Community Management, Brand Communities

The Five Reasons Why Most Facebook Brand Pages Aren’t True Communities

Jessica Malnik is a PR/marketing coordinator, social media specialist, videographer and an avid blogger. Visit her blog for social media, technology, public relations and marketing ramblings.

What are the defining characteristics of a community? It’s a topic I’ve been pondering more and more lately. Is it about geography, common interests, socio-economic similarities, or similar viewpoints? The list goes on and on.

To get to this point, it becomes necessary to define what a community is. According to, a community is
a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived itself as distinct insome respect from the larger society within which it exists.
As community managers, it’s our job to manage a brand’s online (and offline) presence. It’s a daunting task that requires us to assume a leadership role, channel the company’s voice, create buzz and drive engagement on and offline to achieve specific goals/outcomes. It’s fairly natural to assume that as the leader, you are building and growing a “community.” After all, there’s X amount of likers, followers, subscribers, doers’, doubters, troublemakers and everything in between, who are communicating in the group. However with most brand pages, this environment is actually fostering a false sense of community.

Most Facebook brand pages aren’t actually online communities. They are just glorified marketing channels. Some are done very well, others not so much. Here’s five reasons to explain this seemingly subtle distinction.

1. Fans and likers usually don’t just like a page based on common interests (or other community defining characteristics)

Most Facebook fans didn’t decide to “like” a brand’s page because they wanted to be part of an online community. In fact, the two most common reasons to like a brand are if you are a current customer or to receive discounts and/or freebies, according to a study by research firm, Chadwick Martin Bailey. The next most popular reasons are to show support for a brand, to learn more information and to get exclusive content. Couple that with the fact, that more than 75% of Facebook users who like a brand, like fewer than 10 brands total, and you wind up with stiff competition for eyeballs and page “likes.”

2. The vast majority of fans don’t participate on Facebook pages.

One of the biggest misunderstandings about Facebook is the assumption that once a person “likes” your page, they are going to keep coming back for more. A “like” on a page doesn’t guarantee that they will ever come back to that page and participate or even read any updates. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. According to an AdAge article, only one percent of fans on the biggest brand pages actually engage with the brand at all.

3. It’s a one-sided conversation

Going right alongside that, the few fans that stay actively involved on the page often don’t feel inclined to post updates or comment. Most of them are just casual observers or lurkers. This leads to a one-sided conversation led by the brand, or frankly no conversation at all. 82% of brand pages are updated less than five times a month, according to a recent study by

4. Numbers still matter.

Many brands are still very interested in the numbers game. No matter how many times a community manager, specialist or strategist vouches for quality over quantity, there’s always going to be push back to expand the messaging to a larger audience. Brands will often do whatever it takes to get more. Many of these tactics are counterintuitive to the core community-building strategies.

5. Gimmicks, expensive apps and games drive a lot of the action

So, how do brands up their numbers? Often times, they create gimmicks, such as games, contests, other fancy Facebook apps and pump hefty media budgets into Facebook ads/sponsored story campaigns. Some of these apps are quite effective. Yet, all they are doing is creating a false sense of community to help a brand spread their message further.

All of these are marketing tactics that are “forced upon” anyone, who expresses interest in the brand. It’s not a natural progression in a community sense. In a true community, members stumble into the group and then start talking with one another, usually naturally and without any real incentives.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing that brands are more likely to market instead of build community on Facebook. When done right, marketing on Facebook can be quite effective. That’s evident from Fortune 50 companies all the way down to mom and pop shops. After all, it’s all about creating an overall marketing strategy that understands your core business goals, and then using the most effective channels and tactics to achieve them. Facebook is one of the popular channels to spread awareness, get people talking about you and your products, increase conversions, drive offline actions (like event attendance) and even increase sales. However, if you’re trying to build a community around your brand through Facebook, it might be time to reconsider those strategies.

Is your brand page a community or a one-sided marketing channel?

Facebook Comments


  1. RossDensley says

    Interesting blog, Jessica. I think it’s clear that social platforms generally need different strategies and most certainly managed expectations. From my perspective, the business FB page is used to share and curate good content and rarely promote offers. I do see good referral traffic through to the company website too. Personally I find that the company hashtag, and sometimes blog, is the best way for people to talk to each other without me being there.

    • says

       @RossDensley Its all about managing expectations and weighing the overall marketing and biz goals. Facebook is (and can be) an incredible tool for brands. Especially as a marketing channel. It all comes down to the brand’s target demographics- and where they are hanging out online.

  2. Juan DCAutoGeek Barnett says

    Every time I like a brand on Facebook the first thing I do is hide them in my news feed. That is another piece of data I would like to see. What percentage of brand messages show up in user’s news feeds? 
    So what is my like worth then? It gives Facebook awareness of my brand preferences, but if the past is in any indication of Facebook’s ability to use that data to target ads…well then it REALLY has no value. 
    But if people don’t interact with brands and hide their updates from their feeds – then all Facebook has is a brand preference data set, which isn’t nearly as valuable as the data credit card companies and banks already have. Their data, unlike Facebook’s, is wallet-endorsed. That is banks and credit card companies know where you’ve spent your money and what you’ve bought. Facebook just knows you like a brand.
    Because I like Ferrari on Facebook, doesn’t mean I own or could ever own a Ferrari. Owning a Ferrari would provide marketers with insight into my buying power and taste. If Facebook ever chooses to use their data correctly to target, they first need to find a way to make it more valid.
    Closed brand pages. That really is the only way to do it. These pages are only accessible after making a purchase with a brand. Owners would get an exclusive code for entry into the page (Genesis support forums work this way). It would have to be sold as exclusive club for TRUE brand aficionados and owners and offer closed, private and targeted discussion between brands and consumers.
    The end result – a data point that has value. Juan OWNS a Ferrari vs. Juan LIKES a Ferrari.

    • says

       @Juan DCAutoGeek Barnett According to EdgeRank, about 95-96% of all posts are hidden from people’s news feed. While not a huge number, 4% is still significant when talking about 900 million users. However, interactions (likes and comments) on pages is notoriously low, with less than 1% of likers ever commenting on a brand’s page. As a marketing channel, Facebook can be way more effective than a traditional media campaign, but it depends entirely on the overall biz and strategy goals.

    • AngiHarper says

       @Juan DCAutoGeek Barnett Just curious about why you would automatically hide them from your news feed. Do you go back to the brand’s page? Because if you don’t – why like them in the first place? You intrigue me, Juan.

      • Juan DCAutoGeek Barnett says

         @AngiHarper For example, I love the service provided by my local Caddy dealership. I like them on Facebook as a way to say ‘Thank you’. Do I need to get their updates about whats going on with Cadillac the company? Not really.  Maybe I’m in the minority, but if I prefer to see updates from a very close group of friends and not from brands. 
        I took my response above and turned it into a post over at my site. Basically asking, could FB have sub-brand pages that were purchase-verified? This would create a new data point, likes vs likes + conversion for FB advertisers and brands. Brands could transition from an acquisition voice to a retention voice in that specific silo while FB could more accurately determine if the user had already converted with said liked brand.  

  3. LindaVandeVrede says

    The brands I follow on Twitter seem to do a better job of engaging customers than the ones I’ve “liked” on Facebook.   Twitter forces brevity, and the brands tend to use it for more time-sensitive topics such as news and discounts.   The Facebook brands either spam me multiple times a day with useless posts, or go completely dark and serve as just a static web page.   Businesses are still jumping into social media communities without knowing why they are doing so…and without having any market research whatsoever, it seems, about the demographics of their social media communities. 

    • says

       @LindaVandeVrede Some interesting observations. I think Twitter definitely forces brands to keep their message short (140 characters), but I don’t think it necessarily translates to keeping the message more focused or even more time sensitive. Honestly, I’d rather see a brand have 1-2 solid, useful and/or valuable weekly updates on Facebook than all the look-at-me Twitter junk that some brands throw out there.  
      In terms of brands jumping into social media blindly, I think its getting better but you are absolutely right when it comes to the fact that some brands still have absolutely no clue who their targeted audience is online. The sad reality is that its now easier than ever to find out with the help of social media monitoring/listening tools.

  4. rhappe says

    Thank you for sharing your perspective here – I tend to agree and would also add that this is where companies really need to evaluate the technology in light of their goals. Facebook’s business model is not predicated on building communities, just in driving online activity so the platform is not built to optimize or even encourage community development. It can be done but if the real goal is building a community, there are reasons to either have a Facebook plug-in or host a proprietary community.  This is where understanding the technology becomes really critical for success.

    • says

       @rhappe I couldn’t agree more. Facebook is a fantastic tool for brands. But, brands need to realize that Facebook isn’t built exclusively for them. Brands “rent” a space. They need to make sure their goals are realistic and aligned with their overall strategy. 

  5. Angelique says

    It’s all fine and good if a brand has mostly one-sided conversations, but Facebook doesn’t have a truly satisfactory solution for public figures (famous of not) or any person whose followers could be considered “fans.” Facebook gets pissy if they discover that someone has two personal profiles, and besides, there are huge numbers of people who, quite understandably, don’t want to be “friends” with a public figure, no matter how much they admire them. (I’m in that group; in fact, that’s why I refuse to join Groups.)

    What Facebook needs is a way for users to give permission for a Page to do some of the things Friends can, like tag them in a post and send private messages — really send, not just respond.

    • says

       @Angelique You bring up an interesting point, Angelique. I think Facebook tried to address that issue with the “subscribe feature” for public figures and journalists. It’s definitely a step in the right direction. What’s your take on that?

      • Angelique says

         @jessicamalnik “Subscribe” is still a one-way conversation! In fact, it makes for LESS engagement than a page, because a page can interact. Besides, “subscribe”  only works for people who don’t have a personal life on Facebook. If you try to keep track of what you share with friends and what you share with the world you’ll drive yourself crazy, and you’ll always be looking over your shoulder, fearing that Facebook will accidentally-on-purpose reveal your personal posts. Remember that even if you have your general settings set to “friends only,” if you make just one status update public, EVERYTHING you post afterwards is public until you change it back at the status box. (I just wrote a blog post about this.) Everyone I know who has a subscribable Facebook personal profile also has another profile for real friends.

  6. iamjoeygault says

    Good post. I take it as a lean towards traditional marketing in that most brands are focused on creating the connections, but fail to harvest their connections by not growing them into solid relationships. Sharing 20, 30, 40 times a day will get you connections, but if you’re not leveraging them with engaging conversation, you’re missing most of the pie. 

    • says

       @iamjoeygault Agreed! The real value of social media is being able to meet and cultivate relationships with people anywhere, anytime. However, in order to do this, you have to be willing to invest the time and effort and even take the relationships offline.

  7. TimDanyo says

    I’ve found communities to be more engaged and meaningful on LinkedIn (for B2B marketing and relationship building that is.)  With facebook you have to narrow down and focus your subject matter and build community around particular problems and working through them together, or something you can all get behind. Many folks (me included) are guilty of just throwing up somewhat targeted content and hoping that something sticks. I do appreciate your wisdom on the subject.

    • says

       @duzins There’s nothing wrong with a one-sided marketing channel. Compared to others (like TV, radio and print), Facebook is generally way more effective. But, brands needs to know what they are getting into, and how to best utilize tools like Facebook for their own unique goals.  

  8. says

    I LOVE your post.  I actually just wrote a book about the opportunities available to create communities online (Capturing Community – CMI Press – Amazon) and this is one of my key points.  Actually, since so many people are now “used to” the concept of online communities the opportunity to “own the place where the conversation happens” presents a real marketing opportunity (even though they’ve been around for awhile).

    • says

       @msilvermanduo Thanks! I couldn’t agree more. Brands should aspire to own the place where their target demographics chat. However, you don’t “own” a Facebook page. It’s not your domain- it’s ultimately Facebook. While everyone tries to aspire to create a community feel, it’s very hard to create true communities on Facebook 

      • soudipop says

         @jessicamalnik  @msilvermanduo I totally disagree that brands need to own the place their targets chat – specifically with forums. It is possible, sometimes even advantageous to NOT own or host the communites.  
        I view it this way: your customers hang out at a bar and talk about your product.  But you want them to chat about it at YOUR bar.  You make your own bar.  People come.  Then, you have to start censoring SOME of the comments because they are inapporpriate, or you can’t let them stay legally.  Customers then feel censored, then go back to the other bar.  Your bar dies.
        Doesn’t it make more sense to go hang out with customers at the third party bar and interact with them that way?  And cheaper?
        Does Ford need to create its own Mustang forums, when there already are probably 10 Mustang-specific forums run by others?

        • says

          I certainly am not suggesting that Ford create a Mustang specific forum if there already 10 others – I’m suggesting that there are.numerous opportunities to create communities, based on best practices, where one doesn’t exist today – and marketeers, entrepreneurs, and especially association managers should be aware of this option. Also, best practices mean you certainly don’t censor comments and a community can (and should) be much more then just a forum.

  9. says

    I’ve seen stats that only 14% of the folks who Like my page get to see its posts in their feed unless I have a super high EdgeRank, which is based in part on how much folks engage with me. So, if folks aren’t engaging, they stop seeing so many of my posts, and I’m wasting my time posting. On the flip-side, if I don’t engage with the pages I’ve Liked, I see less of them. Facebook is the only platform that plays this game. Other platforms let everybody see all posts from everyone they’ve followed. Considering that most folks are lurkers, that’s the way it should be. My vote is to get rid of EdgeRank and let folks choose for themselves what they want to see mo

    • says

       @BlogAid Getting rid of EdgeRank won’t solve that problem. EdgeRank is there to act as a filter. It inherently favors content from people who you talk to a lot as well as “viral” content. The more likes and comments you have on a post, the more likely it will display in your fans news feeds. B/c of that, it fores brands/agencies to think “like their brand’s core audience” and post things they are interested in. 

      • says

        @jessicamalnik Hold on. You wrote, “The more likes and comments you have on a post, the more likely it will display in your fans news feeds.” That likeliness is only true for the people who liked and commented in the first place, not everyone else. EdgeRank plays a big factor.

        • says

           @Ari Herzog  @jessicamalnik Actually, that’s not entirely true Ari, as EdgeRank also impacts (to a lesser degree, but still impacts) the likelihood that your friends who also like the brand will see future published content from that brand. So, if you and I both like Convince & Convert, and you and I are friends, and I “like” this post, it is more likely that you will also see this post in the News Feed. There is a ripple in the pond effect on EdgeRank. 

  10. says

    Agreed. As you say Jessica. “Its hard to create a community feel on facebook”. When you create a facebook page – it stands alone. That is, if you think of community in the geographic sense and all that goes on within your community. How about instead of forming your community group, or event on facebook page, you form it in your community. Because people want to connect with like minded people in their community. lets you create community groups and share them with your community.

  11. Reson8_NZ says

    Very thoughtful post Jessica, thank you. In your opinion what are the best tools out there for creating community?

    • says

       @Reson8_NZ Building a community requires a thorough strategy, high levels of engagement and the ability to be a connector for your core audience. While tools may help you achieve this, they won’t create a community. People do that. 

  12. says

    It’s kinda true. Sometimes, I, myself just like the pages not because I actually liked it, there are times its due to promotional reasons. When my friend promotes it, I thought “why not like it?”, especially when clicking it won’t kill you. And the fact that liking it only takes a few seconds.

  13. says

    Think it varies per brand – and what they want out of a page. Some only want the ‘easy’ one-way broadcast, a way to push their deals at would-be customers via promos and gimmicks. Like other forms of disruption marketing, we ignore FB ads as easily as banners on Google searches – so they play numbers games. I know I seldom revisit a brand page after a ‘like’ – part of it is privacy and control per @Angelique  but mostly it’s interest – just not enough there to bring me back.
    Now for those brands that do want a true community, they have to put in the work. See also, @soudipop – sometimes it is better to participate in someone else’s party, but you’ll still always have the headaches that come from people being people (negative feedback, trolls, spam, etc.). Moving from a one-sided convo isn’t enough – communities are IMO groups of people that talk to each other, not just the brand (i.e. Apple’s discussion forums). FWIW.

    • says

       @3HatsComm Great points! Sometimes, it’s better to participate on other party’s communities- whether than to create one from scratch, which can be a daunting task. I think with Facebook, it really depends on the brand’s overall marketing/biz goals. Most can benefit by using it as an interactive marketing channel- that openly solicits and responds to their fans’ feedback. 

  14. says

    I’ve always said this Jessica. It’s so true. Unless you have a dedicated person or team, to go out there and reply to at least a couple hundred people a day ( to actually build connections that people give a crap about ) you’re not making an impact. Facebook is tough. It requires hours and hours a day, or at the very least, a couple hours, a couple of days out of the week. It requires you embed yourself into the routines of other users that spend time on Facebook. 
    At the end of the day, I think marketers go “Facebook! It’s super popular, it has massive amounts of people, I guess we have to be on it marketing!” So they create a page, and do the same thing everyone else does. Nothing! I secretly think Facebook is losing a lot of steam, and isn’t too great for business. It can be, but only to the creative approach it seems. Either way, sweet post :) 

  15. says

    I agree not only with Jessica’s precient points about facebook but also about these observations application to social media as a technological tool. The old adage about how to become a successful business owner applies here. First, build a relationship. Relationships are not built by stats and analytics. They are built on warm, hear felt, trust worty human relationships.

    If a ‘brand’/company has the human power to establish large quantities of these old-fashioned ‘warm and fuzzy’ connections, that is great. But for most of us small entrepreneurial jack-and-jills of all trades, we barely get time to breathe during the 24/7 work week.

    Without either the people resources or the automated, individualized ‘bang bucks’ , it is almost an impossibility to build the kind of relationships that used to fertilize, fuel and sustain small businesses. This is a serious problem with facebook and social media in general.

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