That's a great question, Mitch. While Ning is a social network, it is different from Facebook in that members join specifically to share their affinity for a specific topic, & it allows the creator of the network to aggregate, curate, & push information, content, resources, and interaction within the community in functional ways that FB (or LinkedIn) pages and groups do not have.
I think depending on objectives you need all of them because they are different services. A Ning-based community (it could have been drupal or buddy press or some other tool - i happened to choose ning) is a niche social network where the level of engagement can be far deeper than you can get with a FB page. I think that it depends on what you are trying to accomplish, a FB page or group may be sufficient, or it may be a good complement to your niche network. Similarly a niche network may be too much or may be essential.
For us, I feel it is essential. We have FB pages and groups, we also use confluence as a content management system, and we use diigo, flickr, twitter, and more--however I need a place for the thousands of SLN and SUNY online faculty "meet" to share info with us, and to get info from us. FB is too general and does not have the features that i need to create a space for online faculty to share what they know with each other. I also need place where we can also showcase and share SLN, our events, approaches, and resources and invite other in SUNY and beyond to do the same. Ning gives me that ability.
This new community replaces the SLN Faculty Commons & the SLN MID Central that we had in our old system and improves on those areas with additional opportunities for community-generated interaction, new tools for sharing, & a variety of features that i how with engage the community to share what they know with each other.
We shall see! : )
I wonder what others think?
Let me know if you have any other comments or observations.