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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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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”.
- 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!