Facebook’s Timeline For Brands Raises Red Flags

March 1, 2012

Starbucks new Timeline brand page

I am a Facebooker at heart. Having signed up for Facebook my first week in college, I don’t know a time in my adult life where Facebook wasn’t a part of it. I love it.

Now that that’s out of the way, I feel more comfortable saying that I don’t like Facebook Timeline. Sure, I like the cover photo feature and a few other things, but overall, I dislike the layout and how it changes my experience. I dislike it enough that I am hanging on to the old version for dear life and have not yet made the switch.

My personal uses for Facebook are one thing, but the news today that fan pages will all be transferred to the new Timeline format by March 30 caused an audible, heavy sigh from me. I took an objective look at the details, and while I’ll admit that the new format will provide some fantastic new features (private messaging!), there’s plenty that concerns me. To start:

  • Less visibility for custom tabs. Brand pages used to enjoy room for links to nine custom tabs on the left-side of the page. Although the real estate for tabs has improved with Timeline — they’re now much larger and located directly under the cover photo — brands can only display four different tabs at once. To see more tabs, visitors have to click on a drop-down box. For long-term promotions and initiatives, tabs used to be a great place to house information in an easily accessible location. From my own experience with utilizing more custom tabs than were visible with the old format, I can tell you that most visitors will not click the drop-down box.
  • No default landing page. With Timeline, brands are no longer able to set a default landing page. Well, that’s not entirely true. The only way brands will be able to automatically direct a user to any page other than the homepage is to set up an advertising campaign. Essentially, with Timeline, Facebook has taken away a beloved feature and told brands that they now need to pay up or shut up.
  • Public page insights. After clicking through the ‘Likes’ tab, visitors are treated to a mini version of the insights page that page managers are able to see. There’s something to be said about transparency, but the fact that brands can’t control what metrics are visible is a major downgrade.
  • Low visibility for activity outside of one’s personal network. Visitors to brand pages used to be greeted by the posts of other users, even if they were outside of their own network. With Timeline, Facebook has made it difficult to see anything on a page that does not come from the brand or your friends. While the thoughts and recommendations of those within your own social circles are the more influential, I’ll argue all day that there is value from a brand standpoint in having visitors to your brand page see what other people are thinking, asking, etc. For a specific example, we used to direct consumers to SweeTango Apple’s Facebook page with availability questions. Someone looking for the apple in say, Chicago, could easily glance down and see if that same question had already been answered. That information is going to be much more difficult to find, and I’m willing to bet most users won’t take the time. Marketers will need to craft new ways to provide information without needless repetition.

I look forward to experimenting with the new format, and I’m sure that half of the issues I bring up will be replaced with new features by the end of the season (maybe even by the time I wake up tomorrow). If Facebook has shown us anything, it’s a willingness to evolve its product and try new things.

What are your feelings on Timeline for fan pages? Excited? Defeated?