Facebook’s Timeline: Meant for Brands All Along?
ADOTAS -Facebook launched Timeline at f8 last September. Like Keystone Kops on a chase, marketers instantly clamored to conjure up and share ideas on how they could take advantage of it. Then Facebook played the wily criminal foiling the chase. They made it clear that Timeline wasn’t for companies and their products. Rather, it was designed for those living individuals among their users. There would be no brand pages allowed, not for now anyway. A few weeks ago, they showed they were sticking to their guns by surprisingly going after a public service organization: Israel’s anti-drug authority had created a clever “split Timeline” to show how the same person could live quite disparate lives if he went down the path of drug abuse. Facebook labeled it a “fake profile” and asked that it be taken down.
Things have begun to get more interesting. Facebook recently announced and is now rolling out “Sponsored Story” ads, opening up one door into Timeline for branded content. On the heels of that came a fascinating blog post by business analyst Jeff DeChambeau arguing that Timeline is, in fact, explicitly designed for the benefit of advertisers. DeChambeau says that while its overlay is a calendar format, the content users populate within it is actually laid out much more sporadically than original Facebook pages. This affects deeper engagement when someone visits a Timeline page, forcing them to spend more time and energy to discern what they’re seeing. That engaged state of mind then makes them more receptive to new ideas. Cue the ads. (DeChambeau references Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, which breaks down human thinking into categories based on high and low cognitive effort.)
The idea that the Zuckerberg bunch is now deeply immersed in the field of behavior-based advertising is a theory backed by strong supporting actions. With Timeline, there is simply too much potential for what marketers can do with the format, starting with that big, beautiful banner at the top, to not eventually give them access to it or some variation of it. And as of this week, there have been reports that brand pages are on the way and may be launched on the last day of February, according to some rumors.
At our shop, we started tinkering with the beta after f8, first using it to curate an exhibit of our own work. From there, we moved on to creating real applications with an eye to what sort of programs might benefit the kind of companies we represent. Ultimately, we developed six key applications for how brands can leverage it.
1) Timeline is a wonderfully visual storytelling device that can help personalize brands. Its format enables communication from a personal, almost individual perspective. This enables marketers to develop compelling stories that can connect with consumers on an emotional level.
2) Its format is ideal for drawing people into story- and setting-based marketing for entertainment products. It’s now a common tactic to expand on a film or video game universe with prequels, side stories and other bonus content to generate interest prior to its premiere and to expand its audience after launch. Timeline represents one of the best marketing tools yet to develop and showcase this type of campaign.
3) It’s a great place to execute on buzz-building programs. An example would be a campaign building up to a big reveal or rollout that’s driven by consumers who participate and share. Traditionally, these campaigns use Facebook as a primary point of genesis, but then require the development of an open graph-connected microsite or Facebook canvas-based application. Now Timeline gives marketers a great tool for facilitating them right where the very off-limits “Wall” used to be.
4) It can be harnessed by long-standing brands and products. Brands with some level of built-in affinity or history can curate compelling exhibits showcasing their legacy, even their transformation through rebranding. The message that a brand has been around for a long time is powerful in adding legitimacy and relevance to it.
5) It’s a great tool to establish a pedigree for new products or startup enterprises. A new product can use it to feature its history, from concept to R&D to launch. For a startup company or new brand, it’s a great way present how it was founded or developed and the successful milestones it met along the way.
6) It gives marketers a place to curate exhibits and give consumers “behind-the-scenes” access to popular marketing campaigns. Highly creative campaigns have always managed to take on a life of their own, going viral or developing memes to become part of pop culture. Now there’s Timeline to exhibit work in a way that can be compelling to marketing savvy consumers. It could even be used to heighten buzz around a high profile campaign. With the Super Bowl around the corner, think of how a brand with some legacy there could showcase their old ads and build interest in their next one.
Let’s be clear. We’re not saying that brands should have access to a fan’s Timeline. We simply think its features and functions are a huge step in the right direction for brand pages. Rather than being suffocated behind a text well, its format helps integrate messaging into a single compelling story and lets fans interact with it. Facebook may feel there needs to be a “warming up” period before turning a new feature into another marketing channel for them. It has taken this approach before. But it’s just a matter of time. For brand stakeholders, it’s worth coming up with a general strategy, even drawing up a few rollout-ready ideas for when Timeline fully comes online.
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