We generally recommend that congregations set up pages if they do not already have an established Facebook presence.
Here are some of the advantages to having a page, as I’ve discovered by managing the UUA’s Facebook page:
1. Pages facilitate the presentation of a clear institutional face and message while also allowing for extensive constituent participation.
The way status messages are now displayed, it’s clear which messages come from the UUA, and which come from fans (and visitors can choose to read one or both types of messages). Fans can respond to existing messages and also start new conversations by posting a fresh message. Fans can also add photos.
2. Fans are reminded when we add new content to our page. Our status messages now appear in fans’ news feeds. In the months since that change has been implemented, there has been a lot of positive engagement with our Facebook page’s status messages (i.e. a lot of visitors/fans are posting comments on our status messages or giving them the “thumbs up.”) I think this change has given pages more of a conversational feel and gives fans more of an incentive to keep returning to our page.
With a page, we can also create related events and invite fans to them, send updates to fans, and link to other UUA pages in our “favorite pages” section.
3. Facebook wants organizations to use pages, so they are likely to continue offering new features for pages that meet the needs of organizations. The same features may not be available for groups.
4. We can choose from many available applications if we want to enhance the functionality available on the UUA’s page. However, on our page, the status messages/wall are the center of action and we don’t make as much use of applications.
That said, groups can also be very helpful, especially when a congregation wants to have a more collaborative Facebook presence. One significant advantage of groups is that you can send messages directly to members’ inboxes. A layleader wrote me a while ago to say that his congregation created both a page and a group, and found groups to be useful in attracting newcomers and more conducive to conversation among members.
In general, I would advise against congregations having both a congregation-wide page and a congregation-wide group, as that duplication of content and conversation could be challenging to manage. However, a congregation may find it helpful to have a page for the congregation as a whole, with groups for different committees within the congregation.
Our church, the Universalist Unitarian Church of East Liberty, set up a Facebook Page, and has many members commenting regularly on items there, especially considering our size and percentage of member who are on-line–we have a Facebook page membership equal to half the congregational membership. One thing I’ve done which has increased its popularity among our Facebook-using members is to have it automatically import items from my blog. I find that this has dramatically increased my blog’s readership, as well. A second thing I’ve done is set things on the page so that they automatically post to my twitter account. This means that the facebook page’s status updates can be read by people who are on Twitter but not on facebook. Between these two functions being added on the Facebook page, our “new media” efforts are well-integrated and becoming popular among our members.