Facebook’s Timeline: A 6-Month Status Update

Written on
Sep 6, 2012 
Roger Katz  |

Nearly a billion users on Facebook have, or soon will, transition to the Timeline profile format in the coming weeks. Given that brands were the first to take the plunge, this six month anniversary is a good opportunity to check in on how Timeline is performing for brands.

Engagement, Engagement, Engagement

Facebook’s Timeline profile layout created quite a stir initially, but the message was consistent: This change was all about increasing measurable engagement. Before Timeline, Fans typically visited brand pages once to “Like,” but stats showed that they didn’t return regularly or spend much time on brand pages. Changing this was, and remains, critical for Facebook’s success for brands, as marketers on Facebook started to appreciate that they needed to go beyond simply accruing “Likes” to focus engaging fans, and turning those fans into paying customers.

To engage fans, brands on Facebook must give their fans interesting things to say and do on the brand’s behalf. When fans participate with a brand in this way, and contribute to shared “brand stories,” the viral effect is profound.  Before Timelines, it used to be quite easy to guide a fan into a custom brand experience — using a default landing page. But Facebook removed this default landing page feature, and with this one profound change, changed Facebook brand marketing overnight.

Timeline has forced brands to be far more creative about fostering engagement, and the fan benefits as a result, because Timeline forces brands to pay attention to posting varied and comment-provoking content including photos and videos; to connecting with fans in conversations; and, best of all, to deploying interesting and engagement-savvy Apps that prompt fan participation and sharing.

Facebook Measurement Looks to PTAT and Beyond

Now that brand marketers have turned their attention to engagement on Timelines, they are required to understand the measurement of that engagement. The first place to go is the PTAT (pronounced “pee-tat”!), “People Talking About This” measurement — a measurement that Facebook has put front and center on every brand Timeline page, and one that provides the primary measure of engagement of that page. If a brand’s fan count is high, but the PTAT is low, it’s like the brand is on mute. It’s a brand’s first clue to move towards engagement.

From there, brands are obliged to measure an array of metrics including: Daily engaged users, Daily content liked, Daily content shares, Daily organic impressions, clicks from shared content, friend/fan reach, and Fan count change. As always, measurement is critical, and is frequently misunderstood on Facebook. Facebook’s community is designed for sharing, commenting and influencing like no other online community.  Yet, the breadth and depth of insights and metrics is just starting to be understood and optimized

Timeline ≠ a Web Site

Taking a Website approach to Timeline pages will not work.  Brands that try to simply repurpose Website content will not maximize their social impact. The best Timelines include producing regular, diverse and interesting posts that prompt comment, feedback and discussion on Facebook. Plus, they engage fans with Apps that further foster involvement. The worst Timelines repeatedly drive fans off Facebook to their Website, fearing that Facebook traffic is cannibalizing Website traffic.

Friend2Friend’s work with VisitNorway USA tapped into the social nature of Facebook by offering varied and integrated content that allowed fans to participate through easily sharable new quizzes and photos each day.  The App showed impressive engagement results — causing a 195-percent lift in new Facebook fans, 6,500-percent increase in daily “likes” of page content and a PTAT increase of 1,101 percent over the pre-campaign engagement.

The best engagement practices can be summarized in a few simple “do’s” and “don’ts”:

“Thumbs Up”: Timeline Best Practices

  • Commit to delivering fresh engaging content every day (questions, challenges, daily prizes, sweepstakes entries, comments) to entertain fans and keep them coming back;
  • Incorporate user submitted content. This not only gives the fan a personal feeling of participation, but also gives the brand interesting content that can be used in the future;
  • Don’t expect fans to “find” your engagement Apps through Timeline tiles under the cover photo. Drive traffic to that engagement App by posting about it in the Timeline every day, and drive through other media like sponsored stories, blog posts, tweets etc.;
  • Don’t assume your Apps are mobile-aware! In many cases, Apps don’t automatically work on mobile devices, which of course is a growing focus for Facebook. Technology is available to optimize your Apps on the Facebook desktop and Facebook mobile.

“Thumbs Down”: Timeline Worst Practices

  • Timelines and engagement Apps that pull (link) fans away from their Facebook page and funnel them onto a Website off Facebook causes fans to lose the social context and limits the potential of word of mouth sharing on Facebook;
  • Facebook is special, yet many brands don’t offer Facebook fans something unique they can’t get anywhere else. Leverage the highest share possible — one from a valued and trusted friend — and give Facebook fans something unique they can’t get anywhere else;
  • Brands tend to be averse to tapping advocates to learn and connect deeply. There’s a huge amount of insight to be gained from the fans that are willing to talk about what they’ve bought or experienced; leverage that opportunity;
  • Brands that don’t maximize the full complement of Facebook ad products (Like ads, sponsored stories) to drive more traffic, and maximize reach, miss out on engagement.

Timelines Compel Brands to Rise to the Challenge

Timelines, done right, are a marketing game changer for brands. Facebook hosts the largest branded online communities ever, and offers huge opportunities to brands to engage fans as advocates and amplifiers of their brand message. When brands use “social actions” (sharing, liking, commenting, participation) to facilitate engagement on Timelines, they will find their Timelines become a lively and interesting place for fans to gather. In the six months since Timelines launched, some brands have risen to the challenge, but many more are still climbing. Repurposing what’s been done for the past 10 years on branded Web sites is not the approach.  Before we call the success of Timelines, brands need to keep pushing the innovation envelope and embrace Timelines as a new branded social context that requires its own set of measurements, and its own consumer engagement system.

Roger Katz founded Friend2Friend in 2006, with a powerful conviction that the social graph of Facebook was an incredible opportunity for brands and products to ignite true “word of mouth” marketing online. Since then, he has led the company to increased profitability year over year while establishing the company in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles and Barcelona, Spain. He has focused his company’s efforts on finding solutions that meet the social media marketing challenges facing brands and agencies today — building scalable technology solutions that can still be customized — and has since built solutions that go beyond Facebook to include YouTube, Twitter and mobile platforms.

A tireless evangelist for social media, Roger brings 20 years of marketing, strategy and social media expertise to Friend2Friend. His career includes management and consulting roles at companies such as Photobucket, Agilent, Brocade, Quantum, Bell Labs and Pacific Community Ventures, as well as a number of startups. Behind his marketing mind lies deep engineering expertise. He has engineering degrees from Michigan State and UC Berkeley and an MBA from Wharton. He’s a cycling fanatic, aspiring guitarist and (slow) swimmer.

Reader Comments.

Nice piece Roger. Facebook timeline entered with the market 6 months ago with a lot of fan fare, controversy and buzz. Some brands are embracing engagement effectively including the example you shared which yielded some powerful results. There is a lot of opportunity for Brands to grow awareness and engagement with Facebook Timeline. Great list of Facebook timeline best and worst practices. Thanks for sharing.

Posted by Rick Noel | 2:02 pm on September 7, 2012.

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