a Facebook Page URL with a campaign that takes off virally, all of the link love you receive will be shared with Facebook (and your Facebook Page) — not your own website. Depending on your current status in the SERPs, a handful of inbound links from the right websites can have a lasting impact on your SEO efforts.
  • A great website is far more powerful than a Facebook Page.
    Facebook’s massive audience is appealing to businesses for good reason.
    So finding a way to tap into it makes a lot of sense. But businesses shouldn’t underestimate the
    power of their own websites. A stellar user
    experience and compelling content/functionality are worth their weight in gold. A Facebook Page has inherent limitations,
    and businesses have far less ability to create unique experiences on Facebook.

Are there ever times in which it’s acceptable to drive traffic to a Facebook Page? Sure. If you’ve developed a campaign that is designed to take advantage of the ‘social graph‘, for instance, promoting a Facebook Page may make a lot of sense. But without such purpose, mindlessly directing your customers and potential customers to Facebook isn’t going to be effective. The laws of effective advertising still apply, URLs be damned.

Photo credit: Global X via Flickr.