Facebook is about to make one of the biggest changes to its 'pages' since their original launch. On February 29th, they made the announcement that they were planning to implement their 'Timeline' system on all pages by the end of March (the 30th to be exact). This is probably the biggest change Facebook have made to their 'pages' since their launch, and there have been many changes over the years.
Timelines have been around for user profiles for several months now. They've met with a mixed but largely positive response from users, many of whom have already adopted them. Upgrading to the timeline profile was initially voluntary, but the process of automatically upgrading all remaining users from their old style profiles has already begun. Upgrading fan pages is the next logical step.
So what are the changes?
The principle change you will see after March is that the layout of your page will change. The linear and familiar three column layout will be gone. Instead of having one post under another in a single column, a timeline now runs down the centre of the page with posts branching off it in chronological order.
Posts for the current year may be grouped into months to make them easier to find, while older posts are grouped by year with just a selection of key posts from that year on display. A simple menu in the upper right of the screen allows you to browse through recent months and past years with a single click.
At the top of the page, the page's profile image remains, but it has been made into a square approximately 125 pixels in width and height. Dominating the top of the page is a new 'cover image' (or the option to add one if you haven't already). The space for this image is approximately 851 pixels wide by 315 pixels in height and can be almost anything you like (more on that later). The cover image is a great way to include your branding and colour scheme and can help the page to stand out and make an impression.
What does this mean for the custom tabs on my pages?
Don't panic! For the time being at least they're still there and we don't see any indication that Facebook plans to get rid of them just yet. You can still get to them via the horizontal row of links below the cover image. Clicking on these links takes you to a separate view within the new page layout with the 'custom tab' content in the centre. Currently this looks a bit odd as the timeline pages are much wider so the existing custom tab content looks somewhat narrow, running down the middle. In time we hope that this will improve and that these custom pages will be allowed to use the full width of that section.
What the changes do mean is that you can't land on these custom tabs by default anymore. Previously you were able to set them as the default tab a visitor sees when they visit your page if they haven't already 'liked' it (if they have, they were taken to the page's wall). That option isn't there anymore. Visitors will see your timeline by default whether they 'like' it or not (see what I did there?).
Whether this is a good or bad thing is debatable. Marketing people the world over are probably raging about it already as it means their hard sell messages on their custom tabs might not get seen. But maybe they shouldn't. Recent studies have shown that users are more likely to engage with your brand through the posts you make on your wall than through your custom tabs. Done well, the custom tabs can still add something significant to the overall experience, but you may see better results by delivering timely, relevant content via your wall as anybody who 'likes' your page will see that information on their own home page when they log in to Facebook. Timelines can only make this even better.
Why are Facebook doing this?
The simple answer is "because they can". Facebook are notorious for changing the way their system works on a regular basis, as much to keep it fresh as for any other practical reason. As a 'free' service (at least to most end users who aren't spending advertising money with them), it is Facebook's prerogative to do what they feel is necessary to their own site.
The timeline changes, however, would appear to come from a far more admirable stance: that of improving the customer experience. At the end of the day, Facebook needs to keep visitors coming to its site in order to generate any worthwhile advertising revenue. Anything that can make the experience better for the end user is a definite boon in this sense.
Timelines are intended improve the overall user experience. Users will soon know exactly what to expect when they go to a Facebook page for any company. The information they want will be more easily accessible and where they expect to find it.
By standardising the pages and presenting them in a more user-friendly way, Facebook is hoping to encourage users to spend more time on the site, which will hopefully improve the likelihood of your customers and potential customers engaging with your brand.
Can I avoid the changes?
I'm afraid not. The change will be rolled out en masse to anybody who hasn't already 'upgraded' to the timeline system on March 30th. There's nothing any of us can do to avoid this. It's best to embrace the changes and look for the benefits they might bring.
What do I need to do to prepare?
The change will be automatic. You could just do nothing and let it happen, but there are a few things we would advise you to at least consider.
Get a cover image
The cover image sits at the top of your page. If you don't have one, you're missing out on an opportunity to make your page stand out.
The cover image can be any image. Facebook will scale that image to fit, but the final size will usually be 851(w) by 315(h) pixels. It might be shorter if your cover image isn't very tall, but it will never be any bigger. Bear in mind that the profile image slightly overlaps the cover image in the bottom left. The image will also be optimised, so complex images might end up with some noise or distortion. Your best bet is to stick with something simple. That can include photographs (providing you have the right to use them).
You're not allowed to include calls to action, special offer details or contact information on the cover image. You also can't use the 'like' button there or use slogans that ask users to do something on your page (e.g. like the page or share a post). It's also worth bearing in mind that if someone clicks on your cover image, all they'll see is the full sized version of that image.
If you don't use your Facebook page very often, it's probably worth reviewing your procedures for keeping it up to date. Social media really is a fantastic way to engage with your target audience these days and it doesn't have to be expensive or time consuming to maintain. An interesting article or link every now and again, or even just an updated status message can go a long way.
Don't forget that any posts you make on your page will appear on the home page of any user that likes your page. It's a free way to remind them that you're still there and that your products and services are available. The very nature of Facebook means that users can 'like' or comment on your posts, which is a big deal for any brand in building customer loyalty. If they like what you're saying, they're more likely to keep you in mind when they're looking for the type of products and services you offer.
Now is also a good time to get some up to date posts on there so that your timeline looks a bit more exciting when it eventually goes live. We'll be three months into 2012 by the time the new update goes live. When was your last post?
Note also that you can flag key posts from the timeline to 'stick' at the top for up to seven days if you want to. You do this by clicking the 'highlight' button on a post on your page (it looks like a star). This makes that post span the full width of your timeline to make it stand out.
Information about your company
All of the blurb about your company used to be hidden away on the 'info' tab on Facebook pages. That tab still exists, but some excerpts from it appear on the main page now, just below the cover image to the left.
Chances are you already have something in these fields, but now is the time to check what is there and make sure it is still relevant. Is the information accurate? Does it say what you need it to? It's going to be on display all the time, so it may as well be right.
How do I see what the changes will look like?
You can see the changes by logging into Facebook and going to your page. Providing you're logged in with an account that has admin access for that page, you'll see a 'coming soon' ad at the top. In that ad is a 'preview' button. If you click that, you can see what your new page will look like on or after March 30th.
You might also see some links to edit the page, add a cover image and even an admin panel that gives you information about your page. Obviously your customers won't see these things. You can start using them, however, to customise your page if you want to.
I really like the timeline. Can I have it now?
Yes! As above, log in as an admin, go to your page and click the preview button to view the timeline then start making any changes you want to make, such as uploading a new cover image. When you're done, click the 'publish now' button at the top and your page will be live so the world can see it. Once you start modifying your page, you have seven days to preview your changes before your timeline page is automatically published.
I don't have a Facebook page. Where do I start?
If you're interested in having a bespoke Facebook page for your business but need some more advice, we can help. Just get in touch with our team of experts and we can guide you through the process, making sure you are fully aware of the pros and the cons of having a page for your business.
We will help you understand reasons for having one, help you build a business case and scope out exact requirements of your brand.
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