We've discussed previously why it's important for businesses to create a Facebook Page, rather than a profile. Pages come with detailed analytics and unlimited fans (as opposed to the 5,000 friend limit profiles have). Perhaps more importantly, representing a business on Facebook with a standard profile is a violation of the site's terms of service and can result in the account being shut down.

It's easy enough for companies just getting started on Facebook to create a proper Fan Page, but what if you've already established your brand's presence using a standard profile? Unfortunately, Facebook doesn't provide a magical button that automatically converts profiles to pages, so it's up to you to manually make the switch.

First, Create the Page

If you haven't already done so, you'll need to create a Page for your company. In many ways it will mirror the profile you already have. Do this from your personal Facebook account, not the account you used to create the ill-fated company profile, which we'll be deleting later.

Use this time to add your company's general information, branding, third party integrations, and custom designs you may want. You can also choose a custom URL such as www.facebook.com/yourcompany, which can help make marketing the new page easier.

Scale Back the Profile's Privacy Settings

By default, your profile is easily found by others. Whether it's via their internal search engine or friend recommendations, Facebook very much wants people to find each other in general. To discourage new people from friending the soon-to-be-defunct profile, you'll need to scale back the privacy settings so it's not as easy to find.

Since the point of Facebook is to connect with others it doesn't offer the option to completely exclude your profile from search or to not accept any friend requests. The next best thing would be to change these settings so that instead of "Everyone" being able to find and friend your company, only "Friends" or "Friends of Friends" can. Any privacy settings that have the "Friends Only" option should have that selected.

Set a Deadline

The process of converting a profile to a page is very time-sensitive. You want to be quick about it, but not so fast that you fail to get the attention of your existing friends and end up losing those connections without an explanation.

Setting a deadline is key. Give yourself about two weeks. That should be enough time to effectively communicate the change to everybody without jumping the gun.

Inform Your "Friends" (Soon-to-be "Fans")

Now for the tricky part: Explaining the change to your profile's existing friends and politely encouraging them to become fans of the new Page.

The easiest and least intrusive way to do this is via status updates to the original profile. For the first week, you'll want to put up one status update per day letting people know that the change is afoot and giving them the opportunity "like" your new Page. After a week or so, considering posting two per day, at different times of day.

The status updates should differ slightly in wording each time, so as not to appear automated and robotic, but they should communicate essentially the same thing: 1) That your company is converting to a profile and a page and 2) That you'd like people to click through and "like" the page, to which you should provide a link.

So, a sample status update might read something like this:

Hi, friends! We're in the process of switching over to a Fan Page. Will you join us? Please click the link below and then click the Like button.

You can, of course, craft this message to match your company's brand and personality. The tone is up to you, but the message should be clear.

One potential source of confusion is bound to be use of the word "like." Some users may read that and think you want them to hit the Like button included on the status update itself, rather than clicking through to your Fan Page and hitting the button there. Try to be clear about that.

As the deadline date approaches, consider clarifying the fact that profile is going to be deleted and that in order to stay in touch, your friends are going to need to take the extra step of converting to fans.

Don't Get Spammy About It

We can't stress enough how delicate the communication stage of the process is. It's important to get the message across without annoying users. Never post more than two status updates per day about the change, as even that can come off as overbearing or repetitive to many people.

It might be tempting to post on people's wall's individually or send them multiple direct messages. Do this sort of thing at your own risk.

You're almost certainly not going to get 100% of your friends to convert to fans. Ultimately, it'll be up to them to decide whether or not they feel like clicking through and hitting that "Like" button.

Delete Your Company's Profile

Finally, once you've reached your deadline and converted as many people as you could, it's time to delete the original profile. Unfortunately, this is the only way to ensure that the it stops accumulating friends and maintaining two separate identities on Facebook can confuse people.

UPDATE: As our trusty commenter Pete321 noted, Facebook has apparently finally offered a more automated way to convert profiles to Pages. We haven't yet had the opportunity to test their tool, but you can give it a shot here.