Timeline debut forces brands to modify Facebook strategy

The introduction of Facebook's "Timeline" feature is forcing PR professionals and social media marketers to rethink their approach to communicating with consumers through the social network.

The introduction of Facebook's “Timeline” feature is forcing PR professionals and social media marketers to rethink their approach to communicating with consumers through the 750-million-member social network.

Brands that use Facebook strictly to broadcast messages to consumers will have to change their tactics, says Leyl Black, managing director of Spark PR.

“The new timeline has almost guaranteed this will be a losing strategy,” she says. “I would expect to see more marketers creating branded apps and games that people will want to add to their timeline, and then encouraging people to take actions in these apps to generate a branded story in the timeline or the ticker.”

The Timeline will also make marketers' brand pages less important, says Shari Forman, director of online communications and social media at American Express. She adds that companies should develop apps and other content that is useful and interactive.

“Facebook is now all about the Timeline, and our challenge is to stay relevant within the Timeline because people are no longer going to the brand pages,” says Forman. “People need to be driven there, and so our goal is drive participation in our apps and experiences so people come back and bring their friends, too.”

Aside from the Timeline, Facebook unveiled features that will allow consumers to share more than what they “like” on the social network. New buttons will let users tag what they are “attending,” “want,” and have “read.” The revamped Open Graph developer technology will also allow brands to create social apps so consumers can share what they're doing it in real time, such as listening to a song or watching a video. Facebook is in the process of rolling out the series of enhancements to consumers.

“Right now, Facebook is a place where you like things,” says Mike Swenson, president of Barkley PR/Cause. “Facebook is going to become a place where you do things, which will be a big switch in PR campaigns, particularly cause-related ones.”

Gloria Huang, social engagement specialist at the American Red Cross, said the changes could help the organization use its Facebook presence to inspire donor action, but they also put more pressure on marketers to create simple rewards for donors.

“Since Facebook is putting an emphasis on displaying activities that people do outside of Facebook, this means the design of the apps should also be focused on being useful to people in their everyday lives,” she says.

That emphasis on storytelling intrigues companies like American Express, which launched a campaign in July that delivers deals to card members based on their Facebook interests, likes, and social connections.

“We're really excited about the changes, because they bring to life the theme of storytelling, which fits with our ad campaigns and outreach programs,” says Forman. “Now we need to think about how to integrate what Facebook is enabling in terms of that storytelling.”

Larry Yu, director of corporate communications at Facebook, declined to comment for this story, saying it is “premature to speculate” given timeline is not yet available to all users.

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