Facebook Timeline – How the Revolution is Going to Affect You

 April 2, 2012

Facebook couldn’t have picked a worse weekend to launch their new Timeline, fundamentally reorganizing and altering their sites appearance and functionality than April fool’s Day weekend.

As well as some other top tech jokes doing the rounds including Gmail announcing that they were going to incorporate Morse code in their options, it sounds so silly as to be plausible yet it is all to true.

The changes do give PR professionals and Press Release writers a great opportunity to get ahead of the curve with their work and learn the disciplines and tactics that will be the bedrock of your social media foundations in placing your stories for months and years to come.

The first thing you will notice about the new Facebook layout is that the top of the page has an Admin panel. This is an all encompassing toolbox for you to manage the interactions on your page, see what interactions have been taking place, see what messages you have received and at a glance, see how your page is performing with Facebook insights. None of this is new but the presentation is, making it easier to adjust and look after any outstanding issues or tasks you may have to deal with.

The next big change is the addition of the ‘Cover’ picture. This is the large picture which slots nicely behind your profile picture; which remains the little icon on the left and will appear next to your name every time you post on Facebook. The Cover is a great opportunity for you to showcase images or designs and will be the first thing that gets the visitors attention.  There are several rules around the Cover which can be found on Facebook’s own site. They are very strict and are there to stop abuse and misuse of the cover, mainly by marketers! No text, calls to action, ‘click here’s or arrows pointing to apps are allowed – just pure images.

You also have a fixed taskbar that stays at the top of your Facebook screen now no matter where you are on the page. The first tab is called an App tab. It begins with Timeline but click on it and you can navigate to about, photos, like, any other apps you have installed on your page such as Twitter or YouTube for example. Next to this is a Timeline app. By clicking on this you can zoom to a certain time period on your timeline for instance earlier in the week, month, year or any point previously. The next tab is view tab which lets you sort the posts on your page by highlights – the most important, viewed and shared posts; posts by page, a chronological listing of posts by the person/page who posted them, and posts by others which is a list of posts discounting ones that you have made on your page.  Underneath the cover is a summary section of the page which lists the About section, likes, photos, a location and any apps you have added to the page such as Twitter or a Welcome Page.  Please note that you are unable to force viewers to see a Welcome Page now if they visit your page. They will see the main page and any Welcome tabs will be available to be viewed at the visitors’ discretion. Facebook has taken a strong line on ‘Fangating’ as they called it and now want people to be attracted and ‘like’ a page of their own free will.

The layout of the page is different. It is divided into three main columns. Posts will appear in the left hand side, the most recent ones first however you will have the chance to ‘pin’ on post to the top left indefinitely which will be the first post seen. This can highlight the most important post or release from the week or just keep a message in the public eye longer. The middle hand column is taken up with the most recent posts by other people on your page, recommendations of your page by others, your most recent ‘likes’, and your most recent Facebook activity.  The right hand column hosts the infamous Timeline. This allows a visitor to scroll down to any point in time from the date the page was published (or earlier if appropriate) to today.  This means that from now on, continuity must be first and foremost in your thoughts when it comes to posting on Facebook. If you are posting yearly, monthly or weekly updates, you must now realize that viewers can find the previous ones more easily than ever before, but this can work to your advantage if you are trying to create a positive narrative about the company or yourself.

Individual posts can be ‘highlighted’ in the new Facebook which means they will stretch across all three columns – particularly useful if they include an image. They can also be marked as ‘milestones’. This is another important tactic in the new Facebook as it incorporates directly with the timeline. You can now set a time, date and location for each and every post so for example – if your company was founded in 1800; you can now post the first picture of the store taken on that date, set the date as January 1 1800 and this will be the first item on the timeline for your page (even though Facebook wasn’t invented until 1823!*)

For the press release writer, the new Facebook provides several tools to improve visibility of releases, increasing their shelf-life and chances of being seen but they also mean that they are going to be around pretty much forever. The practical upshot of this is that you should now remember that you are in the storytelling business – each press release is going to be a ‘chapter’ in your organization’s narrative and as well as the message and crafting of each release, you need to give some thought to storytelling and where this release is going to take your company’s story.

It is a big gamble for Facebook to take to offer such a fundamental overhaul to its visual system and day to day functionality but they are betting that followers will adapt to the new system very quickly. There are great gains and rewards to be made now for press release writers who are also willing to adapt as one thing is for sure, users who persist in using Facebook as they always have done are going to be at a disadvantage as timeline surfing becomes the first and foremost method of navigating the new Facebook.

* – It was still April 1st when I wrote this so I am allowed one lame joke!

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