Timeline for Facebook pages is coming

In the ever shifting sands of online marketing, only one thing is certain: no matter how hard you try, by the time you figure out how something works, it will have changed.

In fact, Douglas Adams could have been talking about Facebook when he wrote:

“There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened”

You guessed it; there are more changes on the way for Facebook Pages and they’re going to require a significant re-think on how you use your Facebook profile and what resources you dedicate to it.

On March 30, all Facebook Pages will be converted to the new Timeline format, whether you want it or not. Before that deadline you will be given some time to experiment with your page and see how it appears to the public and to your followers. You should use that time to make sure your page is ready and to familiarise yourself with some of the main changes:

  • Cover photo: This space gives you an opportunity to grab attention and make an impact with some great photography. The recommended image size is 851 X 315 pixels, and you will also get a smaller space for a profile photo, which should be 180 X 180 pixels. Unlike previous profile photos, these are not allowed to contain promotional text, company details or contact information, references to Liking your page or any other Facebook interactions, or any call to action such as “Get in touch” “Tell your friends” etc.
  • Default landing tabs: Whereas previously you were able to create custom tabs and set them as the default landing tab for your Facebook Page, or specify certain landing tabs for specific sources of traffic, this functionality will now be removed. All visitors will land on your main Timeline page. However, you will be able to create up to 12 custom tabs or apps for different groups, audiences, products or promotions, and place them at the top of your page, next to your Photos tab.
  • Star/Pin important content: Any important content can be “pinned” to the top of your timeline for a maximum of 7 days, which means it will remain conspicuous and will not be buried under subsequent posts by you or your fans. This is especially useful for promotions or other time-sensitive posts. You can also widen important posts to occupy both columns of the page, by clicking the star button in the top right corner.
  • Direct messages: This is a new feature to Facebook Pages and it allows your fans to contact your page admin in private. This presents a new customer service opportunity, but if you choose to enable the private message function, be sure that you have the time and resources to properly monitor and reply to your messages.
  • Friend activity: The new layout places additional emphasis on how a visitor’s own friends have interacted with your Page. If they have several other friends who have liked, commented or shared your Page’s content, that will appear prominently on their personalised view of your Page, and presumably will help drive their own interaction with you and your Page.

Facebook has provided an interactive guide to the changes, but your most effective learning curve will be to get stuck in and have a play around with the new format – and remember to give yourself plenty of time for the 30 March deadline.

Some ideas for how travel businesses can take advantage of the latest changes:

  • Be visual: Photos and video are both given extra emphasis and are known to be effective in driving user engagement. Aim to share extraordinary, inspiring and creative images and video of your destinations, activities or attractions. The better they are, the more likes and shares you will generate.
  • Make best use of custom tabs: Although a lot of functionality has been removed by removing custom landing pages/tabs, you should make full use of the new spaces for custom tabs at the top of the page. Use effective content and calls to action in these tabs and on the pages themselves to drive leads, newsletter signups and other engagement. Fill these spaces with messages that are likely to resonate with your target audience: featured tours, offers/promotions, travel guides, newsletter registration, you could even embed full itineraries complete with contact forms into the new pages.
  • Publish and “pin” weekly messages: Create a weekly message and pin it to the top of your Timeline. It doesn’t need to be a promotion or offer, it could be a giveaway, a contest, a poll, a great new blog post, or any other piece of content. Whatever it is, make sure it is compelling, inspiring and uses jaw-dropping imagery.

Given all the investment and fanfare that has gone into launching Timeline, the format will hopefully be around for the foreseeable future and there shouldn’t be any more major changes for a while. But don’t get too comfortable: at some point it will change again, and all those engineers at Silicon Valley are doubtless already plotting the next bizarre and inexplicable replacement.

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