eric whelan

Facebook Timeline for Brands

A few weeks back, I tweeted about Timeline coming to brand pages on Facebook. A friend who works for a digital agency had just come from a meeting at Facebook during which they were told that Timeline would roll out to brand pages in late February or early March.

Mashable are now reporting the same story so with the roll out looking more likely, I wanted to point out why Timeline will make such a big difference to marketers.

The most obvious addition to Timeline is the large cover photo which can be added to the top of the profile. This is one of the features that has been heavily reported since Timeline was originally unveiled in September and its merits are fairly obvious; Heavy branding and a more personalised feel to the page.

But there are two other additions to the Timeline that have generally been overlooked. It’s these tools that got me interested in what was displayed on my Facebook page again as I was finally able to paint a proper picture of myself on the social network. For brands, they offer a way to highlight important stories and events in addition to their day-to-day updates. The first one of these additions is the event adder.

This option allows you to add significant events or dates to your Timeline. It’s a way of displaying important stories that otherwise may not make their way onto Facebook - for brands, this can be awards, major product launches etc. One brand that I work with was recently awarded a Blue Plaque, and an award like this is a perfect example of one that could be highlighted using the event adder. These events are highlighted differently than standard updates or statuses, with their own icon depending on what kind of event it is (the above event was sports-related, hence the trophy) and are mentioned in your followers’ news feed. They are also highlighted when visitors scroll backwards through your timeline, grabbing much more attention than, say, a status update.

Secondly, there is the Feature function. Whereas before on Facebook, stories were all given the same priority regardless of their importance and there has been no way of curating what stories are highlighted on your page, this new function allows you to pick and choose which stories get the most screen real estate.

Using this feature allows you to create a hierarchy of stories and ensures that your followers will find the stories you want them to. When used, the story you have chosen to highlight spreads across the page. In the case of an image or video, this is displayed in full size which not only breaks up the page well but gives the Timeline a much more interactive, media-rich feel.

For marketers, these tools are going to be invaluable. Up until now, we have been forced to adopt the reverse chronological display that Facebook has given us. But now, for the first time in Facebook’s 8 year history, we are being given the opportunity to curate how our content is displayed. They’re such simple tools that it’s surprising that they’re only being integrated now. But I guarantee that anyone who uses Facebook professionally will start to rethink what content they’re putting out based on these new tools.

In January, an Israeli anti drug group used the Timeline to brilliantly highlight the difference a year on or off drugs can make. This page may have since disappeared (deleted for breaking Facebook’s ToS, most likely) but it’s a perfect example of what’s possible using the Timeline and I believe that this is just the beginning of a fantastically creative time for brands on Facebook. 

*I’ve used images from my personal Facebook to illustrate this story since there are obviously no brand pages to screengrab just yet.

Gladwell and Social Media

As a Malcolm Gladwell fan, I find it difficult to read his recent comments on how he thinks social media creates “weak links” that are not in any way helpful for campaigning or creating a group of people that are willing to demonstrate in any way other than with the click of a mouse. His statements came as much of a shock to me as they seem to have to the blogosphere, especially since Gladwell’s most famous book, The Tipping Point, is about “how little things can make a big difference” - the tagline of the book.

Gladwell points out that Martin Luther King didn’t need Facebook or Twitter to grow a following for the Civil Rights movement of the early 1960s. However, Gladwell seems to forget that communities have moved on since then.

What we have now is groups of people living right next to each other, not even knowing each other’s name. But in the 60s, communities were smaller, more close knit, and so information spread much quicker through word-of-mouth than it would now. Surely spreading information through social media is simply the modern form of speaking over the garden fence? As the Guardian’s Leo Mirani puts it, campaigning with social media is “an updated version of nailing your thesis to the church door”.

Gladwell also overlooks many recent campaigns that have spread through the use of social media and have seen physical demonstrations and real results - by thousands of people, not just those that have caught the social media “fever” as he put it. Take Back Parliament and Protest the Pope are two perfect examples - both are recent campaigns that were entirely social media-based and saw thousands of people physically march on the streets of London. Protest the Pope brought 10,000 people out, so clearly Gladwell’s claims that social media is encouraging “lazy activism” is entirely unfounded. Indeed, the public are clearly not simply going to click “Like” and leave it at that, as he suggests.

Gladwell is one of the great minds of recent years, but stating that social media is “only good for helping Wall Streeters get mobile phones back from teenage girls” is a sweeping statement that shows a complete lack of understanding of the future of media and campaigning.