In case you haven't noticed, Facebook made some pretty significant changes to their overall look and feel that will impact how brands talk to customers, leverage content and even advertise on the world's largest social network. "Timeline" as it's been called, is rolling out to all Facebook pages on March 29. Some have already made the switch, but the lag between the announcement and roll out gives brands an opportunity to customize pages prior to launch.
The question is, what will you have to do as a small businesses in order to be ready for March 29?
If you have an existing Facebook page, there are a few key things you need to know about the changes and how it will impact your fan base. If you don't have a Facebook page, that means starting from scratch will be easy, there's no missing what used to be "standard." The good news is that the majority of these changes will improve the Facebook experience and allow for more rich engagement, sharing of content and interaction with brands. Here are the most important changes and what small businesses need to plan for by March 29.
Pages or "tabs" are no longer prevalent: This is easily the biggest change Facebook is making. A month ago brands were able to design custom pages or "tabs" that were the default landing page for anyone going to its Facebook page. Companies could entice users to "like" a page before getting access to exclusive deals or content. Tabs also used to reside in the left hand navigation bar, so fans could toggle through and see what the company was offering. With the advent of timeline, both of those things are no longer the case. The default landing page is the new Timeline homepage, with a large new image covering the top of the page, as well as a smaller image inside of it. Companies can customize both of these images as they see fit, but can no longer have a default landing tab.
What happened to the tabs or pages you might ask? They now reside right under the top images in a series of tiled boxes that users can scroll through. So while they aren't going away completely and companies can still drive traffic to them - either through an email campaign or via a timeline update - they aren't as prominent as they once were.
Content is front and center: Facebook's mantra has been that engagement trumps all else, and with these changes, it's clear they believe that. Images are more important than ever, and companies can update their timeline to include all of the relevant information in company's history through its inception. Small businesses can also "pin" important pieces of content that remain prominent for a period of seven days. Coca-cola is a good example of historically significant content, as their page includes the original stock certificate from the company's founding back in 1886.
Brands now have a great opportunity to tell a story that includes history and milestones (which is a new category of adding content, much like videos and posts) that can give a fan a true sense of what the company is and where it came from. It will be important to tell a story and show the history through the new timeline, to build that connection with fans. Small businesses will have a great advantage in this area because being locally focused and having a richer story in terms of emotion is something bigger brands don't have.
Direct messaging with fans: One of the biggest problems with Facebook was that in order for fans to get in touch with a brand, they had to use the wall. That meant that customer service issues and complaints often had to be handled in public for everyone else to see. Now consumers have the option to privately message with brands in order to handle any issues - positive or negative - away from the viewing public. This is actually a better experience for both parties, as neither have to worry about a public backlash in the way things are being handled. Of course, now that it's easier for fans to get in touch with a business, having a plan in place for monitoring and responding in a timely fashion will be important.
Offers are coming: One of the things Facebook wants to do is make it easier for companies to push offers and specials to its customers. Offers are one way that small businesses can source deals and specials through the Timeline, rather than through targeted ads. According to Facebook, offers are like coupons and don't cost anything to create. When someone claims an offer, they'll receive an email that they can show at the Page's physical location to get the discount. Granted, this will only work for businesses with physical locations but it's still a good way to monetize a fan base. Facebook will no doubt build on its platform and continue to try and reach small businesses to advertise on the network.
All in all, the changes are positive, will increase engagement and make life easier for businesses to interact with fans. Will you be ready when the changes are rolled out in full?
Jason Keith has been working for and with small businesses in the New England area for more than 10 years, specifically small, micro businesses. Born and raised in Massachusetts and a former journalist, he provides a unique perspective on the issues facing small businesses locally and nationally.To reach him directly email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here are the author's alone.