Reconsider. To think about again. To reassess. To reevaluate. I have been mulling this post over for months, and with some recent changes made by Facebook, the time has come. Some of the opinions I express below I have had for a while and speak to them in my webinars and trainings, but some are so recent that I am still in the stage of “Seriously Facebook? Really?”.

That said, people love Facebook. The vast of majority of nonprofits love Facebook too. I have been in trainings where if I even hint that perhaps Facebook is a little over-rated, then eyes glare, people shift in their seats, and I have recollections of a few people even walking out. Yet recently, I sense some frustration with Facebook from nonprofits. At a training last week with a lot of long-time Facebook Admins in the room, I saw much head-nodding and eyes rolling. I think the time has come for nonprofits to examine Facebook a little deeper.

1) Nonprofits have been advertising Facebook for free to untold millions for years, and Facebook has yet to return the favor.

Nonprofits throughout the world have sent millions upon millions of e-mails, Tweets, bulletins, updates, etc. asking their supporters to “Become a Fan!” on Facebook. They have heavily promoted Facebook on their websites and blogs, at events and conferences. Essentially, nonprofits have been advertising Facebook to untold millions for free helping it become the powerhouse that it is today – the largest, most active social networking website on the Web.

Facebook has been around six years now and is extremely profitable. It’s time for them to give back. Time for them to launch an Ad Grants Program for Nonprofits like Google Grants. I believe this so much in fact, that I started a Page called “Call to Action: Launch an Ads Grants Program for Nonprofits“. Hope you become a Fan – er “Like” it.

Not that Facebook hasn’t done anything for nonprofits. They helped launch the company Causes. They created Facebook for Good and Non-Profits on Facebook (though they don’t update them very often). They did skip last year’s holiday party and used the money for charity, launched the tech-centric Facebook Fellowship Program, and offered free advertising to a couple of nonprofits working to end cyberbulling. Alright… thanks Facebook. But for the second largest Internet company in the world with 2010 advertising profit estimates to be between $1-2 billion, is that enough?

2) Nonprofits are consistently kept in the dark and left guessing when it comes to Facebook upgrades and changes in the toolset.

Facebook would do well to follow the lead of Twitter, MySpace and YouTube. Those sites let users know in advance when big changes are coming. Facebook tends to leak information that only keeps bloggers and nonprofits guessing and confused. We’re building nonprofits, businesses, and brands around our Facebook communities, and yet every couple of months we wake up to new changes (made primarily to benefit Facebook’s revenue model) that we have to figure out for ourselves and scramble around.  Enough with the mystery Facebook! Time to start thinking of nonprofits as your partners in your mission “to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected”.

The latest change was Facebook Fan Pages becoming “Official Pages”. Now instead of supporters “Becoming a Fan!” they “Like” a Page. A lot of nonprofits will now have to update their website, e-mail newsletters, and most costly, their print materials. Why did Facebook do this? As Beth Kanter explains very well, it’s about their long-term revenue model.

3) Facebook ROI is often overrated.

At the beginning of each of my webinars, I ask attendees where they first heard about the webinar. The answers are always the same: 1) From this blog. 2) From my e-mail newsletter. 3) From a friend or colleague. 4) Twitter 5) LinkedIn 6) Facebook. Personally, my ROI (Return on Investment) from Facebook isn’t that great. It’s somewhere between good and OK.

Those with big name recognition do well on Facebook, but mostly because they have websites, blogs, and large e-mail newsletter lists where they can promote (er advertise) their Facebook Page. Small nonprofits just do not go viral on Facebook. They have to promote the Page like crazy just to reach 1,000 fans.

Not that I think that small and medium-sized nonprofits should abandon Facebook. They absolutely should have an “Official” Facebook Page (don’t go near “Community Pages“). After the Page is set up it takes very little time to manage. Posting 3-5 Status Updates a week is not that time consuming. There is ROI, but it is often overrated. All the major case studies are about large national and international organizations, and their success on Facebook has a lot to do with their brand being well known. Small nonprofits just can not duplicate that success, so in many cases they inevitably get disappointed. It is very important to have realistic expectations about Facebook and what it can do for your nonprofit.

4) Facebook frequently makes shady decisions when it comes to Internet ethics.

Let’s just put all the Facebook privacy and safety scandals from the last few years aside, and look at one real-time example that I think speaks volumes about Facebook’s decision-making process.

I am disturbed that this Page is allowed to continue to exist on Facebook:  “DEAR LORD, THIS YEAR YOU TOOK MY FAVORITE ACTOR, PATRICK SWAYZIE. YOU TOOK MY FAVORITE ACTRESS, FARAH FAWCETT. YOU TOOK MY FAVORITE SINGER, MICHAEL JACKSON. I JUST WANTED TO LET YOU KNOW MY FAVORITE PRESIDENT IS BARACK OBAMA. AMEN”  The Page itself is bad enough (sadly, with over 1,000,000 “Likes”), but some of the content is vile, racist and beyond hateful. It is rumored to be run by a white supremacist in Ohio:

I e-mailed Facebook asking why the Page has not been deleted. Their response:

“While it may be considered distasteful and objectionable to some, the Facebook page in question does not violate our policies. We’re sensitive to content that includes pornography, bullying, hate speech, and actionable threats of violence and we react quickly to remove content that violates our policies when it is reported to us. Facebook is highly self-regulating and leverages its more than 400 million users to keep an eye out for offensive content. We encourage users to report such content and we have a large team of professional reviewers who evaluate these reports and take action per our policies.”

Additionally, both CNN and ABC News covered the anti-Obama Page in the last 48 hours. In both articles, Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes is quoted saying that though the anti-Obama page “may be considered distasteful and objectionable to some,” it doesn’t violate Facebook’s policies.

This is going to be a bit difficult to explain, but here goes:

– The anti-Obama Page was launched sometime last year as  a Fan Page.

– As of April 2010, Fan Pages are now called “Official” Pages and there is new Page in the mix called Community Pages. Here is the difference:

Community Pages are built around topics, causes or experiences. Official Pages are maintained by authorized representatives of a business, brand, celebrity, or organization, and they can create and share content about the entities that they represent. Community Pages, on the other hand, won’t generate stories in your News Feed, and won’t be maintained by a single author.

– The anti-Obama Page (I assume) has now been downgraded to a Community Page because it can not be authenticated (View Facebook Authentication Form). That means that Status Updates from the Page no longer get News Feed exposure.

– Facebook does not delete the anti-Obama Page because, and I am guessing here, it does not violate their policies concerning Community Pages.

Personally, I think Facebook made a bad call here, and in fact the Page could be interpreted as being in violation of their policies. Facebook’s Terms of Service clearly say (under Safety):

You will not post content that: is hateful, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.

Facebook continues to delete breastfeeding photos. Facebook even deleted a poll asking if Obama should be killed, but they won’t delete the the Page about praying for President Obama’s death? I unfortunately have to manage a lot hate and anger on Facebook, and I have learned that hate can be very destructive to a community. The Page is going viral. It is starting to get national press coverage, and I think allowing the Page to continue to flourish will harm Facebook in the end if they don’t take it down sooner than later. It will spiral out of control. More haters will come. Many people will get disgusted and leave Facebook. The company may think they are invincible, but they are not. Great websites before them have come and gone. I think it is time for Facebook to reconsider. To think about again. To reassess. To reevaluate.

Related Links:

How Facebook Community Pages Undermine Nonprofit Official Pages in Facebook Searches
e-Mail Petition: Tell Facebook to Delete a Fan Page that Calls for the Death of President Obama

Facebook Group: Petition Facebook to Remove Page Praying for President Obama’s Death