Facebook Timeline and What Marketers Need to Know

social media toolsAre you wondering how Facebook’s Timeline will impact your business and marketing?

Right now Timeline is currently limited to personal profiles and with no schedule set or promised for brand pages.

However, given Facebook’s history with design changes and how changes of this sort first get released to users and later on get applied to brands, it’s likely that Timeline is on the horizon for business pages as well.

This article will explore what the timeline means for marketers.

Timeline for Users

User profiles have been completely overhauled into a sleek new page with large cover pictures, featured actions, certain aggregated information and more.

At its core, Timeline is a chronology of a user’s life on Facebook, with items automatically appearing based on an algorithm intended to capture a user’s most important life events.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • Some objects are grouped together, such as all things a user Liked in a given month.
  • The more engaging an action, the more prominently it will appear and remain in the Timeline.
  • Users can manually add, remove, feature or de-emphasize Timeline events. In his keynote address at F8, Mark Zuckerberg enthusiastically demonstrated how a user can go back to the year of his birth and upload a baby picture.
  • Although historically, major profile changes have often been followed by similar brand page changes, there is no official word yet on whether brand pages will also be redesigned.
objects get grouped together

Objects get grouped together at the end of the month, such as all the Likes I subscribed to myself in November, and the friends I added.

Open Graph and Custom Actions

Last year, Facebook rolled out Open Graph, allowing brands to connect to a user’s Facebook social graph. This year, it rolled out significant changes, allowing app developers to create custom actions using any verb and object related to the activity taking place on the app.

These so-called “lightweight” activities can be defined by the app creator and pushed throughout the Facebook experience.

Here are the highlights, and how the actions affect Timeline:

  • The Open Graph integrates with the News Feed, Ticker and Timeline, making the app a key part of users’ and their friends’ Facebook experiences.
  • As users engage, the custom action appears on Facebook News Feed, and remains on the user’s Timeline; e.g., Jane cooked a recipe from Best Recipes app.

Changes to the structure of permissions allow a user to give permission one time for an app to post about that user’s activity on the app thereafter.

This is how you’re seeing so many more postings about what your friends are listening to, for example, if they’re using a social sharing music app like Spotify. It even gets its own designated spot in the Timeline and displays a running list of what the user is listening to.

structure of permissions

Changes to the structure of permissions allow a user to give permission once for an app to post about that user's activity on the app thereafter. This is how you're seeing so many more postings about what your friends are doing.

What Should Marketers Do?

Now that we know what changes Facebook has made, brands and marketers need to figure out what they mean for social media marketing.

Based on Wildfire’s extensive experience running over 150,000 social media campaigns, here’s our take:

  • Likes are still very important. This is the way brands build their audiences, with whom they can communicate directly, and promotions are the best way to encourage Likes. Sweepstakes and instant-win campaigns are best for generating Likes; while contests, trivia, group deals and engaging pages are best for fostering engagement.
  • News Feed vs. Brand Pages. There had been recent talk of apps/tabs/pages decreasing in significance. Now deeper, more engaging actions are the ones that will appear in Top Stories and Timelines and are therefore more persistent within the social graph. Now the “lightweight” actions have been removed to the fast-updating Ticker. In this way, the more “important” stuff, like meaningful interactions with branded content, will remain in the “Top Stories” and Timeline.
  • Open Graph Connections are easier than ever. Facebook plugins, which are readily available for all domains, are easier than ever to use to increase your brand’s earned media.  Decide which plugin(s) work best for your domain and install them to all relevant company properties, like your website and blog.  Watch as visitors share the news of your brand for you on their own Timelines!
facebook plugins

Having Facebook plugins well-integrated into your business domain increases the opportunity for brand advocates to spread the word about your brand, such as how Alain's Timeline reflects his activity on the Wildfire home page and blog.

Final Thoughts

Facebook Timeline is the newest development in Facebook’s quest to make over the Internet, integrating a social layer into every interaction and information node available. With Timeline, users have an increased ability to broadcast their lives (including any activity with brands, businesses, applications and services) to all of their friends.

These highly personalized interactions and the newly organized way of sharing them serve to lessen the friction among users and the connected Internet world. Preparing your brand to take advantage of Timeline is every savvy marketer’s first step in enhancing earned media potential.

Your Turn

Now that it is available to the public, what do you think of the new Timeline? Share your thoughts and questions in the comments box below. We’d love to hear from you!

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About the Author, Maya Grinberg

Maya Grinberg is the social media manager at Wildfire Interactive. She specializes in corporate social media strategies and teaching businesses how to optimize them. Follow her on Twitter as @papayamaya or @wildfireapp. Other posts by »




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  • http://www.IfSimply.com/ Keith Griffis

    Thanks Maya Great Post! Although likes are still a necessity, I think the key takeaway is that you must create an experience on your own site so that brand advocates share your content. You want to find a way to create those “meaningful” interactions. This means you need to focus on creating shareable content or enticing your users to create shareable content.

    One way to do this is wildfire and contests. Another is to find the point in your sales funnel that the user is happiest (ie right after a purchase or download) and give them an easy way to share that interaction.

    Maya – what are some other ways to create “meaningful brand interaction”?

    Thanks,
    Keith

  • http://www.consected.com/ Phil Ayres

    The first time I saw the timeline I’ll admit I was startled. It looked quite unlike anything else Facebook. It took another few moments to get my head around what was going on. Facebook has always been confusing for new users, although I think this will help people understand what is going on if they use it from the start.

    So for marketers and pages, what of it? My immediate attention was drawn to large gaps in my own activity. Page admins are going to have to take care to ensure consistent and constant sharing and status updates if they don’t want it to be obvious that they have been slacking. This will highlight the active pages from the occasionally updated pages heavily. We aren’t going to be able to rely on others to keep our wall populated with interesting stuff if we don’t want lengthy gaps.

    It will be interesting to see how this pans out.

    Great post!
    Phil

  • http://www.nearcoastmedia.com/ Matt Hamilton

    I really like Timeline for personal use. I think I’m going to try taking advantage of the large profile picture to do some creative self-marketing. Business pages will most likely get a new interface but I don’t think it will be quite like Timeline, I just don’t see it being beneficial for brands.

  • http://www.TheSocialNetworkingNavigator.com/ Laurie Hurley

    I love the new timeline. I love that I can put a big picture as my cover. And, if I need to check something from a year ago, it’s all  there, nice and organized.

  • http://www.i95dev.com/ecommerce-magento Henry Louis

    Hi Maya! It is really great post. I came to know some important points by reading this post. It would be more helpful to me as a business man. Thanks for sharing. Keep updating.

  • Fingermaster

    I cant stand it – it looks old, cluttered and smacks of myspace profiles, with overlapped images and such.

  • http://twitter.com/papayamaya Maya Grinberg

    Hey Keith! Great question– meaningful brand interactions are the key to establishing and growing a community of loyal brand advocates and fans. A good messaging strategy is also important to creating a series of meaningful brand interactions: having conversations with your audience, spurred by the newsfeed on Facebook is incredibly important. Brands that know how to reach out to their fans, and what sorts of messages resonate best (like if that brands fans tend to respond really well to YES/NO questions, or always questions about XX topic, or always content with a shared link) are the ones that will be most successful at consistently creating meaningful and far spreading interactions.

  • http://twitter.com/papayamaya Maya Grinberg

    Hey Phil! Agreed, the emphasis will remain on brands to stay active and create interesting content for their community because Timeline will literally SHOW when the page slacks off in this behavior (if we assume Timelines applied to brands will behave in the same way as they do for user profiles.) :)

  • http://twitter.com/papayamaya Maya Grinberg

    Thanks for your comment Matt. I have seen some interesting personal branding already, so you’re on the right track. As for it being beneficial to brands, its remains in the brands’ best interests to turn their capabilities and the features they’re offered, at any point in time, to their advantage. Creative brands will always figure out how to manipulate a platform into generating the best results, whether those results are quantified by community, amount of earned media, amount of growth over time, or whatever metric the brand chooses. 

  • http://twitter.com/papayamaya Maya Grinberg

    True, and isn’t it interesting when you scroll to some random month a few years back, just to see what you were doing and posting at that very time? Its like a time capsule. :)

  • http://twitter.com/papayamaya Maya Grinberg

    Thanks so much, Henry!

  • http://twitter.com/papayamaya Maya Grinberg

    Gak! Strong reaction! I like it, and how over time, different objects become different sizes, an indicator of how “important” they were in your social timeline (a random blip on the radar versus a really popular posting indicating lots of interest from your friends and networked connections.) 

  • Tim Bunch

    Congratulations, Facebook is now MySpace…

  • http://twitter.com/richardlecocq Richard Le Cocq

    I agree with Matt Hamilton, as much see the ingenuity of Timeline and Facebook users eventually embracing it’s features, I just don’t see how relevant it is to a brand or company? I don’t see why a brand’s history would be interesting to a consumer – they want to know what’s happening now, not three or 20 years ago. Unless I was doing a University paper on a company or brand, I think tracking back is rather a redundant extra. A Fan Page should be about showcasing the many facets to a brand or organisation and allowing their fans to interact with them in as many ways as possible. I appreciate the need to evolve design and feautres so I predict a new format Fan Page may be developed instead, but unless it’s proves to have certain advantageous new features over the current version, many brands and organisations will find it quite frustrating and costly, especially if they are small businesses. http://www.laughingbuddhauk.com

  • Anthony

    Maya, if you could pick one feature of the timeline to use in business pages which would it be? I am naturally attracted to the wonderfully large banner photo as an advertisement tool.

  • Tina Lavoie

    Am I in the minority? I really dislike the idea of people seeing what I’m reading or listening to, or doing. So much privacy has already been stripped away from our daily lives as it is. Facebook, more and more, has turned users into advertising vehicles for promoting businesses, and even though I’m a business owner, I dislike it. Seeing how fb is becoming more and more of a way to promote business and less and less of a way to foster real interactions amongst actual people, the thought of trying to take advantage of this for my own gain is not appealing to me.

  • Alicia

    This may have been asked already, but is Facebook planning on rolling the Timeline layout to Fan Pages as well or just person pages for now?

  • Alyssa Webb

    You don’t have to allow apps access to show people what you are reading, that’s your choice to allow, or not to allow the apps and access your news elsewhere/ 

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  • Tina Lavoie

    Thanks, Alyssa. I know that I don’t have to allow it, but if a person slips even once and allows it, they’re stuck until they can figure out how to undo it. I guess my problem is that what was once a way for people to connect with friends has turned into a way for business and other entities to use people for their own ends. Maybe I’m over-sensitive to this stuff? I know that as a business owner myself, with my own particular views, I try to be sensitive not to intrude in order to sell. Sometimes it’s tough to balance it all out. I”m hoping the Summit will help with some of this — I look forward to its start!

  • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

    I love the new Timeline. It will be interesting to see how the latest of adopters (ie, the grumpy people who hate change) react once they have no choice. Of course, they’ll probably love it, but we’ll see. I just wonder if we’re going to have two opposing groups to market to — those who use frictionless sharing apps and those who detest them.

    Thanks for the great post!

  • http://learnit2earnitwithlynn.com Lynn Brown

    I am not a ‘fan’ of the new timeline.  I personally would have liked to see the personal page be just that. A page where you share things with family and friends.  But now I see Facebook is allowing brands on these personal pages so I have to agree with others that it seems to be more about advertising rather than a truly sharing platform for family and friends. 

    Obviously we all will have to get use to the new timeline.  Wonder how long it will take people to get tired of all the branding and advertising?

  • sewcalgal

    I don’t like Facebooks’ timeline, but other sources are showing that it is going to happent to all of us with Facebook accounts, if we like it or not.  http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/technology-blog/facebook-timeline-mandatory-rollout-7-days-scour-past-185456598.html
     
     

  • Aaron Asher

    Why do you have to re-invent the wheel? FB is perfect the way it is!!! STOP making unnecessary changes to Facebook, and NOT a fan of the new timeline. I think people should continue to have that choice if they want to change to the stupid timeline. I hate it!!! And no business pages? Are you kidding me? This is turning into a joke. Goodbye FB. @ Maya, I can’t believe your boss, Mark, is going in that direction. Terrible!

  • Suddentext

    Certainly there will be some updates to business pages as well but they are likely to include tabs. There’s too much invested in apps already. FB will probably incorporate i-frames as a method of isolating/separating themselves from content.

  • http://twitter.com/cXchanging CommunicatorsXchange

    Thanks for this interesting post. I’m having fun with the new timeline. I think the new layout is a bit tricky to get used to at first, but as a Pinterest addict, it makes sense where they are going with it for visual effect and use of space on page. Reading the post and the comments I think I can see the pros and cons for brands, but I also see potential for non-profits. They usually have no troubles keeping updates going, in my experience the problem has been over-crowding.
    I have two questions for Maya (and readers).
    1. Could over-posting become a problem on the timeline (assuming it will be implemented for brands)?
    2. Do people think more time is spent on the newsfeed than people’s profiles, therefore less of a risk for Facebook to change the look yet again?

  • http://ohhi.co.uk/ Thomas Gamble

    I’ve learned a lot from your blog here! Keep on going, I will keep an eye on it.

  • http://twitter.com/AlexAdamson9 Alex Adamson

    I’m a bit confused on the issue and was wondering if you could please clarify something for me (as I’m altering my strategy for one of my brand pages).

    Will the universal timeline rollout affect the structure of the brand pages too? Or just personal accounts?

  • http://www.FaceForwardMedia.com SEM Services

    The most important task is to keep up with the changes, especially as a business!   We cannot do anything to prevent them but we can control our reaction to them.  Stay on top and business will flourish!

  • http://www.jamienorthrup.com Jamie Northrup

    Thanks Maya, with the Timeline coming to every single user in the next couple weeks, it’s good to know how things will appear to know what to do and how often.

  • http://twitter.com/papayamaya Maya Grinberg

    I also like being able to label big milestones for your business accordingly within the timeline. So that you can stick “Series A Funding!” in its appropriate place XX years ago and have it marked as a big deal!

  • http://twitter.com/papayamaya Maya Grinberg

    Tina, I understand your viewpoint. Its important that each user get involved with his privacy settings, to best understand what’s being posted, when, and where. You do have the flexibility to opt out of all these shares, or leave them private to your timeline.

  • http://twitter.com/papayamaya Maya Grinberg

    Its in the process of being applied to ALL personal profiles. As for business profiles, whether it will happen or not has not been announced yet.

  • http://twitter.com/papayamaya Maya Grinberg

    Agreed! :)

  • http://twitter.com/papayamaya Maya Grinberg

    Thanks Jon! You’re very welcome. And I think that frictionless sharing will definitely grow on some people. For example, while I don’t mind frictionless sharing of what I’m reading, I don’t like broadcasting what I’m listening to, so I don’t use Spotify for Facebook. :-X

  • http://twitter.com/papayamaya Maya Grinberg

    Hey Lynn!
    Thanks for your comment. I reckon it will take a while. Consumers are telling brands they want to interact with them in order to receive things like discounts, promotional items, freebies, and access to special content. And brands are responding with these things. All consumers have the option to engage or not engage with the brands on Facebook, nothing is being forced on users. However, its interesting to note how welcoming users have been so far– frictionless sharing is expanding, apps adoption is growing too. Facebook has also made it easy to remove items from your timeline, so if you see a particular interaction you don’t want to share, you can change the setting right there, without leaving to any different menus. They’re trying to create an environment where users spend the most time on Facebook, whether that time is spent interacting with brands, consuming apps content, or sharing items with the world. 

  • http://twitter.com/papayamaya Maya Grinberg

    Hey Aaron,

    Strong feelings there! Mark isn’t my boss, I don’t work at Facebook. But I do have a lot of respect for him. :)

    What do you mean no business pages? 

  • http://twitter.com/papayamaya Maya Grinberg

    I’m excited to see if your prediction comes true or not. :)

  • http://twitter.com/papayamaya Maya Grinberg

    Very interesting thought about over-posting. We’ll just have to see! In my mind, it WOULD get crowded in  timeline if all users were allowed to post, so perhaps we’ll see some new methods of sorting information for brands, should these changes get made. As for 2, I don’t think the time spent on newsfeed makes anything more or less of a risk. Any design changes are risky, because Facebook’s main goal is to get MORE of what their mission is– sharing. If people decrease their sharing, (whether its their own information, sharing with friends, interacting with brands, whatever) then the design change was bad. 

  • http://twitter.com/papayamaya Maya Grinberg

    Hi Alex! For now, the rollout only affects the structure of personal pages. There is no official report that these changes will be made to brand pages also. However, historically, major design changes to personal profiles have always been followed by similar design changes to business pages. So, keep an ear to the ground!

  • http://twitter.com/papayamaya Maya Grinberg

    Agreed!

  • http://twitter.com/papayamaya Maya Grinberg

    Awesome, Jamie, I’m glad you found the post useful.

  • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

    I’m with you, Maya. I have nothing against frictionless sharing in itself. I actually like when others use it because it’s a good discovery tool. I just haven’t found the right example of a tool where I want to frictionlessly (?) share my own activities. It has nothing to do with privacy. I just want to provide something of value without annoying people. That will be the challenge of the app developers once novelty wears off. Gotta provide value!

  • https://twitter.com/#!/CGarafola Chris Garafola

    Aaron, the landscape for business isn’t changing because of social media, it’s changing because consumer expectations are evolving…thus is life. Lets be real homie, Facebook isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon. 

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  • http://www.atomicdust.com/ Danielle Hohmeier

    It’s interesting to me how long it’s taken (er, taking?) for Facebook to release any news about brand pages. We blogged about what Timeline would mean for marketers back when it was announced at f8, (if you’re interested: http://www.atomicdust.com/blog/single/what-do-facebooks-changes-mean-for-my-business/) and it’s occurred to me that many of these questions still haven’t been resolved. 

    I think the biggest weapon in our arsenal is, was and always will be, strong content. Before, we needed people to ‘like’ it. Now, we need them to ‘share’ it. The open graph changes imply that we will need people to have even  greater interactions with our content. Seems to me, Facebook doesn’t want passive users clicking ‘like’ ‘like’ ‘like’ all day…. they want users. They want people to use the site – their own Timelines, their friends, the newsfeeds, and yes, our branded pages and apps.

    - Danielle @ Atomicdust 

  • http://learnit2earnitwithlynn.com Lynn Brown

    You make some very good points Maya on how we can turn things off.  I just wish Facebook would have given consumers that same ‘choice’ about going with the new timeline or not.

    I am also concerned not necessarily about brands, but other types of business that will try to weigh in on the chance to get onto your wall with their hyped advertising, etc.  I already get some of that now.  I just think it is going to open a huge door.

    Also, why did Zuckerberg think it was necessary to have such a huge header pic?  Just curious as no one has really answered that question and I have asked it in several other discussions. 

  • http://twitter.com/AlexAdamson9 Alex Adamson

    Thanks for the response Maya. Yeah that was my line of thinking – didn’t want to implement something this month for it to be ruined by a revamp of the brand pages (wouldn’t be the first time it has happened)

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  • Paz

    Seems back to front to me. So many marketing benefits are shown but at the same time Facebook doesn’t want us expanding personal pages with the limit at 5000.

    Now the business pages look crap in comparison too annnnnnnd business should not be separated from personal stuff nowadays anyway in many ways. People have the real opportunity to work with businesses who are owned by people they like, let’s keep that!

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  • Jacqueline_leao

    Maya, good explanation. Human nature loves to complain. It always takes time to get used, therefore, before we do, we must complain!

  • Jacqueline

    If we work with technology, we must be open to novelties all the time. Let’s embrace them… without complaining, but just wanting more!!!

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  • http://twitter.com/papayamaya Maya Grinberg

    I totally agree with you, Danielle. Thanks for commenting!

  • http://twitter.com/papayamaya Maya Grinberg

    I’m with you, Jacqueline!

  • http://twitter.com/papayamaya Maya Grinberg

    Viva you!

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  • https://www.facebook.com/ggfernando Gigi Fernando

    I absolutely love the new timeline, I use it for my own Social Media Manager Blog to market myself, I got real creative and created a fun and cool cover photo and now everyone wants one :) I’m a creative soul, I love new, I welcome changes!!

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  • Katie_willson

    Facebook is certainly a great oppurtunity for marketing. It is important to know how to maintain the timeline and use the page correctly. It is something that needs to be constantly reviewed and updated, especially when the page experiences updates. I have to agree with Gigi that Facebook can really open up a canvas for marketers. 

  • http://www.indigoinboundmarketing.com/ Nichole

    This is such an exciting change!  I changed my profile over last week and got to play with some of the new features.  The changes via the new timeline format are really interesting with the cover obviously being one of the coolest new features and really the visibility of the entire profile.  I’ve heard rumors of business page updates being announced Feb 29th.  Has anyone else heard about them?  If so, I can’t wait to get started!  I think it will be huge for engagement.  

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  • Donna Maurillo

     I’m not a complainer, and I’ve always gone along with the changes. But I find that it’s more difficult to read the new pages. The natural order is to read left to right (for most of the world…) and to read columns from top to bottom. When I see two columns on the page, I want to read down the first column and then down the second. It just is not intuitive to have it another way. I also don’t like having to check for the little arrow to find which item should be read first. And what does it mean when one item is spread entirely across the page? Plus, I like to get right into someone’s news posts, not wade through the big photo (which doesn’t change often enough to be new information) and the friends list, etc before I can get to the posts. I’ll change when I’m forced to. This is one time I’m not an early adopter.

  • http://twitter.com/SocialEdison Social Edison

    This is a great “Timeline 101″ post.  It’s surprising that more social media blogs aren’t talking about Timeline, as it has the potential to totally transform Facebook marketing — especially if/when brand pages become timelines.

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  • http://www.maiwifi.co.nz/ TechnoKiwi

    Very interesting reading.
    I am the director of a  Wi-Fi Hotspot Company in New Zealand currently introducing a new concept in hotspots. Wi-Fi Social Hotspots, Users have to ‘Like’ the venues Facebook page to get Free Internet. We believe businesses can only benefit by this, time will tell?  

  • http://twitter.com/WorldWineSafari World Wine Safaris

    Can anyone help me?  I haven’t changed to Timeline, but all of a sudden, FB has taken away my profile, info, etc.  The page is still there, but it looks like I’m brand new and won’t even show the biz page (the one I’m writing from?).  How do I fix this?  All my lists, and groups, and info is gone!  Thanks for any help.  http://www.facebook.com/DeeBusch

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  • http://prodelica.org/ julius

    Very nice article maya, thank you for this

  • http://www.vectorash.ro/ Victor Stanescu

    Actually Facebook already started a new update, Timeline for Brand Pages!  
    Page owners have only until  March 30, 2012 to edit their page until it will go live with the new Timeline: 
    http://www.vectorash.ro/facebook-timeline-brand-pages/

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  • http://www.facebook.com/nishu.jambudi Nishu Jambudi

    Facebook Timeline is best for Webinar marketing too.

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