This morning Facebook launched Timeline For Brands, which will give brand pages the same look, feel and functionality as the personal page Timelines the social network has been rolling out since September.
We spent the morning asking more than two dozen brands for their initial reactions to Timeline, how they planned to use it and if they had any concerns. The firms ranged from small startups with just a few hundred followers to established companies that have been developining online strategies for years. We talked to tech companies, but we also tried to sample companies and nonprofits outside of the tech space to get a feel for what they were thinking.
"If you're using Facebook strategically, then this is a big deal: the new layout rewards creativity and innovation," said Jonathan Rick of the Washington, D.C.-public relations firm Levick Strategic Communications, LLC. "But if you're operating at a tactical level, then this is just more of the same - another shiny tool to play with."
Of the 25 companies that responded to our request for feedback, all had held discussions about how they would incoporate Timeline into their strategy. Ten had already switched over and five more were planning to do so by the end of the day. Every brand's page will go to Timeline by the end of March. Right now, the response from companies seem cautiously optimistic:
- Most brands we spoke with love the idea of being able to use a cover image. "We now have the ability to showcase different locations we have deals to and hopefully encourage more travel from our social community," said Margaret Yekulis, social media manager for travel site www.FareBuzz.com.
- Beyond the cover image, Timeline makes Facebook pages more visual: "What this means is that we will have the opportunity to display HUGE videos & also MORE product," said Dennis Todisco, Lifestyle Marketing Director at Karmaloop.com.
- Several companies noted a new feature which allows users to message a brand's page administrator. That is great for boosting customer relationships, providing companies have a strategy in place. "What I'm most interested in is the ability for users to privately message the administrator of a page," said Ben Foster, Vice President and Digital Strategist for Ketchum Digital. "The inability to message someone for help has been a frustration for companies trying to provide customer service on Facebook, particularly companies that work with private information."
- Stacey Stark of GS Design noted a feature that will let brands control which content appears at the tope of their timeline. "You will now be able to pin or anchor a post so that it stays in top viewing position on your page for up to seven days - a great way to keep primary messages or popular content front and center with your audience," she said.
The move is, however, about more than just making brands happy. It's also helps Facebook in its bid to show investors it can create a platform that will grow revenue.
"The new timeline reinforces consistency across Facebook," Rick said in an email. "To the extent that Facebook can make pages (for brands) the same as profiles (for people), this makes the social network more user-friendly for advertisers."
Switch Draws Immediate Praise
Mashable was first to report the news this morning, giving a glowing review of Facebook's new brand pages, as they should: Facebook hand-delivered the scoop to them and gave them a sneak peek Tuesday, one day before the news was officially announced.
And there is a lot to love: The Coca-Cola brand page is the most stunning one we've seen so far, and showcased prominently in Mashable's coverage. MediaBistro is already reporting the public relations professionals "will love" the new brand pages, because they will help firms showcase growth, establish history and, perhaps, do a better job of building community than existing brand pages can.
Brands Already Missing Landing Pages
But other folks are raising some concerns about the changes as they give Timeline For Brands a first kick of the tires.
Writing on The Next Web, Nancy Messieh notes that Timeline For Brands eliminates the landing tabs that many companies used to make a first impression with potential Facebook fans. Some brands used contests and giveaways. Some may seem that as the end of shameless "like getting" on Facebook, but isn't that kind of the point for brands to have a presence there?
"This will no doubt be an issue, not only for page administrators who have gotten so used to using the feature, but will also affect quite a few marketing companies, who have built and monetized services around Facebook's landing tabs, in particular," Messieh noted.
More Work For Brands, More Benefits For Facebook
Adena DeMonte of Badgeville said Facebook gains by getting a better idea of how users interact with brands, which allows them to more effectively target ads. For the brands, however, the switch could mean much more work.
"Ultimately, it benefits Facebook, not the brand, to make the pages in the Timeline format that are more "social" and forcing brands to update more frequently and engage with their audience," DeMonte said. "It also benefits community managers, as brands will need to hire dedicated Facebook page owners to update content, follow up privately with messages sent, and remove spam comments."
Giancarlo Massaro, founder of AnyLuckyDay, said ultimately, the new brand pages will force companies to focus more on user engagement as they develop their Facebook strategy.
"You could have 50,000 likes or 5,000 likes, what matters is the amount of engagement," Massaro said. "In 2012 I think there will be a massive shift, where companies are focusing less on growing their 'Likes' and focusing more on engaging with the fans that they already have...This means companies will have a tough time forcing people to like their page, and will have to focus much more on engagement."