It seems like every few months Facebook rolls out a new design or changes the existing platform drastically. For users, these changes are often frustrating, but for developers and designers, it can be downright crippling to turn the blind corner. There's no miracle tutorial, but there are a few very simple ways you can ensure that your next project doesn't go up in flames (or completely disappear) when Facebook incorporates its next round of updates.
Keep up with the timeline
No Facebook project ever keeps an exact date of completion, but the Facebook Developer's Wiki has some fairly accurate estimates. Bookmark the site and check back regularly for updates. Even if a change goes live prior to expected date, you'll already know what was in store and know how to deal with it. No self-respecting social media fanatic should go a week without giving the FB Developer's Wiki just a glance -- it can be a lifesaver.
Become a friend
Besides following the developer's wiki, it's a good idea to "friend" Facebook's own fan page.Though the tips and notes here are less developer-savvy and more hints to the public about what's coming up, it's a great way to figure out when changes will go into effect. Plus, you'll be receiving news and updates while you read other friends' wall posts, so it's a seamless way to integrate your Facebook news.
Keep an ear open
A Facebook change might get past you, but it won't ever get past the shrewd eyes of digital reporters. If you haven't got the schedule or wits to stay on top of Zuckerberg's almighty plan, create a Google Reader chock-full of the essentials: Mashable.com and All Facebook are great places to start when it comes to news and events you need to know. You can also friend these blogs on Facebook or follow them on Twitter for the option to get all your daily Facebook info the same way you get your weather, news, and updated on all your friends.
Pick up the phone
If you have a question, or are stumped by an upcoming update, don't be afraid to reach out to Facebook. Many companies touch base with an account manager who walks them through new capabilities and what it means for their business. Plus, by keeping a constant relationship with an account manager, you'll get the inside scoop on premium services, like Facebook Ads, and even possible discounts. Just remember to be patient if you don't hear back immediately.
Design with changes in mind
You can't always predict what the next big update will be, but remember that, as far as Facebook goes, nothing is set in stone. Many companies spend thousands of dollars on promotions that use capabilities that are either no longer available or not permitted any longer, and that's wasted money and time. Of course, you want to put your full efforts into everything you develop -- but keep the Developer's Wiki in mind. For example, maybe you're planning to roll out a game that has unique application dashboard settings now. By keeping up with the Developer's Wiki, you'll be ready if a change comes. And maybe it's time to begin designing in 520px and preparing your Boxes tab for removal. Truly, any decision now that prepares you for changes down the road will be well worth your time.
Bounce ideas off the like-minded
If you aren't surrounded with Facebook-on-the-brain friends, try the F8 Conference. This Facebook conference, scheduled for April 21-22, 2010 in San Francisco, is a great way to catch up with other Facebook Developers. There's no shame in not being versed in every single detail of upcoming updates, particularly for a platform that changes so sudden and rapidly, which is why keeping a roster of friends around is handy. These folks can tell you which tiny detail you've missed -- and vice-versa.
Certainly, you expect change; you work on social platforms, after all. But your client doesn't. Gently remind anyone you create Facebook promotions for that this is a fast-moving system. Today's great idea might be tomorrow's ancient history. Online is not traditional marketing and everyone needs a little patience. With this in mind, you'll never have all your eggs in one basket with the chance of total failure should your well-developed pixels or sidebars change around. Plus, once this process is understood -- and once you've built up trust with your client -- you'll be working with a client who is open to so much more of what's offered out there, and you'll have more fun.
Sure, Facebook will always change, but it's our job as strategists in this new, shiny social media world to figure these changes out. After all, would Facebook still be a relevant platform if it didn't keep us on our toes and get us to test the waters every now and then? So, take a deep breath, get your knowledge on, and jump in.
Annemarie Dooling is social media manager at Flightpath and moderates the New York Social Media Roundtable, @nysmrt.
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