Facebook community fail

The devil’s promise with Facebook Connect was websites and communities wouldn’t need to worry their pretty little heads about user management and communication infrastructure. There was one true social network; and it lived in Facebook. All the site needed to do was cede their member login and identity to Facebook. In exchange, Facebook would bring to the site the real social network – all of your users, and all of their friends who use Facebook to share your good word. But it doesn’t work that way. I’d written about this in principle, but got bit by it in practice about a month ago.

I’m co-organizing an event on Social Media for Voter Education with California Secretary of State Debra Bowen. The event was originally scheduled for May 27, but the Secretary came down with strep and cancelled on the afternoon of the 27th. I used Facebook to manage the RSVPs. When I got the call from the Secretary’s office, I tried to use Facebook to notify the eighty-ish people who had signed up and said they would or might to come to the event that night. Unfortunately Facebook adds a delay if you want to send email to “many” people. That message didn’t get out until later that night. I used Twitter, an email to co-organizers, and old-fashioned social networking got the word out, but there were still some people who traveled to the event, only to find the “Postponed” sign on the door.

Facebook was the intermediary between our event and the participants, and when it came to crunch time, Facebook didn’t come through, and didn’t have a reliable way to reach people. Facebook has no obvious interest in making it effective for organizers to communicate effectively with the community. For an organization that needs reliable communication, outsourcing community management to Facebook isn’t a good deal. Groups are much better off with systems that let them manage and communicate with their own communities, using social network services as overlay but not as a core component.

If you are interested in the event itself, it has been rescheduled to July 29 at 7pm in San Francisco. I’m still using Facebook, because that’s the only way I can reach the people who signed up for the original event. And for the next event, I’ll want alternatives to Facebook with reliable communication.

One thought on “Facebook community fail”

  1. Great post that I’m sorry you had the opportunity to write.

    While not a good scaleable solution for a large or quickly growing community, you could make a registration form in Google Docs, embed it on a site and then make bcc lists from the data you collect.

    If you’re using a WordPress site (or have the wherewithal to launch one for these purposes), you might take a look at the G-Lock EasyMail plugin, that allows you to easily create customized sign up forms, with double opt-in built in, and then email to folks who register. It is MUCH easier to use than something like phpList. I can testify to the ease of use from setting it up on a PHR site, but have not yet subjected it to the anticipated uses with a substantial audience. Will have more data soon…

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