There’s no fighting it. Timeline is here on Facebook, and it has completely changed the way companies interact with the customers who “like” them.
The old layout functioned as a running comment board, with equal weight given to company posts and outside posts. A good Facebook page administrator kept a close eye on the conversations, jumping in to soothe angered customers, thank appreciative ones and offer news and fun tidbits regularly without overdoing it. The result could be invigorating. The customers felt like a part of the brand, the company knew what people were saying about it.
Timeline erases that freewheeling discussion. Now, company posts get preferential treatment, and outside posts are relegated to a side box, marked “recent posts by others.” Those comments are incomplete at first glance, so anyone who visits has to make a deliberate effort to find the box and expand it to reveal the full array of new posts.
The intent — greater control of the messages that visitors see — will definitely appeal to companies that prefer one-way communication. Timeline basically turns a Facebook page into a somewhat lively website. That’s perfect for an organization that wants a Facebook presence but doesn’t want to spend a lot of time with it each day. Businesses can “pin” a post at the top of their message section to promote an event or special offer and it won’t disappear in a stream of unrelated comments. The big “cover” photo offers a chance to display a bit of personality in a way that the profile picture, usually a logo, never could. Companies can also resize posts for emphasis. The “Milestone” section allows visitors to access a lot of background information, historic photos and videos.
But for companies that reveled in the back and forth they got with customers, Timeline requires a bit of rethinking. How do you keep a conversation going when Facebook has effectively hidden the means to interaction?
First, you can reveal it for your own benefit, to get a sense of what people are saying. At the top of the page is a small box. The default option is “Highlights” in which the page displays all company posts on the left half of the page, with posts from others, likes tally, and more on the right side of the page. Use the drop down menu on that top box, click on “posts from others,” and — voila! The comments from fans pop up. If there’s one that’s especially complimentary or important, you can draw attention to it by making it larger. Just hover over the right corner of the comment box until a little box appears, and click on “highlight.”
Be aware that “posts from others” also means that posts from you don’t make it onto the page, unless you respond to a comment. Also, anyone who wants to get this view of the page needs to take those exact steps. Visitors will see the default landing page that emphasizes company posts unless they specifically choose to view “posts from others.” Maybe Facebook users will start to use this option as they learn Timeline. Maybe you can urge visitors to your page to “join the conversation” or “see what others are saying” and direct them to use this page view. It’s not a perfect solution, but it could help.
The other option is to bump up the comment factor on your own posts. If you have a bit of news to report, don’t just leave a set of facts on the post—ask visitors to chime in with their thoughts. Spur a discussion with your posts by asking questions and replying to those who answer. Post photos. People love photos and often comment on them.
Timeline requires a new approach, but if you can keep the conversation on your page going, it’s worth the effort.