Ready or not! Here Timeline comes!

Like the familiar children’s game, Facebook’s Timeline layout seeks you out and arrives on your fan page March 30th – whether you’re ready of not!

Like all great software out there, just as soon as you’ve gotten really comfortable using the features as they are now, they change them all.

Many businesses have already made the transition to the layout. (It’s optional until March 30th.) Curious how your page will look in April?

Conveniently Facebook has provided a sneak peek for you. Simply click on the Preview button that’s been hanging out in the extra top header banner on your page the last few weeks. You can see the Preview, but until you Publish the new page (before the 30th), your fans and visitors will only see the old, Wall-style business page.

What is Timeline?

So what is Timeline? Simply put, it’s a two-column display format that replaces your Wall (single-column). Timeline for personal pages has already been running for a couple of months, but now it’s coming to your business page.

Let’s start with the biggest change. Here’s how my business fan page looks now in Timeline layout:
Cornucopia Creations Facebook Timeline Cover Photo

  • Large cover/header photo (851 x 315 pixels) – Restrictions: No dollar amounts, calls-to-action to Like the page or Share and no contact information
  • Larger Profile Picture (180 x 180 pixels)
  • Custom tabs moved from left column to horizontal menu style with large (111 x 74 pixels) tab icons. (NOTE: Facebook has some known bugs with displaying these properly.)

Timeline is like a mini-website: The Timeline page is the equivalent to a home page. The custom tabs are similar to a website’s About, Services, and Products pages.

Why is it better?

For your fans, Timeline is a better format for understanding your brand. The large cover photo provides an immediate impression of what you’re all about. So choose your photo, or create a collage, that succinctly conveys your brand’s message.

For you, Timeline is a better format because it provides far greater control over how your brand is presented to the public as well as providing ease of use of your administrative tools. Choose which tabs are displayed most prominently.

While fan-gate pages are no longer permitted in the Timeline layout, you can still offer a Welcome page for visitors. Here’s what I have on mine:
Cornoucopia Creations' Facebook Timeline Welcome Pg
My welcome page is designed to let visitors know what they can expect in the types of Facebook status updates I post and how to find out more about Cornucopia on my website.

Your tabs could be customized to sell products on Facebook, offer promotional deals, coupons and sales. You may also consider a custom tab of customer testimonials and reviews. If you have a lot of videos or events, these may also be promoted through custom tabs (up to 12).

If you don’t customize the custom tabs, this is (most of) the default layout:
Facebook Timeline Custom Tabs - Default

  • Photos ~ Always first in the list
  • Likes ~ defaults to second position (not particularly pretty, eh?)
  • Map ~ defaults if your page is categorized as a Local Business, based upon your address
  • Events ~ (I know the sample shows Wines – that part is customized by the page owner) Usually defaults to your Events tab

You can have up to 8 more custom tabs (which are not visible unless you click on the tiny down arrow that shows here directly to the right of Wines). And, except for the Photos tab, the order of the remaining 11 tabs can be switched around to the order you prefer.

What’s different than before?

There are two major changes to your fan page (besides just what you see) that you should consider how to integrate into your Facebook strategy and day–to-day use.

Admin Panel ButtonFirst, this new format offers dramatically enhanced control of what happens on your page. It begins at the top with an Admin Panel that allows you to review Insights, Notifications, Recent Likes and more without having to leave your page to view them.

Just click on the Admin Panel button in the upper right of your page (below the Home button) to get a dashboard glance at your page activity as the panel slides open.

Facebook Admin Panel
You’ll note a couple of nifty new features in the above shot in the upper right. TIP: You can use the Build Audience tool not only to find friends and fans, but also click on the Share Page command AFTER you publish your new Timeline to announce your major page conversion to your audience. It’s a way of saying “Grand Reopening.”

Another feature of the Admin Panel slightly obscured in this screen capture is the Direct Message notification (hidden behind the drop down list of commands). Individuals may now send a private message to your page instead of posting directly to your public Timeline. This is highly attractive to page owners for controlling negative comments or customer service issues out of the spotlight.

The Brand Timeline

The second major change brought about through this new format is your ability to be a much better storyteller to your audience. Not only does Timeline now go back to 1800, but you can back date your posts (starting with your founding date, and then work forward chronologically). For a glimpse at some very cool, long timelines, check out GE’s Timeline page and Ford Motor Co. (with Timeline Highlights back to 1903).

Even if your company doesn’t have the historical legs of these large institutions, you can post materials to your page from pre-Facebook existence to provide fans with a more complete story of your brand.

Clicking on the new Milestone status update button allows you to tell a detailed story in your company’s history.
Facebook Status Update Dialog
For making history day-to-day, use the new Pin to Top or Highlight feature on a post. Once you’ve posted a current update, roll your mouse over the upper right corner of your post to see either the Highlight button (a star) or Edit button (a pencil). Click on the star to convert your regular post to a highlight, which will spread across both columns in the Timeline. Alternatively, clicking on the pencil and choosing “Pin to top” will move your post to the top of the Timeline and anchor it there for the next 7 days (after which it reverts back to its chronological position in your feed).

This tool is perfect for ensuring page visitors see special offers or announcements for up to a week in this prominent location.

So there you have it: Timeline in a nutshell. Are you ready to seek out your new face on Facebook? Or would you prefer to go hide instead? LOL

By the way, if you haven’t already visited my Facebook page, please stop by and give it a Like! And if you’ve got a comment or question about these myriad changes in Facebook, please comment on my Facebook page or send back a question.

R Cornucopia Image

Good Reads

For inspiration, check out these 10 Facebook Timeline Business Pages That Rock. These may give you lots of ideas for your Timeline Cover Photo.
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If you never made a new Timeline Cover Photo for your personal page (let alone your Business Page), this how-to slide show is a great primer for ways to use your own photos in Facebook to create your Timeline Cover Photo. (Although Mashable’s tutorial dates back several months when personal pages were being transitioned to Timeline, the methodology can be used for your Business Page Cover Photo.)
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Mashable has found several examples of Facebook Timeline Brands that use innovative approaches to the new layout and capabilities.
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Fretting over the darn cover photo? OK, I haven’t checked out all of these plugins in several months to see if they work with Business Page covers, but Mashable put together a sampling of a half dozen free cover photo producers. Another one I tried that’s not listed in their group was
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Moving along into the broader picture of Facebook Timeline changes, for a truly excellent overview of the page’s many new features, I cannot recommend the PowerPoint presentation and recorded webinar (approx. 1 hour) produced by Social Candy more highly. This is a great resource and wonderful training system.
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On the heels of Social Candy’s presentation, Shana Ray (who assembled the presentation) posted an easy-to-digest infographic explaining simply 10 Things About Facebook Timeline for Brands.
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If you learn well from visual examples, Social Media Examiner compiled a terrific new tutorial: 7 New Facebook Changes Impacting Business.