Ever since Facebook announced the new timeline profile at f8, people have been asking when business pages will get the same treatment. Should they? What will it look like? And when is it coming?
Does Timeline Fit Companies and Brands?
The question shocked me at first, because I didn’t think it made sense for businesses to have a timeline. The essence of a timeline is to show the history of something. Do businesses want to show their history graphically, and more important, do their customers care? And what if that company has some negative publicity in its history: Would it want to hide that? What if it has rebranded and doesn’t want customers to think about the old perception of the company? In short, timeline for companies or brands could be boring or problematic.
On the other hand, says Mark Williams, director of community programming for LiveWorld:
With the timeline, I think brands will need to rethink how they message and move toward long-form storytelling. That PR flap becomes part of the relationship with its customers and drives the company to show, “This is how we have grown. Like you, our customers, we evolve, we change, and we share the happy and difficult moments in our lives, just as you do yours.” Product information will get placed into a better context — it’s not that “Nike shoes are on sale” that’s important in this evolutionary future, but rather, “Mark ran a personal best 10K in these Nike shoes on this date.” I have a connection to those shoes based on a memory. Other people can share in my experience, and the brand demonstrates how their product is used by its customers.
Many Facebook users and companies have avoided, and will continue to avoid, showing off their more difficult moments. But the stories about emotional/historical relationships to services or products could be amazing. It would also require more setup by page admins. For example, Nike would have to be able to enter into its page a database of shoes that people could create relationships with. This fits where Facebook is headed with using verbs (like “read” a book) to add more objects to the social graph. But so far, Facebook has only set this up for programmers to customize via apps. It’s not built into brand pages…yet.
The Timeline Is Visually Striking
One of the most visually striking aspects of timeline is the huge cover photo at the top of the profile. This could be what people are hoping for from a timeline for brands. The initial reaction of many companies to Facebook business pages is that you don’t get many graphic design options.
Facebook’s approach keeps the design consistent (which Myspace never did), but it limits designers and forces them into creative solutions to preserving their brand’s look. Perhaps brands are envying the large cover photo space Facebook now gives users. And given the newish subscribe option, some personality-based businesses (like solo entrepreneurs) may be able to operate more effectively as a profile than as a page.
Would Timeline for Brands Really Impact Facebook Marketing?
Let’s not forget a key lesson from Facebook marketing in 2011: very few people ever return to a Facebook brand’s page after liking it. People are 40-120x more likely to see your posts in their news feed.
If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, will it get any likes? Certainly not!
Also lost in this discussion has been the fact that most people experience Facebook through their news feed. Timeline doesn’t make the news feed look different. Certainly, we’ve started to see things like The Washington Post and Yahoo! News, as well as the ticker, which disappeared for many in mid-December due to inactivity and bugs. But this new noise is unrelated and not caused by timeline. In other words, timeline cannot majorly impact how people experience Facebook, and a timeline for brand pages would not make much impact, either. For something to impact your customers, it has to affect the news feed.
What Is Facebook Planning?
A few recent quotes tell us that Facebook is still in the early stages of thinking about the next evolution of brand pages. The social network has indicated that it likes internal consistency, so it probably wants them to be as visually impressive as timeline profiles. But I’m not convinced that Facebook will add a timeline-like history to brand pages.
What do you think?
Brian Carter is author of the bestselling books The Like Economy: How Businesses Make Money with Facebook and Facebook Marketing: Leveraging Facebook’s Features For Your Marketing Campaigns.