For months advertisers have been on the alert: a change is coming to Facebook. And although it isn't the first by far, this one is huge.
Welcome to your new brand Timeline.
Many businesses have already taken the time to design their Facebook page Timelines in preparation for March 30, when all Facebook profiles will be switched over to the new design format. Naturally the social network is doing its best to ease the transition for its hundreds of millions of users. A virtual tour of a sample Timeline can be accessed from each profile page. Facebook even went to the trouble of creating helpful videos like this one.
While social media users will no doubt find the switch quite palatable, things aren't as simple for brands. Each element of the new layout represents a promotional opportunity that businesses had better be familiar with if they intend to compete with their peers. What follows is a crash course in Facebook Timeline designed to deliver major consumer impact.
Your Timeline cover. In keeping with the craze for highlighting images online (Pinterest, anyone?), Facebook Timeline places an image front-and-center that can differ from one's profile picture. Think of it as a social media billboard impossible to miss. From a business perspective, this space is best used not to feature your brand, but to feature your brand in a timely way.
For example, when online beauty publisher StyleCaster launched a special feature presenting its "50 Most Stylish New Yorkers," it transposed an image from its site to its Facebook Timeline such that its cover reflected not just the StyleCaster brand, but its up-to-the-minute content. In fact, your cover image can be used to promote many things: new product packaging, a white paper, a conference at which your brand is presenting, the grand prize for your current consumer contest, etc. Just bear in mind that stringent posting guidelines require brands to steer clear of any calls to action, contact information, and price or purchase information.
Your milestones. One of the biggest changes associated with Facebook Timeline is Milestones - a visual narrative of your corporate history set within the confines of your Facebook page. The Milestones feature affords brands the ability to add and describe events that have been critical to your business, from the day you sold your first product all the way to your stock market debut.
Already brands are finding some creative ways to handle this promotional pay dirt. Subway invites consumers to take a trip back in time with retro restaurant photos, menu selections, and past ad campaigns (in case you were wondering, Subway spokesman and brand icon Jared Fogle made his first foray into the public eye in 2000 when he was mentioned in Men's Health magazine). Through Milestones, brands can get extra mileage out of marketing campaigns of old, leverage the popularity of products old and new, and emphasize charity work and affiliations that consumers might have missed. Even events like establishing a social media presence by joining Facebook or Twitter for the first time gain value when presented as brand Milestones on Timeline.
Your Facebook advertising. In addition to these features, Facebook has adopted a slightly altered, Timeline-specific advertising model. At the heart of this is a new approach to developing Facebook ads. Instead of writing copy specific to each ad, ads will now begin as Timeline posts; in other words, editorial and advertising will be one and the same. Brands will have the capacity to transform the posts that get the most engagement into ads, in essence publishing that content twice. What this means is that your customers will be the ones determining what they'd like to see in your Facebook ads. More than that, it means that your ads will be great…as long as your Timeline content is great, too.
Also worthy of note is the new Reach Generator product, which will allow brands to receive guaranteed distribution to 75 percent of its fans compared with the estimated 16 percent reach of current branded Facebook content. For more on how Facebook ads are changing, see Buddy Media's helpful report.
While it's true that Facebook is requiring all users to adopt its Timeline format, it won't be dragging them into this kicking and screaming. Good on this social network for developing something that serves the needs of consumers and brands alike.
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Tessa Wegert is an interactive media strategist with Enlighten, one of the first full-service digital marketing strategy and services agencies, serving such brands as Bioré, Bratz, Food Network, illy, Hunter Douglas, Jergens, and Olympic Paints and Stains. An industry veteran, Tessa has worked in online media buying and planning, marketing, and online copywriting since 1999. She is an active freelance writer specializing in interactive marketing who has contributed to U.S. and Canadian publications, including "USA Weekend Magazine," "Marketing Magazine," "The Globe and Mail," and "The Montreal Gazette." She is frequently quoted as an industry expert and speaks regularly at industry conferences and events.