5 Mar 2012

Facebook Timeline for Brands: 10 Things to Get Right

By George Guildford at Social Media Today: 
It's here! This week Facebook finally unveiled the arrival of timeline for brand pages. A long-awaited change to the layout of Facebook pages, much welcomed by some and resistingly sneered at by others. With the announcement comes a number of significant changes to the overall format, navigation and visual layout of brand pages, including the introduction of, believe it or not, a 'timeline' running throughout the page and replacing the much-loved Facebook wall. Gone too is the emphasis on landing pages,  something which will no doubt come as a surprise for many brands, particularly those who invested time, resource and budget towards designing, creating and tweaking a welcome tab to present fans and new visitors with the perfect starting point and latest promotions. In light of this, one of the key features available for brands is the ability for posts to be 'pinned' to the top of their Timeline, with 'pinned' posts remaining as the first post seen until a new post is 'pinned' in its place. Many page admins will see this area as the perfect place to do what landing tabs of old achieved, i.e. highlighting current promotions, news, products and campaign content, as well as providing visitors with a starting point for the page. 

With Facebook announcing the 30th March as the automatic switch over date when all pages will change to Timeline, below are 10 key things brands should be focusing on in the weeks leading up to the switch: 

1. Gather research and Inspiration – Already there are fantastic examples of creative brand uses of Timeline. Brands should take the time to collect and research the best examples and best practice out there so far. For example, ideas for how to use Timeline to tell the story of the company/products, ideas for how to use the new profile and cover images in new, visually striking ways. The Coca Cola page is a great place to start.

2. Create visual identity – Utilise the new cover image and profile image spaces to bring unique ways of capturing the identity of the brand, using this area as the perfect place to be creative and welcome users to the page.

3. Behind-the-scenes – Make use of the time available between now and the 30th March to create, preview and tweak your page before making the page live for all to see. The inclusion of a preview mode in the Facebook admin area enables page admins to test different layouts and visuals before launching to the world. That said, there is definitely something to be said for brands creating their new page sooner rather than later. For example, how important is it to beat competitors to launching a Timeline page? It is certainly all about creating the right balance between being at the forefront and yet taking the time to create the best user experience possible.

4. Tie-in the launch of your new page with a promotion / gift for fans – One of the great examples of a Timeline launch came with the promotion Red Bull integrated when switching its Timeline live. Pinning a welcome post to the top of its Timeline, Red Bull launched its new Facebook page with a competition that tied in with the idea of fans using its Timeline milestones to find the answer to enter. 

5. Milestones – One of the key features brands can now take advantage of is the fact that Timeline enables page admins to create milestones throughout the Timeline, highlighting key events in the company's history, such as key product launches or campaigns. Moreover, this is also a feature which enables the business to talk about how the company was first established and founded. The Ben & Jerry's Facebook page in particular captured this concept incredibly well, creating a unique way of untilising this space to highlight the heritage of the brand. 
6. Social media spring clean – Since users will now being able to quickly and easily go back and forth through a company's posts and events, page admins should take the time to ensure any content they do not want people to see in the future is removed from the page, providing the perfect opportunity to ensure content in the past is aligned, on-brand and represents the overall 'look' and 'feel' of the brand.

7. Measurement and analysis – Companies should also be sure to place more emphasis on measurement to identify how the change in layout will affect engagement and interactions on the page. Brands and online PR companies will need to be ready once again to be proactive and flexible to change their approach to outreach and content types, setting clear benchmarks and drawing a line in the measurement sand between page performance pre and post timeline.

8. Once upon a time – Brands will need to be ready to embrace the fact that the new layout leans much more towards pushing brands to become storytellers, to create narratives and stories that engage and resonate well with their audience. Additionally, the Timeline almost takes on the role of becoming a brand scrapbook (Pinterest anyone?), with content now placed within the context of being collected and archived relative to time. Layout and history aside, brands need to focus on creating stories that users will want to interact with and share.

9. Making the most of apps – Brands can now utilise Facebook Apps to create their own unique and customisable actions, such as 'Listening to', 'Wearing', 'Playing', and 'Watching' as opposed to simply being able to see that fans are 'Liking' brand content and apps. Spotify's introduction of the 'listening to' action in particular has had a fantastic impact on the music service, increasing visibility across Facebook and resulting in significant increases in users of the service. Again, it is this creating of a story, or an action that users can share and be a part of that is the key.

10. Image assets more important than ever –  If text-only posts didn't get lost on user walls, they almost certainly will on user Timelines. The aesthetics of Timeline are almost certainly heavily weighted towards images and visual posts, with posts now appearing in a zig-zag-like shape and images or videos appearing much larger than previously on walls. Finding ways to use images and integrating these into brand stories and narratives in new and innovative ways will almost certainly be key to increasing reach and engagement. For example, the way users will now navigate through their Timeline will necessitate brands creating and posting visuals and images that really jump out amongst all the noise.

With the best part of a month to go before Facebook automatically switches over all brand pages to Timeline it might seem like businesses have plenty of time to get everything ready. However, there's much more to do than simply upload a new cover image. The whole way Facebook looks, works and breathes has changed. The best social media agencies and brands will be aware of this and will utilise the changes and additions as best they can to create the best social media user experience they can, applying new strategies, approaches and concepts. In fact, many are already 10 steps ahead. 29 days and counting…

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