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Should You Create a Facebook Fan Page? (And If So, When?)

Categories: Build a Platform & Start Blogging, Building Readership, General, Marketing & Self-Promotion.

At conferences, not long after I propose that writers use Facebook for platform building (here’s why), I’m asked whether writers should use their personal page or create a fan page.

First, there is no one right way to do this.

But most people have privacy concerns (try to ease your mind by reading this, scroll to point three), and they’ve been accustomed to using Facebook in a very personal way. So the solution, they believe, is creating a “fan page” instead.

Here’s why I generally recommend against this strategy, at least for most writers I meet who are not yet established.

  1. Unless your name/identity is immediately recognizable, you’ll have to coerce people into becoming a fan or “liking” your page. That means asking all of your current friends to become fans, which puts you in a yucky position.
  2. If you decide NOT to coerce your current Facebook friends into becoming fans, and hope they eventually do become fans over time, then you’re missing out on your first and most important audience: family, friends, and other close connections who want to see you succeed.
  3. It’s not as appealing to fan or like someone’s page. (Just speaking a general truth here.) It takes a higher level of dedication to sign up for what is essentially someone’s marketing page on Facebook—and most people aren’t using their fan pages very well.
  4. At a very early stage, you’ve created more complexity for yourself: keeping tabs on your own personal Facebook page as well as your fan page. 
  5. If you’re sharing stuff on your personal Facebook profile that you would be mortified to see on the cover of the New York Times, maybe you shouldn’t put it online. That’s a good rule for all of your online activity.

Here’s the first key
Facebook will not allow you to have a personal page with more than 5,000 friends. Who knows, this may change, but this number is actually a really good benchmark and compelling reason to start a fan page for the people who now cannot be your friend—but can still declare their interest and dedication to you or your work.

Of course, you can always start a separate fan page before you hit the 5,000 mark, but for me, it feels more like vanity, and ultimately unnecessary, until you have an established brand or presence for yourself as a writer.

Again, as with all things related to online identity: If you have strong reasons for segmenting your “writing life” from your “personal life,” then segment. Just understand you’re creating complexity where there may not need to be any, and making it tougher to establish your first ring of fans.

Critical to all this: PRIVACY CONTROLS
I do admit there are pieces of information you may want to make available to your personal connections on Facebook (e.g., e-mail, phone, address), but no on else.

Thankfully, Facebook offers the ability to restrict information very broadly (across groups/lists/networks of people), as well as very specifically (you can block individuals from viewing information).

You should be disciplined about assigning all of your friends to a “list” that helps you use these privacy controls efficiently. When you receive a friend request, you should always assign someone to a list, like so:

Then, you control the access through your privacy settings. You can control access based on the lists you create or you can type in specific names.

A few words about Fan Pages
The nice thing about having a fan page is that you have insight into the performance of the page. Here’s an example of the back view of the Writer’s Digest fan page:

This kind of information can be very helpful when understanding who your audience is, and what’s really engaging people who visit your page.

A few authors to look at as models (both personal & fan pages)

  • Gretchen Rubin. Here’s an author with a very active and interesting fan page on Facebook, which focuses on the work she’s most known for, The Happiness Project.
  • Christina Katz. This Writer’s Digest author has a terrific online presence, and is an example of someone who has not started a fan page. Her personal one does everything she needs it to, and she’s able to be her authentic self.
  • Kelly James-Enger. Here’s someone who has both a personal page and a fan page. I had a discussion with Kelly on this issue recently at the Oklahoma Writers Conference, and for her, it makes sense to have both. She already has an established name and reputation in the writing community, and she has excellent reasons for keeping things segmented on Facebook.

The one thing we can all be sure about is that Facebook will change, and you should stay on top of what’s happening with the site. (Here are two good sites for tech & social media news that’s easy to digest: Mashable and ReadWriteWeb.)

Facebook is becoming less and less privacy oriented (just take a look at this site to get an idea of the scope of what it can and will do in the future). Whatever you do, adhere to that New York Times rule.

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17 Responses to Should You Create a Facebook Fan Page? (And If So, When?)

  1. Laura Droege says:

    Thanks for the advise, Jane.
    After some consideration, here’s what I did:
    I kept my blog feeding through my fan page and restarted feeding my blog through my profile. Then I posted a status update on my page, letting my fans that were also my FB friends know what I had done; I told them that the blog would come through their newsfeed twice, but they had several options to prevent this from happening. 1) Unfriend or unlike me. (No one has so far.) 2)Hide my page from appearing in their newsfeed. 3) Hide my blog from their newsfeed.

    I had a handful of fans who aren’t my friends, so I wanted them to continue receiving my blog. Some people aren’t comfortable "friending" someone they don’t know personally; for myself, I am always hesitant to send a friend request to a public figure (musician, author, etc.), even when I see that they have 4000+ friends!

    (I view profiles as being more give-and-take than pages; I share my life, you share yours. And when someone has over a thousand friends, it’s basically all about them and functions more as a page than a profile. That’s not conducive to them learning about me & my work; I’m not getting to network with them, really. I seriously doubt that a person with as many friends as some of my friends do ever look at the personal profile of their new FB friends. I do and I try to keep up with my friends as often as possible. But then, not everyone is me–that’s good!)

    But for those people who are more comfortable "friending" and not "liking", I wanted them to have my blog come through their newfeed. I won’t have to worry about begging them to like me.

    So far, it’s working.

    I’m also posting about more than just my writing now. I’m trying for videos or links or quotes that are thought provoking or funny, as well as interesting things related to my non-writing life. So your advice was well taken. Thank you for personally responding to my comment, Jane.

  2. @Laura – My take is that you should close down the page, and continue what you were doing before, with the blog that feeds into your profile.

    However, I wouldn’t limit yourself to just posting stuff strictly related to writing and your blog. While I know some people are squeamish about sharing anything they deem more "personal" (whether that’s what you had for lunch, what your family is doing, or how you feel about politics), you have to add something that gives some flavor/personality.

    You are an individual, after all, and multi-faceted. E.g.,

    - Do you take odd pictures when you travel – that you could post?
    - Do you garden? Could you share updates from that?
    - Do you try different restaurants or recipes? Are you a foodie?

    If you don’t like this line of thought – then consider this:

    Could you post inspirational quotes?
    Could you post thought-provoking questions that make people re-examine something in their life?
    Could you post something helpful each day?

    Whatever you decide on, make it something authentic to who you are or what you care about, that reveals something of you that’s not just about marketing your writing.

    Be a real person.

  3. Laura Droege says:

    OK, here’s my problem with the profile versus page thing. I’ve "friended" authors on FB who have thousands of friends, and have only a profile. Every single post is about their writing. Since they have so many "friends", I know they aren’t reading MY stuff about MY writing, so there isn’t a "relationship" there. It’s something I would expect from a page but not from a profile, where I had to be approved as a friend. It’s annoying.

    Here’s my dilemma: I have a blog that feeds directly into my profile, so all of my 171 "friends" get this through their newsfeed. Since my profile was completely open–I don’t have any personal info about my family, so I’m okay with this–every single status update was my blog and/or writing updates. I’m afraid I’ve alienated some of my friends through this, similarly to how the author I described above annoyed me.

    So I made a FB page and made the blog feed through there. But as you said, now I’m in the sticky position of inviting friends to "like" me. Some have. Many haven’t. I’m getting less hits on my blog than before, which is incredibly discouraging. I’m torn as to whether I should continue with the page or not.

  4. Nice post, Jane! You’ve got some good points against fan pages but like Erika, I have two separate identities on FB…one as primarily a mommy/friend and one as a self-employed business owner whose business in writing. I’m admittedly new to the FB fan page thing, but already my idea is working…to make my fan page all about successful writing/freelancing/ghosting and to keep my original FB page for fun/"real life." I’ve driven people there by posting a status about my recent success with selling reprints…then writers who want to know more friend my fan page and can see it there. Once my blog officially launches, I’ll feed it into my fan page too.

    As I told you, I’ve resisted the social media borg for some time now. But now that the master has appeared, the student is ready…in other words, I have been assimilated. :)

  5. TimBarrus says:

    Facebook changed everything for me. It’s not a joke.

    When everyone ON THIS EARTH, and certainly the people in publishing (many, many who knew my real name and then suddenly pretended they didn’t) made it very clear in interviews, on the Internet, in every stupid blog from here to China, that THEY HATED MY GUTS, my friends on Facebook were surprised by the heat of the hatred because they, too, knew who I was.

    Here it was — supposedly this deep, dark secret, kept by criminals, I wasn’t who I said I was, but everyone on Facebook not only knew, they were pretty ho hum about a writer going out on this precarious limb, and every last single one of them (I only started receiving hate mail on Facebook recently and on FB you can easily delete it which is nice) made it very clear this was a tempest in a teapot.

    Mostly involving outraged people in publishing some of whom (who should have and do know better) disingenuously equated my use of a pen name with plagiarism. I have never plagiarized anything in my life. But according to writers on the Internet (and Time) I had stolen their stories. As if the story of fetal alcohol syndrome on Indian reservations belongs to one person with a staked out and hysterically-defended turf.

    There wasn’t a single lawsuit ever brought against me. They know better.

    I do not so much as have a parking ticket.

    I supposedly murdered Indian children everywhere. The whole thing was stupid. I was an idiot for giving it the gravity of an Esquire interview.

    Which shocked me to read. It was more of a revenge piece. It was vicious. It went so far as to charge me and my wife with using our service dog to subvert the law by taking the animal into grocery stores. Say what? Public places are where service dogs get trained. This is how it’s done. The manager of the store was supportive, helpful, and knows more about training service dogs than Esquire magazine.

    How does this relate to Facebook. No one who was screaming scandal, scandal, he has brought publishing to its knees, ever wanted to go there because everyone on it was saying: this is patently absurd. If you want to trash someone, the Internet is a great place to go, but you do it selectively.

    Most of the attacks were designed specifically by people in publishing who wanted (and want) me to disappear. If you think the world of books is warm fuzzies, think again. The world of books is a snake pit. I loathe writing. I loathe books. And I loathe publishing.

    But most of all, I loathe people in it.

    I am not going away. I have learned how to make my art in spite of their hatred.

    My service dog is gone now and I mourn her desperately. A literary scandal involving so much hatred was not her fault.

    I write because it is a curse and I have to.

    The only place I could go was Facebook.

    The people there were mortified that the death threats sounded real to them. I didn’t listen. The people on Facebook kept telling me to watch my back.

    My pets paid the price.

    The anonymous haters/stalkers on the Internet (never at that time on FB) are FACELESS. They can’t afford to show their faces on a book. How dare they even think about stalking my family. I bought a gun.

    I became deeply, clinically depressed, and even deleted Facebook. It was a mistake. I went back to FB after I moved to France. On days when I yearn to see some English (my French sucks) I go there.

    The only writing I could do without being screamed at off the page was on Facebook.

    Motoko Rich and I communicate a lot. When she invented the term VOOK, I went for it; I champion the idea of it even if the people in publishing continue to this very day to spit on the idea and on me. No mere writer is allowed (the new rules that sound like the old rules preclude it) to submit narrative augmented by video. The digital winds have to date only turned the wings of windmills not with swords but with whispers. I have never seen a writer as steadfast as Motoko. Even in the face of storms of criticism. Jane Friedman does it. Her Facebook page is about as real as it gets. I am still learning that perhaps (perhaps) not everyone in publishing is evil. I burned every book I had. I do not like looking at them. And don’t even think about bringing one into my art classroom.

    The people on Facebook who buck me up are there every day. They support me AND my students. Hundreds of them have joined our VOOKS group.

    Many of them are now making VOOKS themselves. We can even see their work on FB.

    At Cinematheque (sorry Motoko) we don’t call them VOOKS anymore. We call them ORBITLOGS.

    What’s an ORBITLOG (a word invented by a 12-year-old). It’s a written narrative (the terms fiction and non-fiction are NOT used in this context, they’re dated) augmented by video, dance, art, poetry, painting, film, photography, confession, journal-writing, comedy, tragedy, music, mash-ups — you get the picture.

    We are doing all of this (and more) on Facebook.

    The haters are only now just beginning to arrive. This time, more death threats. I have a new service dog, now. She is never out of my sight.

    On Facebook, we can and do delete the haters. They are all Americans. We doubt they will come to France. I would strongly advise against it.

    Facebook is where other artists from all over the planet interact with us and among themselves.

    It was the only place I had where I was not overwhelmed and crushed by a murderous hatred. This time, I’m not leaving Facebook. I don’t care what people say about me. The people on Facebook are supportive as I continue to make my art.

    For me, what Facebook supports is the idea of tenacity. In the hate-filled world of writing, it’s worth its weight in gold.

  6. Holly Bowne says:

    I’ve been wondering about the whole "Fan Page" situation. Thanks for such a great post; you’ve really helped clear things up for me. And thank you as well for explaining the whole "Lists" deal! :o)

  7. Kristan says:

    Thanks for tackling this! I’m very much aligned with what Becky Levine said, which is part of why I’ve been on the fence about creating a Fan Page for myself. I still think I might do it, but I think your advice to wait until it’s more justified (i.e., you are published and actually gaining fans that aren’t friends/family, or you’ve got more than 5000 friends) is really smart. Thanks again!

  8. Jim Hanas says:

    Glad to see someone recommending against Fan Pages. I think there has been a rush to them, but they are not always the best solution. (Facebook, of course, doesn’t make this easy to figure out.)

    I do think Facebook Groups present a third viable option, however. (I’ve linked mine here.) What they allow — which neither personal pages or Fan Pages allow — is to mass e-mail all group members at once. In other words, they are the best way to create a mailing list on Facebook. Messages from personal pages are limited to a certain number of recipients, while Fan Pages send messages to an Updates box that no one has ever seen. Particularly if you publish serial content — in which case your readers won’t want to miss an installment simply because it flows by in the News Feed — Groups are a great option.

  9. J says:

    Even if you don’t mind sharing your personal information, or if you have taken the time to learn and make use of all the privacy controls, casual facebook users may not be so savvy. They could shy away from being a friend rather than a fan simply because they don’t know how to manage their privacy settings. Some, like me, just don’t friend anyone who they aren’t willing to share their full profile with because it’s too much trouble.

  10. Erika Robuck says:

    I struggle with this a lot. I’ve also made mistakes, and it’s virtually impossible to delete pages on Facebook.

    I do believe that I need separate pages. My personal life is very "mommy-oriented." My writing life is not. I write historical fiction and review historical fiction. People on Twitter don’t need to hear about the funny thing my 2 y-o said, but my Aunt Sally loves it. Also, I meet a lot of people at writers’ conferences and book events. I want an online relationship with them, but I don’t want strangers knowing where my kids play soccer, what their names are, and where my family goes on vacation.

    I do wish I didn’t have a fan page, but rather, two separate facebook pages that required friend approval–one for personal relationships and one for writing relationships. Until Facebook lets me delete fan pages or group pages, I’m stuck with what I’ve got.

  11. Asa Davis says:

    Very interesting article with great information for writers. I do marketing consulting, focusing on Realtors and their use of Facebook. I can see some overlap in how writers and Realtors brand themselves and see your advice as being useful for many of them (especially those who wish to avoid complexity!). So many people are also unaware of all of the privacy capabilities with Facebook, so it is great you are sharing that with clear instructions.

    Your readers may be interested to know that Google and many other search engines now index posts on Facebook fan pages by page administrators (this is new as of Feb 2010). Writers may wish to consult with their web designers to determine if regular fan page posting can help with website traffic and search engine optimization. For more information on this, go to an online article from March 1, 2010 at http://www.webpronews.com/node/53540/talk

    Cheers, and great job getting out quality information!
    Asa Davis

  12. AWESOME post! Ironically, I was just writing this section in the book about to be turned in (on social media). You had some interesting points I hadn’t thought of and also affirmed my stance. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    Kristen

  13. Jane Bretl says:

    Jane, thanks for this information! I have been looking for just this kind of clarification of what makes sense from a writer’s perspective.

  14. Interesting reading about the Fan Pages for Facebook. I have Friends who have set up Fan Pages and asked me to join, but I have to admit I haven’t joined their Facebook Fan Pages because I didn’t see the point. The reasons you gave for and against a Fan Page were excellent. I had never thought about (in depth) why one would choose to have two pages on Facebook, was just puzzled when a Friend I already had wanted me to be a Fan too. Frankly, I always felt organizations would benefit more from having a Fan page than an individual. Just MHO.

  15. Excellent work on this post. As a writer, I believe it’s a no-brainer that we need to use our Facebook accounts to develop relationships with readers, agents and editors. It’s a fantastic way to be able to take brief introductions at conferences and build them into meaningful friendships by the next conference we attend. It’s also a critical tool in keeping the flames of interest in our fans leading up to our first books and in-between subsequent publications. The privacy issues are very important. You do need to limit the information you provide, but if you’re going to be a published writer, you’re not seeking a completely private life.

  16. Becky Levine says:

    Jane, thanks so much for this post. I’ve been resisting the fan page, because it’s not something I use from the Facebook reader’s angle. I do "like" a few pages, but mostly I do that when I want to help that person get a bit more attention for their book or their writing. I rarely go back & look at the pages. :)

    At this point, I’m staying with the no need to segment, but I’m going to check out your other FB posts and keep thinking about it as time goes on.

  17. simply scott says:

    One of the first things I did for my novel "Dying Light", which is coming out in July and Dec this year in two parts, is to create a fan page on FB. I knew that would be the surest way to ‘transfer’ my friends/writing fans on my personal page to create attention for my upcoming novel. Most of my friends know me as a writer who has been slaving away on my first novel and/or as a short story writer, so it seemed totally reasonable to set up a place that they could gravitate and then draw in their own friends.

    I personally have no issue with ‘segmenting’ or dividing my writing self with my personal self — honestly none of these FB privacy issue bother me at all because I project my true self in all aspects of my life, including my FB pages and my blogs. If you know me as a writer only, then you will know much more about me if you only look — I have no problem with the idea that people can ‘see’ me.

    After drawing in friends, I created a FB fan page ad, which then pulled in a couple of hundred others who liked what they saw, so I have over 500 fans now with a goal of 1000 by July. Since so many people are on FB, it’s a perfect one-stop-shopping location for my book.

    What I’m curious about is how to related my FB fan page to my blog and eventually to my website without it being overwhelming. And there’s always Twitter. It seems you can’t do without any of this, but it’s likely that you already, as you’ve said, have to have a presence in the community before you can really take advantage of all of these tools. Currently I’m being patient and waiting for the book to come out while I gently put out feelers and carefully promote myself (and not be too overbearing).

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