Brands See Fan Engagement Drop in First Month of Facebook Timeline

A pair of studies out this week confirm what the anecdotal evidence and rampant speculation we've been collecting for the month already suggested: The introduction of Timeline for brands has actually decreased fan engagement with companies on Facebook.

Both studies seem to add more evidence to the case we have been building for most of the past month: Ultimately, Facebook users interact with brands on their own newsfeed and rarely, if ever, visit a company's timeline. And that's good news for Facebook which, ahead of its IPO, would much rather have companies resort to paying for ads than use free brand pages.

Facebook is in the quiet period ahead of its IPO and is declining comment on the business side of its operation.

EdgeRank Checker looked at 3,500 brand pages and found that all -- whether or not they switched over to Timeline or not -- lost traffic during the month of March. All brands were automatically switched to Timeline on Friday, but many started switching over just after the new feature was announced February 29th.

"Brand managers can rest assured that they are not experiencing significant losses when switching to timeline. Nearly all engagement takes place on the news feed, not on the page itself," EdgeRank said. "Regardless of how Facebook changes the appearance of a page, this should rarely have a significant impact on engagement. This also suggests that brand managers must continue to focus on optimizing engagement within the news feed as usual."

HubSpot has a more anecdotal take on the drop off of traffic, noting that content scheduled to publish automatically to Facebook in March, after the company switched to Timeline, posted a 234% decrease in user engagement. Content posted manually, however, had about the same level of pre-Timeline engagement.

"The results of our study do not indicate whether Timeline itself was the direct cause of the decrease in engagement," Anum Hussain cautions in a post on HubSpot's blog. "However, the sharp decline occurred simultaneously with the drop, raising the potential of the two being correlated."

Both studies note slightly less of a drop-off for brands that have switched over to Timeline, but both also go on to note that this may be attributed to the media attention brand timelines received last month. There's no way of determining if that better performance is sustainable.

We were one of the first to report on how to pimp your company's brand page, but beyond that, the money you spend on professional designs for timeline may be better spent on targeted Facebook ads, which are poised to be the only surefire way to bolster brand recognition on the world's biggest social network.