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Timeline keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’…into the future…

Last week, Facebook unveiled its new Timeline for Pages at its first FMC / Facebook Marketing Conference in New York, which we outlined last week on the blog. It was not an unexpected move, as Timeline for personal accounts has been active for several months now. And just as there were wide-ranging reactions and emotions over Timeline for personal profiles, Timeline for Brand Pages has met with equal amounts of enthusiasm and resistance.

Timeline for Pages, which went live on Wednesday Feb 29th for those who opt to publish theirs before the March 30th mandatory transition—leave it to Facebook to join Leap Day William in rewarding children’s tears with candy—essentially turn your brand’s page into a reverse-chronological account of your brand’s story. Each post, now called a “Story,” gets an opportunity to shine, with larger photos, videos, and the ability to be featured and spread across the full width of the Timeline. Facebook has designed the entire experience to increase engagement with your fans and encourage you to act more like…well…a human.

Several interesting points have been raised regarding Timeline’s advantages and disadvantages, which largely depend on your perspective.

Jay Baer highlighted that many of Timeline’s features could actually widen the divide between small and large businesses and what they can achieve with Pages. A big brand such as Coca-Cola—which has been featured in several Timeline example lists—had no problem whipping up a brilliant cover photo, whereas Bob & Jim’s Tire House may not have access to a team of graphic designers and be left to their own prowess with MS Paint. Check out Baer’s piece for the full discussion.

But before I turn “a more in-depth look” into “a short novel,” let’s get down to business and run through the big changes and what they mean for marketers.

[Shameless plug alert: Be sure to take it to the next level by downloading our Tip Sheet, 5 Facebook Timeline Brand Pages Tips, for practical advice you can put to good use on your own Timeline-equipped Page.]

Cover Photo and Profile Picture

Businesses and organizations now have an opportunity to express themselves with an 851 x 315 pixel photo placed front and center at the top of their page. Facebook’s Product Guide specifically states that cover photos are meant to “express your identity” and not to advertise with a call to action. They explicitly bar including price or purchase information, contact info such as URL or mailing address (this should be in your “About” section, which now features more prominently), “references to features or actions, such as ‘Like’ or ‘Share’ or an arrow pointing from the cover photo to any of these features.”

Got that? It’s not an ad. It’s a photo.

Red Bull Facebook

Red Bull takes full advantage of its Cover Photo

And that can be freeing or limiting, depending on how you look at it. Mashable has pulled together a great list of 20 brands making smart use of Cover Photos and Timelines, from Red Bull—who has placed a slick brand photo in its cover slot (more on Red Bull later…)—to the Today show, whose cover photo smartly features the show’s hosts.

As Baer points out, small businesses with no design team may feel limited by this feature. But they still have an opportunity to express themselves—think photos from the company BBQ or latest project. Anything that might express and humanize brand identity is a bonus.

The Profile Picture remains unchanged as the avatar seen by users in their newsfeeds. While brands often used this as advertising space for their latest offer or product, Facebook now urges that it be used for a brand logo, encouraging brands to reserve their creativity for their Cover Photo. But again, repeat after me: “Cover Photo is not an ad” (with copy, anyway…).

Featured & Pinned Stories

Every post—now called a “Story”—on the Timeline has a chance to shine. With larger photos, videos, and posts, Stories can be curated, with Page Admins choosing to either “Feature” it or “Pin” them. Featured posts will stretch to fill the full 2-column width of the Timeline for more visibility. “Pinning” a post sticks it to the top of the Timeline, where it will remain as the main attraction for 7 days or until another story is Pinned in its place.

In addition, brands can rewrite the past, changing dates of events and milestones—but not status updates—and even hiding stories no longer deemed on brand or worthy.

This Timeline curation is a chance to keep those important posts from earlier in the week—which previously would have disappeared into oblivion—front and center to greet visitors as they arrive at the beautiful garden party you’ve prepared.

Bye Bye, Default Landing Tabs

Featured and Pinned Stories are especially important now that default landing tabs are a thing of the past. Long used by brands as the primary means of “Fangating” (incenting users to Like their pages), the ability to set a specific tab or app as the default landing location for new users has driven an entire ecosystem of businesses that specialize in building this functionality. With Timeline, these apps will continue to function as before (although you’d be advised to take a good look at yours before publishing your Timeline), but can no longer be designated as the first thing a new user sees.

For many brands, particularly small businesses with fewer resources, this change is a big one. Landing tabs have proven effective in increasing Likes, but Facebook would rather we find more creative ways of earning users’ trust.

Featuring and Pinning content is certainly the obvious choice for driving engagement with your content. And since those apps will continue to function, brands will just need to find ways to encourage their users to check them out.

In addition, Apps hold a more prominent placement on the page, with four primo spots right below the Cover Photo. Previously, third-party app tabs were relegated to the sidelines and easily overlooked. So this is an improvement for sure if you’re looking to drive engagement with a particular app or tab.

Today Show Apps

The Today Show highlights its most important 4 apps for users


Just as personal accounts can now tell their stories with every important detail of their lives since birth, brand pages can do the same and curate important moments in their company’s history.

Red Bull took the idea by the horns (get it?) and created a scavenger hunt on their page that encouraged fans to interact with their milestones. For example, fans were challenged to search for the date when the first Red Bull was sold, which required them to scan through the company’s history to find the milestone. This engaged fans with the brand, kept them on the page longer, and no doubt added to their feeling of affinity as they got to know the Red Bull story.

Macy's - Facebook Milestone

Macy’s highlights its stability with Milestones all the way back to its early days as a “fancy dry goods” store

Private Messages

Another big step in Facebook’s push for brands to act more like human beings is the addition of Messages. Fans— “Likers?”—of a page can now send its Admins a private message.

Again, this feature could either be a huge improvement or a huge headache, depending on your point of view and resources. For big brands with a team of Admins, this could alleviate the endless stream of customer service comments cluttering up their Page and empower users to voice their concerns in a less public venue. On the other hand, as Baer points out, a small business with only one Admin who updates  sporadically, could find it to be yet another inbox with which to keep up.

Regardless, it’s a notable change in the way brands and audiences interact on Facebook.

Activity Stream

By default, all activity from those who “Like” a page is now displayed near the top of its Timeline, displaying a customized feed of all comments, Likes, and Shares by a visitor’s friends. For a page with lots of user engagement, this is a great way to show it off. For one with little interaction, this stream will highlight its status as a ghost town. It can be turned off, so Pages can decide what makes the most sense in their case.

Activity Stream

Activity Stream can highlight a Page’s fan activity…or INactivity

New Admin Panel/Insights

With Timeline, Admins are provided a slick administrative panel that lives at the top of their page and can be revealed or hidden for instant access to notifications of fan interaction, messages, new Likes, and other detailed Insights.Drill down further, and they’ll find the familiar Edit Page options (with some small tweaks) and the new Activity Log, which presents Page Admins with a full listing of all of their publishing activity, with easy access to highlighting and hiding posts.

Reach Generator

Also new for brands is Facebook’s paid “Reach Generator,” which, like Twitter’s Promoted Tweets, allows those who are willing the ability to pay to extend their posts’ reach. Since we now know that posts currently reach a mere 16% of a Page’s fans, this is a big advantage. Reach Generator guarantees a reach of 75%, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. “If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up….” For those without—the little guy—you’ll have to make do with other methods of engagement, such as…

Ads from Stories

Further changes to Facebook ads place even more emphasis on page content. Any “Story” on a page’s Timeline will be able to be turned into an ad. No more writing separate copy for a dedicated ad. Which means a brand can experiment by posting content to its wall and letting users show with their engagement which stories are most effective—and thus worth turning into an ad (or paying to promote with Reach Generator…).

Phew. That was a mouthful. And those are just the highlights.  Regardless of your take, Timeline is a major change to Facebook Pages for Business and Organizations, and one that will reward creativity and humanity. Or at least that’s the idea.

Tip Sheet: Facebook Timeline for Brand PagesGET READY!

Timeline goes live for all Pages on March 30th, so now is the time to get things in order.

Click here to download our Tip Sheet, 5 Facebook Timeline Brand Pages Tips in our Resource Center and receive our newsletter now.

Ryan SwearingenRyan Swearingen is Managing Editor of the Blog Network at Magnet Media and co-founder/editor of Stated Magazine.



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