About three months ago, I created a Facebook page for Tablas Creek. For those of you who are not familiar with Facebook, it's a site where people can interact with their friends by sharing updates and photos, posting thoughts and links, and generally keeping a loose eye on what your group of friends is thinking and doing. It was originally designed for students, and many of the users are still in their teens or twenties. But, as social networking sites like these (MySpace is the other main one) insinuate themselves into mainstream culture, the demographics have broadened. According to Facebook's press page, the 150 million users worldwide spend an average of 17 minutes a day on the site, and more than half the users are post-college. That's a lot of eye time for a lot of potential customers.
The main connection on Facebook is that of "friend". You can request to be a friend of another Facebook user, and if that person accepts your friend request, you have access to their postings and updates.
While the application was designed for individuals to use to stay in touch with their cohort of friends, it also allows companies and organizations to create pages to represent themselves. Some do so by creating a personal page as a winery (as in my first name is Justin and my last name is Winery) and then making friends with their followers. Other create organization or group pages, and followers can become "fans" (of an organization) or "members" (of a group). There doesn't seem to be any particular pattern that wineries and vineyards have chosen. All three options are well represented.
Treating your business personal page as a person has some advantages that I didn't anticipate when I created the Tablas Creek page as an organization. Friend relationships are considered by Facebook closer than fan or member relationships, and personal pages can update their Facebook status. The status is a powerful tool, as the default home page of each user shows recent status updates from their friends. An organization or group doesn't have a tool quite as effective.
Still, the relationship of a possible customer to a business (at least, a business that's not tiny) seems more appropriate to that of "fan" or "member" than "friend". For better or worse, I chose to create the Tablas Creek page as an organization page, and we now have some 230 fans. Some are friends of mine or of other Tablas Creek employees, but many are not, and each day we get another 3 or 4 or 5 new fans organically.
A screenshot of the current Tablas Creek page:
You will notice that, as an administrator of this page, I have the option of sending an update to fans, and I do so occasionally. You'll also notice that there are 35 "notes" posted. Nearly all of these are blog posts, as I've configured Facebook to automatically pull any posts I make here on the blog into the Tablas Creek Facebook page as a note. This is a potentially powerful tool for wineries with Facebook pages who are also bloggers, as it obviates the need to duplicate content and provides regular updates on important items to the Facebook audience.
There are also portions of the page that are relatively undeveloped, such as the discussion board (no one has yet created any discussion topics) and the wall (there have only been seven posts). I'm sure that both of these components will grow as our database of fans grows.
There is also the option of creating and publicizing events. We're just starting to use this capability, which many other Facebook users have reported is currently the most applicable one to a business. I do have the experience of using the event page through the Paso Robles Rhone Rangers (which was created as a group a few months ago and has 600+ members). The upcoming 2009 Paso Robles Rhone Rangers Experience has a corresponding event page on Facebook which shows 53 confirmed guests (some of whom are winery members) and another 121 listed as "Maybe Attending". We'll see the extent to which these people actually buy tickets; according to the event staff at Robert Hall Winery, who are accepting reservations, no one has identified themselves as having heard about the event through Facebook. A funny October article in the New York Times Magazine by Hal Niedzviecki told of his effort to invite his more-than-700 friends to a Facebook event and seeing only one of the fifteen "attending" and 60 "maybe attending" friends show up.
So, why am I spending the time to create and maintain this Facebook page for Tablas Creek? First, it's not much time or maintenance, particularly because I can use my blog posts as content. And, I have to confess I spend a fair amount of time on Facebook anyway, so it's not like I have to remember to check whether anyone has responded. And, I'm convinced, as more and more people adopt the application and integrate it more fully into their lives, that it will become the same sort of tool for businesses to keep its fans updated as it has become for communities of friends: a tool whose power is in its broad reach, even if its depth is limited.
And plus, if I don't start now, how will I ever get us more than 236 fans? Oh, wait... there's one more. Make it 237.