Trade-off: Facebook vs. Ning

I am advising a client who is interested in reaching out to a huge existing community of folks who they, historically and today, can count as their natural constituency.The problem is, they don’t have their names or email addresses and want to connect to them, and them to each other. The question is, how to do that.

I explored three options with them: create a Facebook ‘Group’ and/or Application, create a Ning social network, or create a new and beautifully designed new web site to serve as the hub of the effort.

Here are some of my tentative conclusions.

  • Outreach: No matter what approach is taken, a big part of the effort will be outreach, via email or google ads or something along those lines, to get the attention of these people, and motivate/incent them to register. The message, tone, language and incentive have to be carefully designed and monitored and tweaked to make it work.
  • Design and Look: Facebook will allow the least customization of the look, followed by Ning, and of course creating a new site will give you any design you want. But don’t get all caught up in how important having a unique look is. There is something to be said for the familiarity and trust that a Facebook-looking group elicits.
  • Cost: There is a similar trade-off in cost: A Facebook group will be the cheapest, a Ning site a little more, and a custom web site will almost certainly cost much more than you expect.
  • Facebook has captured a lot of the ‘social graph’: This one is the hardest to explain because my point is subtle. [I await comments from someone saying that this point isn’t subtle at all] Facebook’s magic is that it has already recorded many relationships, who is who’s friend etc. They are trying to ‘capture the social graph’ So, it is much easier to encourage John to tell his friend Jane to also join this group because neither John or Jane have to ‘sign up’ – create a profile. So this is one unique advantage of using Facebook, assuming that there is reasonable overlap between Facebook users and the people we are trying to find.

Those are some of my insights in assessing the trade-offs. Please tell me all the things I am missing!