Facebook, Take the Wheel: Business Pages and the New Timeline

Until recently, claiming your company’s presence on Facebook was similar to having your own website. If you had a very modest level of online ambition, you didn’t have to really use it once you’d claimed it. It served as another place to put your business’s phone number and modus operandi. E-commerce achieved.

Facebook‘s recent changes boot these assumptions in a quietly aggressive way. Starting March 30 (or earlier, if you’re an overachiever), all businesses will have to use the new Timeline format, which ditches certain cherished marketing elements in favor of other options that will bring everyone–corporate persons and human ones alike–closer to Facebook’s golden ideal of storytelling, human interaction, and big colorful pictures. Suddenly, a loving tribute to the many services and skills offered by your company isn’t enough–you have to have personality and an engaging origin story, too. Today, AdAge discusses some of the adaptations marketers will have to make.

Let’s start with what’s being kicked to the curb. Fan gates, those marketer-beloved and often flashy landing pages where businesses could extort a “like” from you before giving you access to discounts or exclusive content, are largely out. Tabs have changed to Apps, which are now a collection of (one hopes) attractively designed icons beneath your cover photo. The Photos icon is always there; three more can be highlighted, with the rest tucked beneath the fold. Also out: cloaking your distant Facebook past in a UI that buries anything more than five minutes old under a pile of the newest of the new. If the latest action on your page is from 2009, your neglect will be displayed much more prominently than before.

These shiny new elements are almost entirely in support of Facebook’s emphasis on the narrative. A big, splashy cover photo now dominates the page when you first load it. Facebook wants you to fill this with something engaging, beautiful, and personal, to the point that more pedestrian matters like contact information and calls to action are not allowed in this space. And with the Milestones feature, you can fill in your company’s complete history, chapter by chapter. Companies with long histories can add real depth here, as Coca-Cola did with their original 1886 stock certificate and Cisco, one of the savviest Facebook business users, does by contextualizing snippets of their day-to-day business with the picture-heavy tale of how the company was founded and has evolved.

The addition of direct messaging removes one piece of risky transparency. Business can’t DM customers, but customers can start private correspondence with companies, meaning that a Facebook wall that was meant for fun and games is less likely to be co-opted into displaying messy customer service dealings.

Whether you’re a personal or business user, part of the price of admission with Facebook is rolling with whatever changes the company decides to impose. In the last year, Facebook has pressed a series of changes onto users that has emphasizes the visual, the personal, and a very particular flavor of engagement. The March 30 ultimatum for businesses has resulted in an Internet studded with stories about how Facebook is trying to destroy small businesses, which you may enjoy if you’re also a fan of Nostradamus and Chicken Little (who, unsurprisingly, has not adopted the Timeline yet).

However, if there are any victims of a free social platform’s design choices here, it’s the distant and unengaged. Like Google’s mythical and much-feared algorithm changes, Facebook has altered things so that content posted by third-party apps such as HootSuite or Tweetdeck is considered less important and may be filtered out of your customers’ newsfeeds altogether. If your business’s approach to Facebook includes a slate of canned updates ready to be burped out on a regular schedule, then yes, you may feel penalized, and you may see your Facebook engagement drop. However, if you were using your company’s Facebook page as an updated version of a phone book listing, it might not be the platform that meets your needs anyway.

Read more at AdAge.com.

Let's work together.