Friday, March 30, 2012

Complete Guide to Facebook Timeline for Pages

If you own or administer a Facebook Page for a business, organization, or other entity (not to be confused with your personal Facebook profile), you might have seen a strange notice at the top of your page this month. Unlike many of the notices and notifications Facebook tends to put in that area, however, this one is important. Over the past few months, you might have noticed that some of your friends' profile pages have been changed to a new layout, called "Timeline". Facebook is now giving Facebook Pages the ability to use the Timeline layout as well.

However, for Pages, switching to Timeline is mandatory - all Pages will be automatically moved over to the Timeline layout today, whether they're ready or not. There's no way to opt out or to delay it; Facebook wants you to use the new layout and they won't take "no" for an answer.

Moreover, time is running out - Facebook will begin automatically moving pages to Timeline at 11am PST today! This is your last change to make sure the page is ready before the transition; however, even if you don't make the deadline, you still have to fix up your Facebook Page for Timeline as soon as possible. Now, what exactly does that mean for your page?

New Visual Design and Layout

First things first, you're going to have to change your images. One of the most noticeable changes in Timeline is that the tall, vertical profile image is no longer the main visual element of the page. Instead, the position of prominence is given to the all-new "cover photo", a wide banner image which will almost certainly be the first thing visitors see.

The profile image remains, but now becomes a square image which is also automatically resized by Facebook to act as the thumbnail for your page's posts, and plays a secondary role on the main Timeline page. If you don't take action, your page will have no cover photo when it automatically transitions to Timeline, and the profile photo will be poorly resized by Facebook in order to cram it into the new square shape; all-in-all, it looks pretty terrible, so coming up with new images is practically required.

Cover Photo

The proper size of the cover photo should be 851x315. This isn't a hard-and-fast rule; Facebook will automatically scale it up or down if it's too wide or not wide enough, and allows you to crop images vertically if they're too tall. However, Facebook's ability to resize the image is limited and it won't even accept images that are a lot smaller than the target size, so you should try to get your image size at least close to the Facebook Timeline standard.

What should your cover image be? Well, that's really up to you. If you'd like, you can go with a logo or some branding. However, the Timeline layout is really set up to encourage visual creativity, so I like to pursue something more representative of the actual work your company does, or perhaps something to foster an emotional connection. This will be the first thing visitors see, so make a good impression!

As a side note, it's best to put very little marketing text on the image; Facebook prohibits putting things like price information or calls to action on the cover image, so careless advertising could get your page in big trouble! Be sure to familiarize yourself with the new Facebook Page rules and regulations if you plan on putting more than a few words of text on your cover image.

Profile Photo

Now that you've done that, your next step should be the profile image. Aside from appearing at the top of the page, this image will show up next to every post your page makes, so you should focus on emphasizing your brand. The target size is 128x128, but Facebook has a limited ability to resize images that don't quite fit that mold, so you don't have to be too exact about it. If your previous profile photo was square, you can simply reuse it. Non-square photos look absolutely terrible in the square frame, and should be avoided.

If your page had a Welcome tab, prepare to be disappointed: Facebook has removed the option to change the default landing page. New visitors to your Facebook page will always land on the main Timeline. In addition, all apps (including Facebook defaults like "Photos") no longer appear as tabs but instead as boxes under the cover photo.

While you can display up to 12 apps on the cover page, only 4 are visible at first, and the user must click a button to expand the view and see the remaining 8. This is, of course, a major blow to Facebook pages that relied a lot on page tabs and apps. You can rearrange the order of the apps (except for "Photos", which is always first), so make sure that the ones you most want visitors to see are in the top slots that will appear by default!

Posting from the Past

One of Timeline's chief innovations, and the one that it was probably named for, is the ability to add posts to dates in the past, as well as making it easy for viewers to navigate through the history of your organization. When you post a status update, picture, or video, you can change the date associated with it, and it will be added to the appropriate point in time. Facebook has also added a new update type called "Milestones", which appear as large status updates with optional pictures, designed to emphasize significant events in the history of your page and are easier to navigate to via the historical navigation on the right side.

Before you can use this date-changing feature, however, you must add a "beginning" date for the thing your page is about - for example, the founding date of an organization, the birthdate of a person, or the date production began on a movie. These kinds of things allow you to add flavor and history to your page, especially for older organizations which can now put their hundreds of years of history on a month-old Facebook Page.

New Posting Tricks and Tips

By now, you've done everything you need to do to make your page look acceptable for the Timeline transition, so you can go ahead and switch it over now or just wait for the automatic rollout later today. However, there are a few more features you should keep in mind as you begin to post to your Timeline page.

First of all, Timeline emphasizes media. Photos, photo albums, and videos are bigger and look much nicer in Timeline than they did on the previous Facebook layout, and enhancements have been made to make them easier to view and use as well. For example, videos can be played right in the Facebook window, and photo albums will show thumbnail previews of multiple pictures within the album, with the preview layout depending on post size and the number of photos.

Moreover, you now have options to emphasize specific posts. First of all, each post now has a button shaped like a yellow star. Clicking that button will "highlight" that post, which doubles its width and increases the size of both the text and any attached content. Photo album previews change their layout when this is done, and videos will expand to the normal Youtube size and made fully functional so that they can be played directly in that post. The surrounding posts will automatically shift to ensure that the layout continues to flow well, but these shifts can still sometimes result in big blank areas if you've got too many posts of differing sizes, so I'd advise you to keep an eye on the design as you highlight posts and make sure the results look good.

The other major option available to you is the ability to "pin" posts, which will sticky them to the top of your feed for one full week even if they're not the most recent post. A post can't be pinned and highlighted at the same time, and the limited duration of pinning is a problem, but it's still a much-requested feature that can be useful at times - for example, to keep an ongoing contest or upcoming event at the top of the feed. How you use this, or even whether you use it at all, is up to you.

Engagement in the Timeline Era

Recommendations, posts, and other activities involving your page are now shown right at the top of the feed, so driving engagement is more important than ever. If you're going to talk about a page that you've liked or a person that's liked your page, type an @ and then the first few letters of the name, and a menu will pop up displaying names/pages that fit those letters; choosing one will automatically insert a link to that profile or page as well as letting Facebook know that you are talking about that person/page (it's not smart enough to notice unless you do this). This widely-underused and mostly-unknown feature is one major tool for engagement, so don't neglect it - but don't abuse it, either.

Lastly, think outside the box, but don't forget your customers and your business. A creative page is always a big plus, and can help tremendously in attracting and keeping viewers and readers. However, in the end, you're mostly trying to engage with your customers and potential customers. Not all organizations should go overboard with Facebook Timeline; the nature of your group and the demographics of your subscribers will determine the kind of tone your Facebook Page needs to take. And always be ready to react quickly to Facebook changes, especially major ones like this!

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