A common question I get from companies about Facebook is “what’s best for us? A Facebook profile, Group or fan page?” The answer has changed in the last couple of years.

A couple of years ago, the answer would have been “it depends.”

When Facebook first introduced fan Pages back in 2007, they left much to be desired in terms of functionality and giving organizations the ability to truly engage with Facebook users. (For example, in the very early stages of Facebook Pages, administrators could not send “blast” style messages to fans in-boxes, a feature available in Facebook groups). Pages seemed to serve the role of a promotional platform, rather than an engagement tool.

Profile, Group or Page? The Definitions
In the past year or so, the developers at Facebook have made strides in adapting the functionality of profiles, groups and pages to serve user needs:

Profiles continue to be best for individuals who are looking to personally connect with others.
Groups are ideal for bottom-up social networks around common interests (fan clubs, volunteers, etc.)
Pages have now evolved into a powerful tool for organizations and companies who want to connect with supporters, but who also have very specific marketing goals that require further insight on users.

Facebook Insights: Learn More About Your Fans
The key tool that makes Facebook fan pages so valuable to companies doing social media marketing is Facebook Insights, which provides page administrators with information on user demographics and activity on Facebook. If you’re a marketing data geek, this is juicy stuff: the average age, gender, and location of your users. Additional information includes page views, photo views, and “interactions” such as comments and “likes.”

If the ROI question is big in your company, and you are looking to glean hard numbers from Facebook’s ability to connect with users, there is no better tool to use than Facebook Insights. And if you’re a marketer that regularly reports progress on your Facebook traffic and interaction to your company (and if not, you should!) Facebook makes this report-ready data available in a downloadable .csv or a Microsoft Excel (.xml) file. In my experience I’ve found this data extremely useful in reporting company progress with social media marketing efforts to higher-ups, through weekly updates on Facebook activity and fan counts.

Facebook developers continue to evolve and improve the effectiveness of Facebook Insights, and I am confident that as more organizations use this tool to aid in their social media marketing goals, we’ll see more improvements in the future. Recently, Facebook Insights added pageview information by individual post – a godsend for anyone with a content-rich Facebook page and want to assess the popularity and impact of posts by content, something administrators could only speculate about before.

Don’t Forget Goals!

A final word about reporting and Facebook Insights. As with all web metrics, Facebook Insights are only as valuable as the marketing goals and objectives you apply them to, so I urge you to really look at your overall marketing goals and strategy and see how these juicy stats can lend insight. If you haven’t established measurable goals for your social media marketing efforts, there’s no better time to start!