To Merge or Not: Facebook Page with Facebook Places

Facebook has been playing catch up, and has finally started to heed the demands of a loud but vocal group of marketers and business owners. Facebook took the first step in improving the merged Facebook site to match the features that were available through the Facebook Page. And now heeding the cries of dissatisfied businesses, Facebook has created an unmerge function to those hapless businesses that merged their Facebook Page and Place only to find that they were worse off (the businesses we market that merged their Page and Places went from obtaining 20-30 fans per day to only 2 to 3 because users didn’t know how to find the LIKE button). Thankfully, though, with a little lobbying, businesses are free to unmerge.

To cut to the chase: For those businesses interested in unmerging, the UNMERGE button is located on the left side of the page. After clicking that button it goes back to a separate old-style Page and Places.

With much fanfare, Facebook unveiled Facebook Places, infringing on the territory of other geo-location applications (Foursquare, Gowalla, etc.). But the thinking was Facebook could do it better. They would put all their resources behind integration so that people would be able to connect through one seamless network. They even had a function for businesses to merge their Facebook Page with their Places page. This would have helped small businesses like restaurants who don’t have the resources to manage multiple marketing platforms simultaneously. But, as with fairy tales, a lot turned out to be wishful thinking. When businesses claimed their Facebook Places page, Facebook asked if they would like to merge their regular Page (with all their fans) with their Places (with all their check-ins). So many did and stepped on a social media landmine.

Not only was it ugly and formulaic, the merged site had only a fraction of the functionality of a Facebook Page. And, in the beginning, Facebook allowed no unmerging. You felt like you lost your restaurant’s social media limb. The merged website, rather than going to a wall or an FBML landing page (Facebook’s customizable version HTML), opened to a picture of a Bing street map and basic information. While it caters only to those using a mobile phone, it disregards any visitors from PCs/Macs. It severely limits marketing as what once fell on the tabs is moved to the side bar, a less intuitive place. Even more dubious is Facebook’s marginalization of the wall. Isn’t the whole point of Facebook community? Making the information (location, hours, etc.) the landing page aligns it with Google Places and local search engines and kills the what made Facebook great for businesses.

And then Facebook listened somewhat. Facebook moved the landing page of a merged page over to the wall. But there are ominous rumblings on the horizon: Facebook seems to be changing unmerged Pages slowly into the generic and impersonal merged monstrosity. Why? Only Facebook knows.

Thankfully, those affected did  not take it lying down. They have formed a growing Facebook Page called Unmerge: Places and My Business Page. Their demands include to restore customizable tabs, give back control of landing page, make the wall more user friendly, and change ads back to the way they were before. While it seemed at that point unlikely that Facebook will backtrack, those hurt by merging hoped make Places match the functionality and usability that businesses once had. If not, expect business to resist merging their business Page with Places.

Already, hundreds of articles have gone up warning businesses. From a restaurant’s perspective, the effects of merging are especially hurtful because they used social media to nurture customer loyalty and spread their brand.

After several months, Facebook has finally listened, but this whole episode undercuts how fragile the relationship between restaurants (and other small businesses) and Facebook. Facebook does not ask before they proceed, and it can handicap how businesses market. Hopefully, the future holds more cooperation between the business community and Facebook before problems arise and not after.