Technology

You Can’t Ignore Timeline (Facebook Won’t Let You)

How business can find value in a choice it wasn’t allowed to make.
Bonnie EvansMay 15, 2012

Facebook made the adoption of its Timeline content and layout mandatory on March 30 for all business pages. (Members posting personal profiles still have the option of using the old format.) The new design added a horizontal photo banner, a space for customizable apps, free analytic tools (Facebook Insights), the expandable time line that invites companies to describe their corporate histories, and other capabilities beyond wall posts, fan “likes,” and comments.

Timeline also makes it possible for Facebook to build a vastly larger advertising platform, thereby, it hopes, driving increased revenue on the eve of its IPO.

Some users have resisted. A January survey of 4,000 Facebook users by security vendor Sophos found that only 8% liked the change, while more than half “worried” about privacy considering the sheer volume of content Timeline displayed. But according to Jim Belosic, CEO of ShortStack.com, a custom Facebook app creator, the new design — especially Timeline —will allow businesses to “engage [customers] with cool apps, content, contests, and promotions.” Belosic advises businesses to further the engagement by creating quizzes and asking users to participate in surveys.

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“Don’t be afraid of Timeline,” urges Belosic. “Change can be hard, and Facebook makes changes a lot, but more times than not there’s a lot of thought behind their changes.”

Almost as fast as Timeline rolled out, articles appeared rating the best business cover photos. Chat Noir Books, in Canada, was cited by PCWorld for its photo of a reader substituting a book’s cover for his face. “I like the cover photo feature with Timeline. It gives us more of a chance to make a quick impression. We can have more things visible at any one time,” explains Chat Noir owner Jennifer Fournier.

The independently owned bookstore uses the layout in conjunction with paid Facebook ads to promote in-store events. Fournier says this kind of promotion, as opposed to using Facebook to simply gain “likes,” has led to increased customer engagement. According to Facebook Insights, the free analytics Facebook introduced with the Timeline makeover, Fournier saw her page’s traffic spike in March, which she attributes mainly to the PCWorld coverage. However, she thinks that “traditional media gets the word out about the store in general, but for specific events Facebook works particularly well.”

Belosic believes that not adopting Timeline decreases a business’s legitimacy. Companies without a cover photo “stick out like a sore thumb,” he says. Also, he believes the switch to Timeline “caused a lot of page administrators to wake up,” as it forced them to “feed and water” their page every day.

Belosic suggests that businesses can grow their pages without creating (and paying for) new marketing content, expanding Timeline by uploading pictures, events, and milestones dating back to their founding. He points to Oreo, Nabisco’s iconic cookie, first sold in 1912 in Hoboken, New Jersey. “They’ve done a great job adding a lot of company history to their page,” he says. “As a consumer, I think it creates more brand loyalty. I can see that they’re really a part of American culture; they’re more than just a cookie.”

Belosic points out that new, small businesses also can benefit from Timeline. “Giving your customers some transparency and insight into your history builds a lot of trust.” This background was not accessible through the old Facebook design or in traditional display advertising.

That company history can even include missteps. “Smart companies will include their mistakes and will follow those with what they did to correct them” says Cliff Figallo, senior site curator at Social Media Today, a social-media discussion website. “It looks bad to deliberately fail to include a failure.” Netflix, for example, has not removed posts about last year’s roundly criticized rate hike. “They’re a web-savvy company and understand the need to learn and change fast,” Figallo says. “That will be reflected on Timeline.”

“I believe that the switch to Timeline is putting the focus back on what Facebook is really about: interacting on a one-to-one level,” says Belosic.