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What does engaging content for Facebook Timelines mean in plain English?

March 14th, 2012 | by Klaus Holzapfel |

Timeline for Facebook Pages was introduced on February 29th. The new format becomes mandatory for all Pages on March 30st.

The topic has been widely discussed on the web already. Nearly every post you will read about Facebook Timeline will stress how important “engaging” content is with the new format. Of course, engaging content has always been important, but Timeline is ripe for new opportunities. Throughout this post, I’ll illustrate a few ways to spice it up. I’ll also explain the main changes of this makeover.

The focus of this post is to provide ideas and strategies to build and manage your Timeline, as well as the still existing remainder of your Facebook Page. Maybe it can also help with figuring out what engaging content really means for you. If you are already familiar with all the updates, you can skip a good portion of this post. Just look for the bold TIPS to find my suggestions .

If you look at any Page that has adopted the Timeline format, you’ll see a much stronger emphasis on visual elements. The first and most noticeable one is the Timeline “Cover Photo”.  Its size is 851px by 315px, much bigger than the (maximum) 180px by 540px picture in the left column of the old format.

The option to set up a default landing tab for first time visitors of your page is gone. So this image is the first visual impression visitors will get of your page. Do we still need to talk about the importance of a first impression?

Facebook’s Cover Photo Rules state some important limitations of what you can NOT include in your cover photo.

i. price or purchase information, such as “40% off” or “Download it on socialmusic.com”;

ii. contact information such as a website address, email, mailing address, or information that should go in your Page’s “About” section;

iii. references to Facebook features or actions, such as “Like” or “Share” or an arrow pointing from the cover photo to any of these features; or

iv. calls to action, such as “Get it now” or “Tell your friends.”

NOTE
You might see competitors ignoring these rules. Don’t let that inspire you to head into soft territory. Stick by the rules and don’t make yourself and your investment into your Page vulnerable.


So what does that leave you with?

In this crowded marketplace it’s a true challenge to create something that sticks out. Look for professional help if you are not savvy enough to come up with something compelling. Your Timeline page is much more about storytelling than the old format (more about that later) and it starts with your Cover Photo. Try to communicate what your page is all about. This can happen with one (or multiple) images to capture attention, with words, or a combination of both.

Think about switching this image out once in a while. Holidays or promotions are good occasions to provide something different. Don’t forget to keep Facebook’s guidelines in mind when you are making changes.

There are several other new key visual elements to your page:


Fixed-size profile picture

Your profile picture is now set to a size of 127px x 127px (you can upload a larger image of up to  180px x 180px). If designed right it can be embedded nicely into your cover photo. It will also appear next to your posts on the wall of your Likers.


Larger tab icons

In the old format, your tabs were accessible via the left column. The only visual element was a 16px by 16px icon. Now you have the option to promote your tabs with a 111px x 74px image. The first tab, Photo, is set by Facebook and can’t be moved or removed. With other tabs, you can be creative. Only 3 additional ones will be visible right away. Up to 8 more can be accessed when a visitor clicks the down arrow next to the 4 visible tabs.

If you are running a promotion, you definitely want to highlight it here. A “welcome” or “about us” tab is also a good idea. This tab could serve as a navigation throughout your entire Page and guide your visitors to your other areas. Of course, you can still use a navigation within your tabs to let users jump from one section to another. You can take a look at our About Us tab to see how that can look like.

If you have videos or particular product information that are relevant, you might want to put them into the visible portion of your tabs as well.

These tab icons are very important! Users are trained to look for them. This is where you can include calls to action. Ideally, they’ll also play well with your cover photo and your profile picture.

TIP
Don’t forget to be creative with the text underneath the icons as well. If you have a tab that says “Welcome” you might say “Start Here” underneath rather than just repeating what’s in the image already.

NOTE
Facebook has also widened the actual tabs from 520px to 810px. If you don’t change your tabs, they will stay 520px wide and be centered in the middle of the wider space. In most cases, you might want to give your tabs a good makeover. 810 pixels is much closer to the width of most websites, and you can work more with columns and larger visual elements.

TIP
More space doesn’t mean that you want to overload your page. The clear trend in the design community is “less is more”. Leave some room for the single elements on your tabs to breathe. Think of it like moving into a bigger house. Enjoy the space and the fact you get to see the floor and the corners of your rooms.

Image sizes for new Facebook Pages layout

New Facebook Pages tab width



Pinned Posts

You now have the option to pin a post. It will stay on top of your Timeline (underneath your profile picture and the tab icons) for up to seven days. Of course, you can include a picture here as well. Keep in mind that it will appear in a much larger size than in the old format. This is another way to make a very bold statement. You can use it for promotions or other calls to action. This is where your best content should go.

TIP
You might think about a posting schedule and planning these pinned posts in advance. Don’t waste that prime real estate with low priority messages.

 

Milestones

The next key visual element are milestones. A milestone is an historic event on your Timeline that you want to highlight. You’ll enter an event name, a date and, optionally, a location, description and an image. You should definitely add an image to each milestone, since it makes them stick out so much more.

You can turn existing posts on your Timeline into Milestones as well.

I’d recommend mapping out the history of your business (or whatever else your page is about) before springing into action. What events in your history are worth mentioning? For example: Incorporation, product launches, additions or changes to the team, awards, success or failures.

This is also where you become storytellers. But this is not an SEC filing. Unless you can tell your story in a compelling way, you might want to brainstorm with someone else or find yourself some professional help. Think of using a compelling writing style called LOTS (Language Of The Senses). You can learn more about it in this Fast Company story.

Perhaps you have some old pictures or documents you can scan and add to your page? It’s time to go through your archives. Maybe you even have screenshots of older versions of your websites. It might require some self-humor to share those, but it’s worth it if it makes your visitors smile.

The new Facebook Page has infinite scrolling enabled. Users will have an easier time to explore your page since they don’t have to click on “older posts” any longer. If your content is compelling, it can keep users navigating your Page for much longer. Ideally, your content would then be so good, your visitors would want to share it with their friends.

Sample Facebook Timeline Milestone

TIP(s)
Think about hiding some of your older, less relevant posts to make the quality ones stick out more.

Give visitors an incentive to go back in time. You might ask people to tell you what their favorite post in a specified timeframe of your timeline is.

Think of a Facebook Page as a physical storefront. What makes people come and visit your store? What makes them want to stay? What makes them come back?

Alternatively, you can also look at your page as a gateway to your storefront. Can you get your patrons to share in advance when they will be swinging by? Can you get them to share their experience at your Timeline? Any before, during and after the event action will show the rest of the audience what to look forward to or what they have been missing. That’s often relevant information. Of course this strategy mostly applies to local crowds.

Don’t just replicate your website. In many cases, your website might be more about your business. Your Facebook page could be more personal or casual.

Maybe you have friends or long-term patrons that have some memories that they could share? They can post their favorite stories to your timeline as well.

I already mentioned that admins can no longer set a default landing tab. First-timers and repeat visitors will all land at your Timeline. The only way around that is to provide a designated link to one of your tabs. You can still use Like gates and hide certain content from visitors that haven’t liked your page yet, but the emphasis has long shifted from gaining Likes to growing interaction. 200 active people on your Page are much more relevant than 20,000 people that clicked a button once. I won’t suggest it across the board, but you might think about giving people reasons why not to like your page. What are they good for if they don’t really engage with you? Will they tell their friends about you? Will they interact so you continue to stay on their radar? It makes sense to think as a physical storeowner again: what is more fun? Having your regulars coming in with a smile in their face or dealing with new faces every day that you will never see again? So tell your visitors: “We want you back. Don’t just click that button!”. Profile the ideal personas you want as your regulars. You could even create one or more wanted posters with their profiles.

Regulars are also much more likely to follow certain calls to action like an invitation to join your mailing list. If you don’t have a signup form on your Page, you should add this to your to-do list for the Page makeover. As a page admin, you can’t really message your audience: Your messages are buried on an area where no one will see them. (Unless they message you first.) A well-written good-old email will still get you a response rate which exceeds many other communication channels.


Receiving direct messages

Your audience can now send you direct messages not visible to the public. You will see them to the right in the top section of your Page. It’s another way for brands to solicit feedback and build personal relationships with your VIPs.  Unfortunately you can’t initiate a conversation yourself. It’s most probably not Facebook’s primary motive but this is in the good spirit of marketers being forced to hone their listening skills ;)

A few general guidelines worth mentioning when you are re-defining your strategy:

Don’t try to be everything to everyone. It never works anyway. Focus on something only you can provide. At the very least, that’s you and your personal style. But most likely. you have a number of other differentiatives as well. Give yourself a tough reality check. There is no point in living in the cloud and just thinking or feeling you’re super-special. Unless you have an audience also feeling that way, it’s not worth a whole lot.

A recent survey that showed 51% of page owners feel that their posts are the most effective tactic to reach their audience. Only 18% of visitors agreed. One the other hand, only 10% of page owners thought of special offers & discounts as the most engaging option. Wrong. That was the most popular item (37%) on the visitor’s list. Providing incentives really matters. It’s been stated countless times that this is what your visitors want. Of course, you have to be smart about it. Think flash sales with limited quantities or other promotions to create a sense of urgency. Do your math, be creative and don’t fall into the trap to offer promotions that rip holes into pockets.


Two new ways to Advertise on Facebook

Facebook wants you to use ads to promote your page. It is their bread and butter business. The tips I listed will help you to spice up your page, and you might get by without running ads if you have other means to reach your audience. But if you want to seriously boost your audience, ads are the way to go. With the launch of Timeline for Pages, Facebook also introduced two new advertising formats.

One new format is called Offers; promotions you can create for your products or services. Displaying an Offer on your own Page is free, it will simply appear in your Timeline. You can also promote Offers across Facebook as a Sponsored Story. Facebook doesn’t let you limit those Offers in quantity, so you should be sure you can fill those orders, or pull your ad at the right time.

The Reach Generator is the other new ad format. It works like a booster for your content and will display on your fans’ Walls or Timelines (either right in their feed on their Wall or in the ad space on the right).  Facebook guarantees you’ll reach 75% of your audience over the course of a month. That is much higher than 16%, the average reach of a post per month.

Of course you still have the option to run Premium Ads or other Sponsored Stories. Premium Ads are no longer charged on a click-through bases. Instead, the pricing is based on impressions and reach.

Your Premium Ads can also appear at the log out screen of Facebook. Keep in mind only 37 million users worldwide log out of Facebook once per day. And practice good Netiquette: If they just left the Page, it’s probably not a good idea to steer them back. I’d prefer using this option for ads leading to another URL.


Bottom line

Creativity is important for all aspects of your business. Timeline can reward your creativity in numerous ways. For example, giving your page a makeover provides you with a great chance to look at your past efforts on Facebook. Take this as a nudge to freshen your style and appeal. Most of us adults have neglected our inner child. We’ve begun to state (and actually believe) we’re not creative. It’s time to throw that myth overboard. Use your personal network to bounce ideas around! If you lack the time or knowledge to put something visually appealing together, go and find yourself an (affordable) designer.

LAST TIP
Don’t try to be perfect. Every heard of the word “flawsome”? Here is an awesome post full of failures turned success stories. If you can talk about your flaws and are getting positive or encouraging feedback, you’re doing it right.

Did this post inspire you? I absolutely want to see your work. Let me know about your page in your comments or reach me through the contact form.

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