Following the launch of Timeline for profiles and Timeline apps and actions, Facebook recently announced that Timeline would become mandatory for pages from March 31, 2012, ensuring that it is implemented across the network.
The announcement made social media marketers and brands go into a frenzy. Kirsty Shaw summed up the anticipation levels in her blog ‘Facebook Timeline – A Great Brand Initiative or a Social Media Nightmare?’ :
There have been many social media agencies and PR firms waiting with baited breath for this announcement, but it can mean both positives and negative outcomes for brands.
Just like with Timeline Profiles, the new format will allow pages to present content by date, month and year in a more user-friendly manner, dating back to 1000 AD for brands that have been around since then. This will allow both, brands and customers, to look back at important events in the brand’s history by browsing through page history, chronologically.
Brands have the option of making the switch before March 31 to play around with the new features.
The changes focus on visual storytelling. The new features guarantee greater interaction with fans and more controlled branding.
The most notable change is the absence of a sidebar profile image and the incorporation of a larger and wider ‘Cover Photo’, allowing brands to upload a ‘hero image’ that describes the brand visually. The profile photo is now just a small square on the upper left hand side.
The user interface has also been updated, focusing more on aesthetics and visual presentation. Posts no longer appear in a vertical line but side by side, making them easier on the eye. This also allows videos and images to be previewed directly on the page.
‘Pins’ allow users to bookmark posts, Pinterest-style; ‘Highlight’ expands a post to the entire width of the page; ‘Friend Activity’ is a box on top that allows users to see their friends’ engagement with the page; ‘Messages’ allows disgruntled users to send private messages to the page; and ‘Admin Panel’ summarises user activity for administrators.
Facebook’s obsession with visual content is emphasised through EdgeRank, an algorithm that gives preference to video and image content over standard posts in the newsfeed, providing visibility to pages that use more multimedia.
Another new feature is ‘Milestones’. Along with posting regular statuses, images, videos, links and questions, brands can now share ‘milestones’ – stories that detail accomplishments, such as the launch of a new product, an award win, etc. Milestones appear full-width on the page with a flag icon.
A milestone is another content peg given prominence by EdgeRank, encouraging brands to tell their stories. As explained by RM Sorg in an article on Wall Street Branding:
Milestones you share will give your customer behind-the-scene access to your brand’s activities, exclusive updates or promotions. By sharing this content on Timeline, you encourage user interactions and promote higher engagement rates. Milestones provides brands with self-expression and they are able to visually paint a picture and tell a story of their brand.
There are several data fields that can be specified on these milestones. Not all of them are mandatory to fill though. :
- Event – display name of the milestone
- When – the year, month, and day
- Location – where did this happen?
- Story – a story about this milestone.
- Video or photo – a visual to go along with the milestone
These are opportunities for brands that want to tell engaging stories.
The Timeline allows brands to develop unique identities and personalities. By easily being able to scroll from activity undertaken by a brand on a particular date years ago to current activity, users can see its evolution.
Features like a giant 851 x 315 pixel Timeline Cover, Milestones and posts can build a brand through creative storytelling. As Facebook designer Sam Lessin said:
Organizations have identities, that a nonprofit, a sports team, all have identities that they want to express… It’s a phase shift for the company overall and how we think about identity. A lot of brands aren’t great storytellers, but the best ones are.
Brands can thus humanise themselves, educate their audience and share content.
The focus is on building the brand rather than promotion.
Facebook doesn’t like that brands use it as a platform to directly sell their offerings and for promotions. This is why Facebook Promotions were introduced, to make sure that brands would not leverage Facebook’s growing popularity.
The two major changes to reiterate the focus on quality engagement rather than promotion are the Cover Photo and the exclusion of default landing pages.
As per the new rules, Cover Photos can’t have:
• Price or purchase information, such as ‘40% off’ or ‘Download it at our website’
• Contact information, such as web address, email, mailing address or other information intended for your Page’s ‘About’ section
• References to user interface elements, such as Like or Share, or other Facebook site features
• Calls to action, such as ‘Get it now’ or ‘Tell your friends’
This changes the game as many brands used their profile pictures to perform one of the above tasks.
As mentioned by Facebook’s product director of ads Gokul Rajaram, though:
Its goal is to symbolize what an organization is all about. For a restaurant it could be a popular menu item, a band could display album cover art, and a business could show a picture of their customers using their product.
The move away from static landing pages towards stories in the newsfeed will help marketers focus on listening and responding to their audience.
The biggest bone of contention is that brands can no longer set an app or a tab as their landing page.
This means that community managers can no longer control what a user sees first when he/she lands on a brand page, which worries social media experts. However, this is unlikely to affect traffic to apps of the page, as mentioned by Josh Constine on Tech Crunch :
This feature sunset isn’t so bad after all. I’ve just learned from a source that default landing tabs only drive 10% of the total Page app traffic. 90% comes from published links and ads, which still function the same without the default landing tab capability. And when does Facebook make a change that doesn’t cause some people to grumble?
‘Like-gating’ becomes more difficult now that the wall is the default landing page, as marketers cannot tell a customer to like a page to avail of a benefit or to view more information first up. However, like-gating is still possible through apps/tabs, only difference being that users will need to first land on the wall and then go to the app from the wall, for like-gating to take place.
Customers will no longer like a page just for one activity, such as an app, but will like a page to follow the brand’s story, to get updates and information, and to avail of offerings.
This reaffirms that brands should concentrate more on quality than quantity by engaging with the right people, rather than a lot of people, as stated by Headliner.fm CEO Mike More :
Marketers have been conditioned to believe that the number of likes on a page was more important than the conversation. But the truth is that accumulating a massive amount of likes does not always translate to sales. Even an artist like Lady Gaga who has millions of fans and followers has a very low engagement rate on a daily basis. It’s the nature of the platform.
With the exclusion of default landing pages, there are other techniques that brands can use to control what message a user first sees.
Facebook has also killed the default landing tab to entice brand managers to use Facebook Ads. Facebook Ads is the only way brands can directly lead traffic to a specific app on Facebook without viewing the wall. Some sceptics like Alex Agguire feel that Facebook made this change to profit from it:
The Timeline for Fan Pages is not for the benefit of the user or businesses. It is for the benefit of Facebook. You see, before you could create events, video, promotions, viral games to drive people to your Fan Gate. This gave businesses a FREE SOURCE of traffic and likes to their page. By removing the Default landing tab, you can still build your Fan Base, but now you have to PAY FOR IT. You can run Facebook Ads and lead them to any Tab on your Fan Page. Basically if you want to lead people to your Fan Gate, you will need to buy ads
If brands don’t want to use Facebook Ads, there are other ways to drive traffic and determine what a user sees first.
Users are sure to see the ‘About’ blurb at the top of the page when they land. This will link to the ‘About’ page with more information. The blurb should contain a quick overview of the brand in not more than two lines for visitors to capture the essence of the brand.
‘Pinning’ a post to the top left of the Timeline feed for seven days at a time can give significant control to what visitors see first. Pinning can be used to direct users to a like-gate app, show off a photo or display an update.
‘Highlighting’ a post to the full width of the page can also attract users’ attention.
With the new design, brands can only have three custom applications/tabs prominently featured on their pages. Additional apps/tabs are hidden until a visitor clicks on the down arrow. Hence, it is important to highlight the right tabs.
While it is difficult for brands to control friend activity, it is one of the main features that will decide the brand’s fate for a visitor. Friends and peer groups are the biggest influencers, hence even a few negative posts by them could disenchant visitors.
Brand timelines allow users to send private messages to brands to air concerns or pose queries. This works well for brands that face a barrage of complaints and negatives on the wall, as brands can set up guidelines that grievances will only be addressed through private messages, reducing the number of negatives on the wall.
This also makes Facebook a great, cost-friendly customer service channel as interacting on it is cheaper and easier than on the phone or through e-mail
As mentioned on the One1One blog:
This is something I could see evolving into a great customer service channel, since interacting through messages is much cheaper than voice calls or email. I always encourage clients to fully maximise the potential of free social media services – this change could create additional ROI if you can encourage users to message instead of traditional channels.
It is vital that people respond to these messages, otherwise ignoring a private message could lead to a greater backlash on the wall. This is why a few brands have disabled this feature.
Like any change that Facebook introduces, this one has also created hordes of contrasting opinions on the web.
Most marketers are disillusioned with the changes, mostly because they exclude landing pages. As Alan Masarky said on Mashable:
The Facebook Timeline raises a big concern for many brands, organizations, and marketers that would like to keep specific content behind a Like-Gate. Without landing pages and/or tabs, brands will no longer be able to create unique campaigns that prompt users to “like” or engage with the app prior to viewing content.
A few marketers, like Cory Williamson on TechCrunch, have a different take:
If you’re using social media, but your most “crucial marketing feature” is a splash page…you’re doing it wrong. If you can’t convert fans to buyers by quality content alone, you have no business being on Facebook.
Users are by and large happy, mostly because of the aesthetics and the no-nonsense approach towards filtering out spam-like messages by brands.
At the end of the day, the new pages were meant for users more than marketers. Take, for example, the friend activity that shows faces of friends who like a page, followed by an update from a friend mentioning the page, which EdgeRank considers engaging. Such a feature will play a crucial role in determining a user’s participation if he/she is ambivalent about the brand.
Facebook’s goal was to make pages more about storytelling than product selling. Pages look good and don’t feel like billboards or marketing communities. Users won’t be tricked into thinking they need to like a page to post on the wall or view content. This makes it good for users and it is more likely to keep Facebook a place where people want to spend time. Ryan Dymek emphasised this on a comment on Mashable article, ‘Facebook Timeline Brands Guide’ :
The marketing world is changing – its more about ENGAGEMENT and less MARKETING these days. A company that engages will get far less clicks, far less readers, etc – but what they will do is gain more actual engaging, spending customers. # of clicks is irrelevant to me if it generates no conversions to sales because it was a “trick” or a way to superficially increase likes. I believe the new paradigm happening here will generate far less clicks, far less likes, but will in effect INCREASE the real customers willing to spend money.
The new format is similar to that of Pinterest. This comes as no surprise seeing what a success Pinterest has been, paving the way for other networks like Lady Gaga’s ‘Little Monsters’ to be designed in a similar format.
While the new Timeline for Pages received flak, there is little question that people will eventually get used to it, just like they did when profiles migrated to the Timeline format.
Brands such as Coca-Cola, Red Bull and Ford have already made the switch to Timeline and started fiddling with its features.
Ford shows off images of vintage models through milestones, to share its rich history. Red Bull has a scavenger hunt game, encouraging fans to search for clues through the Timeline.
There will be more creative ways of using the Timeline, once brand managers deep-dive into Facebook’s latest tweak.
The Facebook Timeline will most definitely give brands new opportunities to deliver unique and innovative content to enhance the connection between the brand and the customer.
It’s this content that is sure to take centre stage in this new format. A well thought out content strategy is sure to reap rewards for brands, as CEO of Wildfire Interactive, Victoria Ransom would testify:-
Timeline for brands will certainly shake things up for social media marketers who seek to make an impact on Facebook. One thing is for sure though: The way content is shared and viewed within a Timeline Page is incredibly important. Brands that constantly create engaging updates and share important milestones will stay at the forefront of users’ attention. Create and rotate new apps for engagement, pin relevant and timely content, and update the feed with user-friendly dialogues to stay relevant in this new space.
Josh Constine of TechCrunch fame drew up a checklist for brands to make the change seamless:
o Choose a beautiful cover
o Provide a punchy description
o Feature your most important apps
o Pin the post you want to drive the most traffic to
o Highlight great historical posts by you and your fans
o Hide or delete embarrassing, out of date, or negative posts by you and your fans
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