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

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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.