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Facebook to woo marketers with revamped 'fan pages'

The social network Wednesday will show off its latest wares geared toward brands and marketers. What to expect? A redesign and more "viral channels," it appears.

Facebook's all set to make a product development announcement of sorts on Wednesday in the form of what it calls an "Open Door" event featuring CEO Mark Zuckerberg and several other executives. The most notable portion of it--according to an e-mail from the company's press corps--is that it'll unveil "the next evolution of Facebook Pages."

Facebook Pages, as you may recall, are the free profiles that brands can set up to establish a presence on the social network, which now has over 175 million members worldwide. Members can sign onto the pages as "fans," much as they can add other members as friends. Brands, meanwhile, can use them to communicate with people who've added themselves as fans, embed third-party applications that they've built themselves or sourced from the thousands on Facebook's developer platform, and post promotional materials.

According to a blog post at Advertising Age, the redesigned "fan pages" will look a lot more like regular Facebook profiles, which got their own revamp last year. This means their content will be distributed on tabs, with external applications aggregated primarily on their own tab. Also, according to the AdAge post, activity from fan pages will show up more in members' news feeds, giving those brands more visibility. Beyond that, we don't have too much more information about what the announcement will entail.

What's not clear: whether there will be any kind of paid options for brands. Currently, Facebook doesn't make any additional money off of fan pages besides encouraging companies to promote them with either display ads or its more interactive Engagement Ads.

Advertising and marketing on social networks remains a touchy subject. Some companies have reported notable success, while others have experienced tepid results or even outright PR disasters.

On Tuesday, Pace University and a company called the Participatory Marketing Network put out the results of a survey that tracked the habits of consumers between the ages of 18 and 24. The results indicate that "brand pages" on social networks (other community sites like the News Corp.-owned MySpace also have similar products to Facebook's) are going to need some tweaking if they're going to be a legitimate marketing outlet.

That's because, per the survey results, while 62 percent of survey respondents said they'd seen a brand page on a social network, only 48 percent actually said they'd signed on as fans. And while 84 percent said that they notice the presence of ads on social networks, 74 percent said they click on them only "infrequently." Only 19 percent said they found social-network ads to be relevant.

"In a tough economy, many brands are looking to social networks as a way to engage customers and prospects in active dialogue, but many are still waiting for proof that increasing investment in this burgeoning 'channel' will yield measurable benefits," Participatory Marketing Network co-founder Michael Della Penna said in a release explaining the results. "While our research doesn't suggest that brands should turn away from social networks altogether, it does show that more work must be done to understand what drives participation and engagement within social networks."

There haven't been any big complaints about Facebook fan pages in general. But with Facebook's announcement on Wednesday, we're guessing that the redesign will be geared primarily toward making them more appealing to the brands and marketers who haven't warmed up to them yet. In these economic times, after all, it's all about the proven (or semi-proven) results.