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Understanding Facebook Timeline for Political Campaigns

By Kari Chisholm:

In less than 48 hours, Facebook will once again make a major change to how Pages are displayed. Here's a brief outline of the changes, along with specific recommendations about campaigns can best take advantage of the new features.

What's happening and when?

On March 30, your Facebook page will change to the new “Timeline” model. Timeline has been optionally available for personal Profiles for several months. For Pages, however, the change will be automatic and mandatory on March 30.

What is Timeline?

Timeline is a new way of presenting the content on your Page. Since most of your audience will continue to interact with you primarily through their news feed, rather than on your Page, Timeline is really about changing the way that first-time visitors experience your page.

Previously, first-time visitors would see the most recent post on your Page – which may or may not have been the most compelling item to encourage new fans. Now, Timeline will make it more personally relevant to the visitor – and allow you to present the most important information and news at the top and throughout the Page. It also allows you to more expansively communicate your history and branding.

What if I do nothing?

If you do nothing, your Page will still be attractive and functional. With one partial exception (related to landing pages), all the functionality that existed before will still exist. Timeline simply opens up new opportunities.

Again, remember that the primary way that your audience of fans will interact with your Page will remain unchanged. You will post updates, and those updates will appear in their Facebook news feed. Timeline doesn’t change that in any way.

What’s changing?

Cover Photo: Your Page will now have a very large “cover“ photo at the top of your Page. Facebook hopes you'll use it to set the tone for your brand's presence.

Square Portrait: Previously, your Page profile photo could be any height – and many folks used the space to combine photos and logos in a horizontal arrangement. Now, every view of your portrait is square, on your timeline and in others’ newsfeeds.

Personalization: At the top of your Page, visitors will see a box that includes photos of their friends that are already your fans. These personal endorsements will encourage people to join their friends in the community growing around your Page.

In addition, visitors will see a box that includes a post about your Page written by one of their friends that is a fan, as well as recent comments by your friends that are fans. These are likely to be the most recent (or most recently popular) post, but may not necessarily be positive. (You may, for example, have a fan that’s actually a critic – that person’s friends may see a critical post in this space. These personal posts can be turned off entirely, but we don’t recommend that.)

Historical view: Timeline makes it easier for visitors to surf backwards through time to look at posts from your Page that were days, weeks, months, and even years ago. In order to facilitate that, Facebook now makes it possible to produce back-dated posts – as well as a new type of content, “Milestones”, that are major events in the history of your candidate or organization. Milestones and other important posts can be highlighted with extra visual weight – breaking them out of the two-column layout and extending them across the Page. (You can also choose to hide old posts.)

Pin a post: In order to ensure that the most important content is shown first, you may now choose to “pin” a post to the top of your Timeline. Click on the pencil at the top-right corner of your post and choose “Pin to Top.” Once pinned, an orange flag will appear on the post in the top-right corner. Your Page will display the most recent pinned post at the top of your Timeline, even if you post lots of new stuff below. Once the pinned post is seven days old, however, it will stop being pinned – and will drop down to its spot in the Timeline. (If nothing has been pinned within the last seven days, the most recent post will be displayed at the top.)

No default landing pages: Previously, it was possible to create a custom landing page or welcome tab for first-time visitors. Now, all first-time visitors will be delivered to the Timeline view of your Page. (An exception: landing pages can still be used when advertising on Facebook.)

More visible “tab” navigation: Previously, custom tab pages were linked in the lower right sidebar of your Page with small icons and text labels. Now, the icons are large graphical buttons. Up to four will be immediately visible under your cover photo – and up to eight can be made visible when an arrow beside the tabs is clicked. The order of the tabs can be changed by moving the cursor to the top-right of the tab, click on the pencil icon and choose “Swap position with…” Here you can access all your tab options, such as choosing a photo to replace the default tab image icon. Note that your photos tab is required to be among the top four.

Messages: Previously, fans had no way of contacting the owners of a Page. Now, if you turn on “Messages”, your fans will be able to send you notes – and you’ll be able to respond to them. You still won’t, however, be able to initiate messages to your fans as your Page. (You can, of course, always communicate with someone personally, using your personal profile – unless they have messages from non-friends blocked.)

Admin section: As an administrator, you’ll see an admin panel of helpful stuff – including notifications, new likes, messages, settings, Facebook Insights and tips for your Page – right at the top of your Page.

Recommendations

Backfill important dates: Think of Timeline as a way to tell your story via your Facebook Page. So consider filling in important dates for your candidate or organization. Consider personal milestones (education, family, etc.) as well as political ones (first campaign, important positions or jobs held, legislative accomplishments, etc.)

Showcase important posts: You can also choose to highlight posts on your Timeline. To showcase a specific post, just click on the star icon in the top right hand corner -- this will make your post take up the full width of your timeline, calling more attention to it.

Hide other posts: We don't recommend deleting posts or trying to hide what's been posted, but in rare cases, you may want to hide posts from your Timeline by clicking on the pencil icon in the upper right, then selecting "Hide from Page."

Messaging: Viewers can now send messages directly to your Page. If your Page receives a message, you can view it in the admin section and you will be allowed to send up to two reply messages back. Consider carefully whether you want to open up this communications channel – since it’s another inbox to check. We recommend strong consideration for turning this functionality off entirely and relying instead on email.

Cover photo: Selecting a new cover photo may be challenging. The space is extremely wide and short, and has specific size and resolution requirements. You may want to select a single photo, or combine a photo with your logo, tagline, or even assemble a montage of photos. (Note: Facebook does not allow this space to be used for promotions or to display URLs.)

Profile photo: With the addition of the cover photo, the dimensions of the profile photo have changed to a 125-pixel square. We recommend using a large square photo (we recommend at least 200 pixels square; Facebook will resize it automatically) so that fans can click on the image and see a larger version.

Check your Timeline and update it daily: Since your Timeline will be the first thing your Page visitors see, continue to post updates daily and make sure the best stuff is pinned to the top. (Pro tip: Don’t post more often than every three hours, since each post tends to have a lifespan of about three hours. Also, remember to post in the evenings and weekends – when most Facebook users are hanging out.)

Tabs: In general, we don’t recommend producing lots of custom “tabs” for your page. Most interaction will still happen through your posts. However, if you want to add a page or two of content (or a donate form), that’s certainly reasonable.

Advertising: Facebook advertising remains a cost-effective way to generate new “likes” for your Page. We do a lot of this for our clients.

If you have questions about Timeline or need help around social media strategy, just get in touch.

Posted by Kari Chisholm
on March 29, 2012 in
facebook.