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Facebook Puts Marketers On Notice: Ready Or Not, Timeline Is Here

Facebook, a company known for creating and continuously improving the ways that marketers connect with customers, is at it again. Today, Facebook announced the launch of its new Timeline Brand Pages to an audience of thousands of marketers, who were immediately put on notice that they have 30 days to embrace this new marketing practice or be automatically "upgraded."

The announcement is both exciting and scary for marketers of all sizes. It is expected to continue to drive Facebook’s position as the dominant platform for social and digital marketing alike. 

The Timeline feature mirrors much of what has been launched to consumers around the world over the last six months, and allows a brand to create a social presence rooted in content, and a history that grows to tell a brand’s story. The layout of the brand profile has been completely transformed to create an improved visual experience with new features like private messaging that allow a one-on-one dialogue for improved marketing and customer care.

Why Is Facebook Doing This?

The brand experience on Facebook has needed a face-lift for some time, so this change comes as no surprise given the launch of Timeline for consumers. From my perspective, this is a smart move by Facebook that empowers brands to communicate in the same manner as other members of the Facebook community. This will allow brands to tell their stories in a more visual and interactive manner, to help generate better engagement, and drive positive marketing results. This strategy of driving better content and more focused feed engagement for brands is also widely expected to tie into upcoming advertising products that are more social, which will likely launch at a rapid pace leading into a Facebook IPO. 

What This Means for Marketers

Timeline for brand pages is the largest, most significant design change to Pages since their introduction in 2007, when they replaced the now-retro "sponsored group." In the original format of Pages, the wall was cluttered with random posts that lacked a cohesive narrative. Thus content quickly decayed and disappeared. Timeline for brand Pages allows marketers (Sycapse's page is pictured here—click to enlarge) to tell their brand stories—beginning, milestones, notable campaigns, product launches, etc.—and allows users to scroll "through the years" to reminisce with the brand. Additionally, this new Timeline format allows marketers to build a deeper connection with users and encourages users to share content from the pages on their own timelines.

Now that Timeline is here, marketers must get ready to leverage the new tools that Facebook has provided. I’ve broken down all the requirements into three easy steps. Do these well and you’ll be fine.

Get Your Content Story Together:  The first part will be setting up your Timeline with all the stories, information, and content that your brand stands for. This will include a lot of work digging back into the archives and rebuilding the entire story within Facebook Timeline. Be sure to watch for rights around video and photo usage for advertisements that date back. Odds are that you may need to pay up depending on how you negotiated your original agreements.  Once you’ve gone back and populated Timeline with your past, focus on the future. Timeline is a powerful tool for your brand to tell its ongoing story, drive dialogue, and increase brand advocacy. 

Private Messages: Get Your House in Order:  Another useful feature of Timeline is the private message feature that allows users to engage with the brand on a one-to-one level, good news for your customer service teams. Rather than dealing with a specific user’s questions and issues through the public wall, customer service agents can reply through a private, email-like interface.

Downplay Reliance on Facebook Page Tabs:  While custom Page tabs survived another round in the design strategy, the ability to set a default tab did not. Tabs will remain relatively unchanged and should continue to function with little modification. But, more importantly, in the Timeline format only four tabs can be seen above the fold. The Photos tab must occupy the first slot, leaving only three slots for custom tabs. There is room for an additional eight tabs below the fold, though it is unlikely that users will discover them. It’s important to review your current tabs and determine what is necessary to keep and what can be cut. Tabs are becoming less and less effective so brands should focus on the feed, only using a tab if the campaign requires it. Apps, on the other hand, will continue to be important.

Over the next 30 sleepless nights, during which you and your marketing team will consume copious amounts of energy drinks, keep in mind that nothing is final until March 30th. Use the preview mode to backfill key milestones and remove unwanted content before permanently upgrading to the Timeline format. Make sure you tell everyone on your team not to push the "update" button until you’re ready to go.

Timeline is going to be a very powerful tool for marketers. But, like most new opportunities, what you get out of it will depend heavily on what you put in. Good luck.

[Image: Flickr users KimCarpenter NJ and Luca Rossato]

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