Facebook Timeline For Business: How To Use It To Your Marketing Advantage

Facebook Timeline For Business: How To Use It To Your Marketing Advantage
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It’s that time again, folks! Time for Facebook to roll out massive changes that have everyone split into two camps: the “I love everything Facebook does” camp and the “Are you, like, for real?” camp. Maybe there’s a middle camp but it’s hard to tell.

Facebook is pretty polarizing that way. I fall into the latter camp (evidenced by my last Facebook lashing) and the only thing that’s different this time is that I’m sort of resigned to Facebook doing what it wants as the rest of us scurry to keep up.

So here’s the deal. As of March 30th, Facebook will be rolling out Timeline for Business pages. No choice, no kidding. If you don’t upgrade before then, you’re going to end up with a sad, cover-photo-less page. And even if you do upgrade you might not know what all the new rules are or quite what to do with them.

Good news: I’m about to tell you, not only what the new rules are but how you can effectively work around with them. And at the end I’ve got a little bonus for you: a free Photoshop template and instructional video that will help you create a killer cover.

Facebook Cover Photos: New Dimensions

There are some pretty precise dimensions for the new Timeline photos and the consequence of adding or omitting one little pixel can mean the difference between a great cover photo and a hot mess. Trust me, I’ve tried.

Facebook compresses your already-compressed graphics anyway so be exact if you want the best possible results. These are the new dimensions, at least as of today and until Facebook changes its mind again:

facebook-timeline-dimensions

Total bonus: if you use my template you don’t need to worry about dimensions. They are already blocked off precisely for you.

Here’s a quick tip when it comes to cover photos and compression: choose a photo with texture and color variations. If your photo has too much of a solid color then it’s going to show the pixelation a whole lot more.

Important note on dimensions: Although the profile image is 135 x 135, Facebook appears to require that you upload it at 180 x 180. That means you will need to design your icon to fit in the 135 space but resize it to 180 for upload. Strange but true.

Facebook Timeline: New Features

We need to start with some Facebook lingo here, because what we used to know as a status update or a post is now a “story” in Facebook-ese. Qualitatively that means nothing, but in Facebook-speak it means “we can charge you a bunch for promoting your story because it’s super special”.

The stated intention behind the whole shift to Timeline is to allow brands to “tell their story”. Facebook is encouraging us to engage, share, and become faces behind the logos.

On the back end, I suspect it has more to do with devising new sources of advertising revenue, but practically speaking, the fundamentals of good Facebook marketing remain.

Now that you are going to tell your story, you have a few new options.

  1. You can pin a story. If you roll over the pencil icon, you get the option to “pin to top”. It does just what it sounds like. A pinned story will stay in the top left corner for 7 days. That’s right – it unpins itself after 7 days, so be mindful that this is not permanent.
  2. You can highlight a story. Click the star icon and your story will take up the full width of the page. You can keep a story highlighted forever.
  3. When you add a story you can set it as a Milestone. Milestones will also show up full width and can be used to mark important dates like “made my first million”.

facebook-timeline-features

Important note: a story cannot be pinned and highlighted at the same time. It must be one or the other.

Facebook Apps: The Same But Different

Remember your Facebook “tabs” that showed up on the left side under your profile image for a while? They are now being relocated under the cover photo and are no longer called tabs, but “apps”. But you should be aware that they will still need some fixing because the dimensions are changing on app pages, too.

Apps will now run full width, and that’s a whopping 810 pixels. If you don’t convert your apps to the new format, you’ll end up with a lot of whitespace.

Only four are visible at one time and even though you can have up to 12 apps, someone would need to be motivated enough to click the little arrow to see what else you’ve got.

The first app is always photos and you cannot move it, nor can you choose the photo you want to show there. It defaults to the last photo you uploaded, so if you don’t like it, you may want to upload one you do. So really, you have three visible spaces to fill with an app of your choice.

Finally, landing pages are now merely a fond memory. You cannot make an app your default landing page as you could in the past. When people visit your page, it’s all Timeline, all the time. You can, however, link people directly to your app pages.

So if you’re running an email campaign for example, and want to direct people to a promotion you’re running on Facebook, you can provide the link to that promotion page specifically.

And since I know you’re wondering, fan-gating still exists but it’s pretty buggy. I’ve tried it, with limitations and workarounds. Whether it will be improved or removed remains to be seen. So try it but be mindful of how it actually works. Don’t just assume it does.

Facebook Marketing: New Rules

I’ve given you the quick summary of the technical changes and new features, so let’s get into the real head-scratchers. Facebook is remaking marketing in its image. Now, at the behest of Facebook, we tell stories. And we tell them without doing any actual marketing.

New rules for the cover photo include the following:

  1. You cannot include any price or purchase information.
  2. You cannot include contact information, your web address or email. In fact, you are admonished not to create a cover that is too text-heavy at all.
  3. You cannot ask people to Like or Share your page nor can you reference or point to (goodbye arrows) any Facebook interface element.
  4. You cannot include a call to action.

I was teetering on the edge of my chair as I read those rules for the first time and the last one knocked me clear off. What has become standard Facebook practice (big arrow, click here to Like, tell your friends, sign up) is now no longer allowed. Someone up at FBHQ clearly missed Marketing 101.

But you don’t have to be as cynical as I am to see where this could mean revenue streams for Facebook. Combine these un-marketing guidelines with the fact that Facebook has stated that it only shows your content to a fraction of your audience and it’s clear that Facebook has thrown up some obstacles to the whole illusion of “free” marketing.

Thanks to EdgeRank, Facebook decides when and to how many people your content will be shown. The number 16% has been floated around, but the bottom line is that if you have 100 fans, your content is most certainly not being seen by 100 of them.

Let me rephrase, repeat and make that very clear: your content is not being shown to 100 of them. Or any number close to that. (Can anyone say “buy an ad”?)

In tandem with this, “sponsored stories” have emerged which is Facebook-speak for “pay us and we’ll show your post to up to 75% of your fans.” The takeaway here is that your content will never be shown to your entire fan base. And if you want it shown to more than 16%, it’s time to start thinking ads and sponsored stories.

PS: You can and should read the new Facebook guidelines on Timeline, Pages, Promotions and other details in their entirety.

Facebook Marketing For Smart People: Where There’s A Will, There’s A Way

And so we come to the crux of the matter. Now that we’ve all got photos and icons and apps and pins and milestones and stories and a headache… what can we do to make it all work for us?

I’m going to give you some simple, basic tips and workarounds to get you started, and then it’s going to be up to you to do your own magic.

In the end, it doesn’t matter whether Facebook calls it an update or a post or a story or a teapot, you’ve got to make it engaging. And only time will tell whether cover photos make it more likely that people will visit our pages (another stat for you to ponder: fewer than 1% of fans ever revisit a brand page once they’ve Liked it… put that in your story and chew it.)

Marketing Tip: Pizza Hut Style

facebook-timeline-pizza-hut

Think beyond “cover photo” to the total picture. Your profile image can be part of your cover photo if you design it well. Look at how Pizza Hut uses its profile image to cleverly add a pizza box to the big picture. Remember that your profile image (here, the pizza box) is what will appear as the icon beside your posts in your Timeline and in other people’s news feeds.

Make sure that whatever you put in that little square can double as part of your cover and as the icon representing your brand.

Marketing Tip: The Livestrong Way

facebook-timeline-livestrong

Use design to create a visual call-to-action. You may not be able to put “Sign up for my newsletter” in your cover photo but with a little design finesse you can draw someone’s eye right where you want it. Where does your eye travel when you look at the Livestrong page?

Marketing Tip: From The Horse’s Mouth

facebook-timeline-web-search-social

You may be prohibited from putting a call-to-action in your cover photo but there is no rule that says you can’t put one in your apps. Do it! Sign up. Buy now. Read more. In fact, if you can coordinate your design to draw someone’s eye to your apps, and then put a call to action there… well, that’s got “winning” written all over it.

We’ve done both on our Facebook page – with a graphic pointing down plus “sign up” in the graphic representing the app and in the title beneath it. You have complete editorial control over what appears in your custom apps so use it wisely. Keep character limits in mind so your sentence isn’t trailing off at the end. And remember that you can’t change or move the Photo app.

Marketing Tip: What NOT To Do

facebook-timeline-att

Can someone please tell me what the heck is happening here? Planes and skies and clouds and skies… I guess phone signals come out of the sky because I’m not sure what else this quilt is supposed to mean.

Plus I’m pretty clueless about those apps. They range from some basketball/technology mashup to American Idol to something that doesn’t make any sense at all. Maybe fans “get it”. But how will this ever convert a non-fan like me?

Focus! Make sure your photos and apps are visually appealing but also speak to your brand.

And remember, it’s all about the people. You need to give people something they want – whether it’s information, entertainment, a diversion or some combination. Try not to get so focused on your photo that you forget there are people waiting to talk to you!

  • Be interesting. The more engagement you get, the better your EdgeRank will be, and the more likely your post will be shown to more of your audience.
  • Be visual. Photos and videos tend to get more engagement.
  • Be varied. If you post a photo in the morning, post a question in the afternoon. Mix it up if you want to keep people’s attention.
  • Check out my last Facebook article for some easy engagement tips.

And for those of you who stuck around to the end of this post, the bonus I promised. Visit our Facebook page, admire it for a while, do say hi or leave us a comment, then click on the “Free Template” icon. There’s a link to the Photoshop document plus a video (thank you, Ralph!) that shows you how to use it.

I’d love your feedback, so if you have any questions or thoughts, please let me know. And of course, when you’ve got your Timeline all set up, send me a link. I’d love to check it out and Like your page, too!

Carol Lynn Rivera

Carol Lynn Rivera

I'm a business owner, content creator, podcaster and marketer. In 1999 I founded Rahvalor Interactive, a web and creative services production studio, with my husband and business partner Ralph. In 2011 we created Web.Search.Social, a consulting and marketing service line for small businesses. We also cohost the Web.Search.Social Podcast where we challenge the status quo of marketing and the Carbon Based Business Units podcast where we talk about the human side of being an entrepreneur. On any given day I wear the hat of project manager, consultant, social media manager and content marketer. My true passion is writing and in my spare time I'm busy planning my early retirement to Barcelona as a famous and wealthy novelist.
Carol Lynn Rivera
Carol Lynn Rivera