By Jon Cogan
Yesterday, Facebook announced that the Timeline is coming to brand pages. March 30th! Whether you're ready or not. Better said, whether you "like it or not."
I say better said, because "like it or not" serves as a useful double entendre, as it also describes one of the most fundamental changes for Facebook marketing. The default landing tab is gone! This means marketers can no longer have an introductory page that invites visitors to like their page first and then show exclusive content just to the audience that Likes the page (also know as "like-gating"). So whether you "like it or not" the initial brand experience on Facebook is virtually the same either way.
Like-gating is still available and can be built the same way it is today. The exclusive content can be revealed upon liking the page, but the fact that this is only seen as a secondary page and not at the front door anymore presents some big challenges.
You see, there is not a lot marketers can do on the Timeline layout to promote their exlcusive content. Using the cover image to promote initiatives and promotions is striclty against the rules! Your message will have to appear as a pinned post, so creative writers, get your pens ready! There is not much you can do graphically in this space to promote the exclusive content, as the pinned post is very text based. I can also see the bigger application tabs being used to promote exclusive content. It's not a lot of space to promote your message, but a nice callout (eg. Win a ___") can invite clicks and navigate those clicks to your application tab that is integrated with Open Graph to force a Like in order to reveal the exclusive content.
It appears there are only two ways around this. The first way is through Facebook ads. Facebook ads are the only mechanism available for marketers to push traffic to a particular application tab on their Facebook page. Any other traffic will be directed to the Timeline.
The other way is to host your exclusive content off Facebook, to a microsite. Using the Open Graph API, the microsite would use a Like box and first check if the user Likes the Facebook page first, and if so, will display the exclusive content. But this takes the experience completely away from Facebook, and this can have an impact on its virality. Not to mention that the whole idea around placing the exclusive content on Facebook is prefaced by the fact that Facebook, and not your microsite, is where your customers are.
All in all however, Timeline is a great change in my opinion. Here are some of what intrigued me the most:
The Brand Story: The Timeline allows for customers to enter not just into a relationship with a brand, but also with the brand's "story." Marketers wil need to focus on using the Timeline wisely, to tell their story, and describe their evolution through the years.
Pinning: Facebook marketers will be able to pin specifc content at the top of their page. This is mentioned above as a way to possibly promote a like-gate application content, but it can also be used for important announcements such as promoting an event (such as a sale) or a call to action. This will appear at the top of the Timeline for a period of 7 days and was introduced to counter the problem of posts getting buried by other posts and streams of comments over time.
Offers: Facebook will be rolling out offers. It will be a content panel exclusively devoted to offer promotions. It is not known for sure yet if this area will only be viewble or can be made to only be viewable by those who Like the page, but the conventional wisdom says no, probably not. In which case Like and Gets will have to be done through Like-gating and will suffer from the same promotional challenges mentioned above.
The backend of the changes should be very intriguing to marketers. Being able to ascertain the most shared content is one thing. Showing the reach results has the potential to astound. Seeing real-time insights also will allow marketers to change on the fly instead of getting the insights later in the game and then analyzing and slowly adjusting.
New and Improved Facebook Insights: Because so much more emphasis is placed on the wall content now, especially with the afore mentioned removal of default landing tabs, Facebook marketers will be forced into a greater understanding of what content is most effective. They will need to be much more in tune with their analytics so that they know what content is the most engaging. Facebook understands this, so they have improved their insights to show how each content piece performs from a standpoint of impressions, reach, who's talking about it, expanded reach after sharing and so on.
Real-time Statistics: Insights will be able to be gathered as they happen. This can be extremely powerful for marketers as their adjustment time can now be narrowed, allowing brands to capitilize on findings earlier on in campaigns and therefore increase performance by adapting quicker.