The Facebook Timeline that brand pages were forced to switch over to last week is "flawed," according to an eye movement study of six brand pages by SimpleUsability, with many of the new features going unnoticed or being misunderstood.
"The average user doesn't fully understand the new layout, or interact with it in the way intended," said Guy Redwood, managing director of SimpleUsability. "This will likely change over time, but as the mechanics of obtaining 'Likes' has become more difficult for brands, they now need to drive engagement more than ever."
The study tracked user eye movements when visiting the Web-based brand pages of American Express, Pizza Hut, Coca-Cola, Gap, Coldplay and Manchester United. In addition to pointing out problems with brand pages, the study found certain features on the pages as currently designed were more important.
What follows are the six big takeaways from the study for brands still working on configuring their timelines.
Cover Photos Aren't As Important As You Think
Facebook has made a point of insisting brands can use their cover photos as opportunities, and a whole cottage industry is springing up on helping companies design cover images. But users in the study either ignored the cover images entirely or disregarded it as "advertising space."
They also didn't pay much attention to the profile picture or apps directly beneath a cover page. In most cases, a user's first action when landing on the page was to scroll down and get themselves oriented with what they were viewing.
Timeline is Actually a Valuable Feature
Timeline's biggest benefit for brands, according to the study, is the ability to tell a brand's story. The Timeline design is particularly effective in accomplishing this online, but users also liked the ease of finding the "About" button on brand pages. In many cases, users said it was easier to learn about a brand than it was on a corporate Web site.
The Timeline Only Works if It's Current
Users got confused if a timeline appeared to be outdated. While there is benefit in going back and filling in a corporate history, most users in the study did not look beyond one month in the Timeline's reverse chronological hierarchy.
Users Notice When Their Friends "Like" or Interact With a Brand
The best way to get a user to interact with your brand is to get that users' friends to interact with your brand. Users are more likely to interact with a friends' comment about a brand that they consider timely.
More Data Needed to Measure the Effectiveness of Pinned Posts
Brands can get around the problems presented by Timeline's reverse chronological hierarchy by "pinning" a post to the top of their Timeline. But so far, few brands are using the pin feature and, when they do, they have little impact on users, according to SimpleUsability.
Users Rarely, if Ever, Interact With Apps
That could change over time, as users get more familiar with the Timeline layout. But for now, very few users are even noticing the customizable app buttoons. When they do, it's almost exclusively to look at photos.