You’ve Got Facebook’s Timeline For Business! Now What?

You’ve Got Facebook’s Timeline For Business! Now What?
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Now that the hoopla surrounding the timeline conversion has died down and marketing as we know it was not exterminated by the absence of a designated landing page, it’s time to  wonder: now that we’ve all got timelines, what are we supposed to be doing with them? Did anything change, other than a few “rules” and some layout options? How is this affecting my life?

If you’re like me, you want to know, “What are the pros doing?” Where “the pros” are people who spend an inestimable amount of time studying and experimenting, paving the way for the rest of us to follow “best practices”.

But sometimes the research and subsequent advice is downright confounding and if you’re a busy small business owner or marketer trying to keep “deal with Facebook” to under 6 hours a day of your precious and dwindling time, you probably wish someone would just tell you what to do.

If that sounds a bit like you, you’re in luck. I’ve read, reviewed, analyzed and parsed enough data on Facebook to compose a small encyclopedia. I’ve even done some testing of my own, and where I lack in the scientific method I make up for it in opinion. (Check out my prior post if you want a recap of all the new Facebook timeline features with screen shot goodness.)

So if you’re looking for a “what the heck should I do now” starting point without the need to read or write an encyclopedia of your own, here’s one for you. And I’ll start it by saying this…

Marketing Is What You Make It

On the plus side, we’ve got best practices. On the down side, there are no marketing rules. There is no perfect number of times per day to post on Facebook, no formula for composing a winning status or story.

But uncertainty is what makes marketing work. Imagine if there was a formula – then all your efforts would be just another bit of flotsam in an endless sea of more-of-the-same (and the process would be pretty boring, too). The beauty of “no answers” is that you get to decide what you want to do, how you want to do it and what works – for you.

So here’s what I want you to do after you read this: go try something. Don’t take my word for it. Approach your marketing with all the uniqueness that is you and your business. Start by learning but continue by adapting. Secrets, tips, best practices or not, that’s the best advice I can give you.

Great, So What About This Facebook Thing?

All right, I promised you a place to start and here it is: be skeptical of studies. That’s not entirely actionable and won’t help you compose a winning status update but bear with me for a moment. In fact, bear with Search Engine Watch who put it rather succinctly in a recent article about the effect of the new timeline on fan engagement.

I’ll give you the 10-seconds: depending on the study you read, it’s increased engagement by 14%, increased engagement by 46%, increased engagement by 190% or… wait for it… decreased engagement anywhere from 11-17%.

If timeline hadn’t yet been released, I’d probably read those numbers selectively and decide that I really, really, really wanted timeline. Just having timeline is enough to increase fan engagement, and whether it’s by 14% or 46% that’s still more. Right?

Sort of. Having timeline doesn’t increase fan engagement any more than having a website increases sales or having a Twitter account improves customer service.

It’s not what you have, but what you do with what you have.

So what could account for the huge differences in those engagement numbers? In my completely unscientific opinion, I’d say it’s what those brands are doing with their timelines that makes a difference.

The first step on your path to Facebook marketing success is to take the studies with a grain – or half a cup – of salt and understand that the proof is not in their numbers. The proof is in your numbers.

So How Do You Improve Your Numbers?

Marketing is about getting noticed. It’s about making your company, your products and your services stand apart from a billion others that fit in the same category.

Since timeline isn’t going to do the work for you, you’ve got to be creative about how you use it.

Studies – and vast experience – have shown that people engage with visual content more. Think of the outrageous growth of and attraction to Pinterest. That’s also why you see so many “photos” on Facebook now, many of which are little more than a funny, inspirational or motivational quote. But instead of putting that quote into the status box as text, people have started posting them as “pictures”.

Here’s what I’ve found: posting interesting quotes always got attention. They’re easy to Like and Share. Posting interesting quotes as pictures gets even more attention. Heck, throw a cute cat in and you’ve pretty much got your secret to Facebook success right there.

Try it. Next time you want to post a quote that you found particularly entertaining or encouraging, post it as a picture instead. Even if all you can do is write it in red marker on a piece of printer paper and snap a picture with your cell phone camera, try it. See if it grabs a few more Likes or Shares than before. Beyond quotes, post photos often and if you can make them personal – about you and/or your business, all the better.

Why this matters on timeline: photos make the page more visually interesting and easier to scan. Given its current two-column layout, something not entirely natural when it comes to readability, the easier you can make it to scan your page, the more likely people will be to do just that.

More On The Numbers Game

What hasn’t changed with timeline is that people will still see your updates in their news feeds, and that’s still the best place to meet them if you want to engage them.

Asking questions is another way to do that. And your questions don’t necessarily have to do with your business. I’ve seen many brand pages do this to great effect. Remember, Facebook is more playground than conference room, so you have to think about how to entertain your fans, too.

If I asked you, “What’s the first movie you ever saw on a date?” Could you answer it? Would you enjoy answering it? Might you think of some story that went along with it, good or bad? You’d do all that without any more than a quick question prompt.

On the other hand, if I asked, “How do you use social media to promote your business?” You might need a lot more time to think about it.

The point is that you occasionally need to step out from behind the serious, literal stuff and get to the fun stuff.

Try it. Come up with a couple of “just for fun” questions that you can ask your fans. Try either a direct question or a “fill in the blank” approach. Not because they’re of earth shattering importance. Not because they will give you deep insight into your fans’ consumer behavior. But because they will prompt a nearly instinctive and instant response. That means more engagement, better numbers, better EdgeRank, and a higher probability that more people will see more of your content more of the time.

Why this matters on timeline: when you’ve got people responding to your posts, it’s very evident on your timeline and provides some of the much needed social proof that lets people know hey, this is a pretty popular page, I should check it out.

Engaging With Change

Everything you do on your timeline is passed to your fans’ news feeds in the form of something like “so-and-so-just updated their profile picture”.

If there’s a reason to update your timeline, this is it, and there’s a potential double-bonus here.

First, your activity is passed into the news feed, which means you’re in front of people again. Not only that but you’re demonstrating change, which is what keeps things interesting. Second, it may inspire people to revisit your timeline.

Do this with care and purpose. If you change your profile picture every day your fans may just think you’re having an identity crisis. But if you set a schedule and do it every few weeks or months, you’ve got built in content and change right there.

Try it. Update your cover photo or profile picture. Add a milestone. Add to your photo albums. All these things will be noticed. See whether it brings people back to your page. See whether engagement numbers go up when you do this.

Why this matters on timeline: people are interested in content that’s part of your overall brand story. Photos and milestones are exactly that and give you the opportunity to build a presence beyond a simple status update. We already know that photos are a draw, but milestones can also give people a reason to visit and engage. Since Facebook condenses activity on your timeline, you can avoid expecting people to make the effort to scroll… wait… scroll… as previous content loads… and instead give them new “old” content via milestones that appear right in their news feed. Just because it appears in chronological order on your timeline doesn’t mean that’s how you have to post it! Go back and fill in spots at intervals.

The 850-Pixel Elephant In The Room: The Cover Photo

Facebook has laid out some pretty specific rules about what you can’t do in your cover photo. All those guidelines can be summed up in one short sentence: don’t use your cover photo as an ad.

Now that you know what not to do, how about some ideas for photos you can use?

I want you to remember what I said about studies, because in two completely (seemingly) opposing studies, it’s been shown that (1) people spend the most time looking at your cover photo and (2) people ignore your cover photo completely.

Oddly, I can buy both of those conclusions. In my unscientific opinion, I bet it’s the “big brands” that get ignored the most, since we’re bombarded by their advertising every day and everywhere. I also bet that it’s the small businesses and personal brands that get the most attention because those are the ones we’re motivated to learn about, those whose “stories” we are more likely to connect with personally. You don’t need to spend a lot of time fixating on Pizza Hut’s cover photo to “get it”. But if you visited the page of a local florist or small business, there’s probably something to discover.

What this means to you is that you need to think about how you can use the cover photo to tell something about you and your business.

Try it. Choose photos that represent you and your business. The eye-tracking study I referenced showed that faces and logos got the most eyeball time. Spend less time designing and more time finding photos that you can swap out with small effort. I was all for designing – bringing your cover photo together with your profile picture and apps – until about five minutes after I’d designed half a dozen client pages, Facebook changed the dimensions and everything broke. Unless you’re a designer or have time to do it and do it again as necessary, stick to things that give you the most bang for your buck, which is the photo itself.

Why this matters on timeline: As far as I can tell, the cover photo is timeline. Yeah, yeah, pins and highlights and milestones, oh my! But at the end of the day, in whatever study you read, you’ll find that (1) some people didn’t understand the timeline itself, (2) some people didn’t notice the apps, (3) many people didn’t know there’s a tiny arrow that means there are MORE apps, (3) Some people didn’t bother to scroll, (4) some people didn’t bother to scroll too far, (5) some people read the left column, (6) some people read the right column, (6) almost nobody noticed the ads… but…

Everyone noticed the cover photo. And they noticed it first. Not hard to believe right? It is the biggest and first thing on the page. Make it count.

As For The Rest Of The Story…

In the old “Wall” paradigm, the general consensus was that less than 1% of the people who Liked your page ever revisited it. Rather, they simply got your updates in their news feeds.

The jury’s still out on whether timeline itself is enough of a reason for people to revisit your page once they’ve Liked it. You could start by asking yourself: are you more likely to revisit a fan page now than you were in the past? Ask ten of your friends. Now you have a study.

So without any data, contradictory or otherwise, the best we can do is guess, test and try again. Here are a couple of additional suggestions for using timeline without spending half your life worrying about timeline.

  1. Apps. People may or may not notice your apps, but for many of us, apps are where the action is. It’s where we get people to download our ebooks and sign up for our newsletters. Use your apps effectively by creating a custom image and a custom name. You don’t need to be a designer to do this. Remember the red marker and printer paper? A quick sketch or call to action can be enough to get attention. And remember, you can link people directly to an app page, so use those links in your status updates to direct people to the good stuff.
  2. Likes. Remember social proof? If your page doesn’t have very many Likes, it pays to hide that app under the vastly ignored “more” arrow. If you’re proud of those Likes, by all means put them front and center. They can contribute to encouraging even more.
  3. Pins. People tend to miss “pinned” content and it makes no difference to people seeing your content in their news feeds. As yet, I don’t see a compelling reason for taking time to do this. But don’t listen to me. Try it!
  4. Highlights. Same goes for highlights, unless it’s a big, gorgeous photo and it’s relatively close to the top of your timeline. People won’t scroll that far and even when they do, much of your previous content won’t be visible until someone scrolls and asks to “see more”.
  5. Content. Beyond switching up your cover photos, take a “set it and forget it” approach. Timeline doesn’t change the fundamentals of good marketing. You must find a way to reach your customers. Pay attention to your content and to getting people to engage. Engagement leads to better social proof and better EdgeRank which leads to your content being Liked, Shared and viewed that much more, which can lead to awareness of your brand, trust and eventually sales.

I hope you feel confident that you can make timeline work for you and your business. Remember, its just a tool. What you do with it is up to you. Be smart by trying out a “good idea” – heck, try out a bad idea once in a while, too! – and seeing if it works for you. If you’ve asked 27 “fun” questions and been ignored every time, maybe that’s not the best route. But if people love your little penned quotes, pen away!

Tell me… are you doing anything differently on timeline than you did on Facebook before it existed? Let me know what’s worked for you!

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Carol Lynn Rivera

Carol Lynn Rivera

Carol Lynn is a content creator and marketer who has been in the business of digital marketing since 1999. Along with her husband and business partner Ralph, she owns and operates both {Web.Search.Social}, a consulting and marketing services business, and Rahvalor Interactive, a web and creative services production studio. On any given day Carol Lynn will wear the hat of project manager, consultant, social media manager and content marketer. Her true passion is writing, whether it’s web content, a blog post, email campaign or social status update. When she's not writing for customers, {Web.Search.Social}, or her own blog, she's planning her early retirement to Barcelona as a famous and wealthy novelist.
Carol Lynn Rivera
Carol Lynn Rivera
  • http://twitter.com/NickyVitality Nicky Price

    You have certainly done your homework here Carol, that’s some great information !  I must admit to having made the changes that I needed to, to get my page still functioning, but I then switched to focus on a couple of other things (like getting started with Pinterest!).  I have seen quite a few articles on Timeline and have listened to a couple of webinars – like you I have heard mixed reports, but most have seen an improvement with engagement by using “stories” which is clearly exactly what timeline is all about.

    I was interested to read that you felt “pinning” was not doing much to promote your content – I have also noticed that my “pin” seems to only show intermittently, so will test this out more fully in the next few weeks.

    Another one of your posts to bookmark and come back to – great info Carol thanks, will be sharing this for sure!
    Nicky

    • http://twitter.com/CarolLynnRivera Carol Lynn Rivera

      The pinning is definitely a :::shrug::: 

      I feel like it’s just extra effort for what? It doesn’t change how often someone sees your story in the news feed, it only matters to people who actually visit your timeline. The idea is that it’s the first content people will see. But that’s not necessarily true. I guess the assumption is that people read left-to-right so they’ll start on the top left looking for your content but that’s just not true. It’s a small thing and I wouldn’t bother getting hung up on it.

      I actually read another interesting article about timeline, too, that said “Facebook is stupid” and it wasn’t meant to be disparaging but to make the point that people don’t go there to do business and find intellectual conversation. They go to see dumb videos and funny cats and things like that. So if your content is more entertainment than business, it’ll get more attention. Unless you’re Mashable, that’s pretty much true!

      Thanks for your input and good luck with Pinterest! That’s a whoooole other story…..

  • http://www.donnamerrilltribe.com/ Donna Merrill

    Great perspective on the new timeline Carol.  Mine is currently being re-done.  I am not an artist so I am having someone do it for me. It took me weeks to decide what kind of design I wanted to put on my apps and what I wanted them to say.  A little research, a lot of time, and now I submitted it to my graphics guy.  Hopefully It will brand who I am.  I think it’s important because everything is going visual these days.

    What I like about the timeline is the little pin you can top post for a week.  It is great for an event coming up that you want your readers to see.
    I’m still working my way through it, but understanding it more every day.  Now, after reading your post, I understand it so much better.

    My next task after all the graphics are completed is doing the “milestones” – I think it is a great way to show others how they can grow also.

    As for Pinterest:  That’s a whole other story… I still have mixed emotions about that feed.
    I recently took a great course on Pinterest and there is so much there we don’t know about.  So I’m re-doing that too.
    Just when ya think ya got it right…. Oh well.
    Thanks so much for getting me thinking.
    Donna

    • http://twitter.com/CarolLynnRivera Carol Lynn Rivera

      Hi Donna,
      I was wondering if you found that pinning a post was helpful? I haven’t noticed a difference and many people say they miss it entirely. I’m sure it has something to do with whether there is an interesting visual.

      I completely relate to the conundrum of learning… and then everything changes. It does that quite a lot on the internet :) On the plus side, it keeps things interesting and gives us new ideas to try.

      I’m looking forward to seeing your new page and the designs you came up with. It’s great that you have someone who can help you! Let me know when it’s ready.

  • Andrew

    very interesting post thank you for sharing it with us, i am not a big fan of the new timeline i really dont know why they had to change it.

    • http://twitter.com/CarolLynnRivera Carol Lynn Rivera

      Andrew, the one thing you can count on for sure is that something going to change! Sometimes we like the change, sometimes not, but if we want to market online we’ve got to figure out how to use it. Hopefully I’ve helped a bit there.

  • http://adriennesmith.net/ Adrienne

    Hey Carol,

    Okay well I’m implementing all of that which is why I wanted to learn what I should be doing before I even created my fan page.  And as you probably already know by now I post a lot of motivational and inspirational quotes so I started putting them all on images because as we all know, people love images.

    I also add the fun and funny sayings, images and videos too on my profile page because I just love to laugh.  Now the questions I’ve been doing as well and I like the fun personal ones.  It helps you learn about your fans and friends.  I’ll through in some pertaining to business from time to time to find out what people are doing.

    I didn’t spend a lot of time on my Timeline photo I’m afraid.  Had no idea what I wanted so I was down to the wire and just created something myself.  It needs help, I know.

    Great post and wonderful tips you shared.  But I wouldn’t expect anything less from you my friend.

    • http://ryzeonline.com/ JasonFonceca

       I think you’re doing super-well, Adrienne, really leading the way.  You’ve been doing engaging questions and fill in the blanks really well for a while now, for example :)

    • http://twitter.com/CarolLynnRivera Carol Lynn Rivera

      Adrienne, one thing we can all say about you is that you don’t need no stinkin’ advice! You are proof that the tools don’t matter – the people do. You could tweak timeline all day and it wouldn’t make a difference because you are building an audience and people love you.

      By the way, I love your fun questions, they’re some of the best and most fun to answer!

      You can change your cover photo any time so I wouldn’t worry about it too much. It doesn’t have to be any particular photo as long as it’s one you like. Perhaps try to post one that is “scenic” – you know, you at a restaurant/at the park/wherever. In other words, you in real life!

      Otherwise you keep doing what you’re doing and let’s hope everyone else gets on your bandwagon!

  • http://ryzeonline.com/ JasonFonceca

    Ahhh… love this Carol.

    It’s a breath of fresh air in the timeline discussion :)

    I especially like your focus on uniqueness and experimentation.

    You suggestion to post quotes has echoes of Pinterest, eh?

    • http://twitter.com/CarolLynnRivera Carol Lynn Rivera

      Jason, I think Pinterest is the evil subtext of everything! I’m not sure which came first – the popularity of photos or Pinterest but no doubt people like them. Might as well capitalize.

      Don’t tell anyone but those “pictures” of quotes kind of drive me nuts :) My Facebook stream is a mess of someone else’s quotes. But like I said, people like them, so work it!

      • http://ryzeonline.com/ JasonFonceca

         Hahahahahahahahahahahahah….  so awesome, Carol.  Love it :)

        P.S. I think the secret’s out :D

  • http://twitter.com/LifeCoachingPro Sylviane Nuccio

    Hi Carol,

    Well if there is someone who really needs to learn about all that, it’s me. I don’t know what wrong with me an social media, but I am kinda slow with them :)  And I got better, I was really none existent on social media less a year ago.

    I actually just got the book that Adrienne was recommending on her post his week. 

    Now, I think that you are totally right about pictures. Pictures are powerful, and yes, someone who might ignore a quote on it’s own will read it because it’s on a beautiful picture.  I have to get better at this, because I never post pictures on facebook except for the pictures of my post.

    I certainly learn a lot from this post about facebook that I didn’t know. Thank you for sharing this info with us. It seems like you are a pro with facebook. I know that I can ask you if I have a facebook question now :)

    • http://twitter.com/CarolLynnRivera Carol Lynn Rivera

      Hi Sylviane, I’m so glad you picked up a few tips from my post! Mostly I want people not to stress so much about Facebook and just use it and enjoy it. And of course you can ask me any question, any time!