Sept. 1 marked six months since Facebook automatically switched brand pages from news-feed-style pages to the "Pages for Business," or Timeline view. Almost immediately, there was a flurry of panic about a reduction in engagement with brands due to the switch. Yet there's clearly plenty of debate: A brief search in Google reveals as many articles stating that engagement has increased as articles stating it has decreased since the introduction of Timeline -- with further confusion resulting from different ways of measuring engagement and competing points of view from reputable sources such as Reuters and the research firm Ipsos, as well as comScore.
So in the midst of all this confusion, how should brands think about Facebook Timeline? What is working? What should they measure? Is successful engagement possible? Where are brands succeeding? Struggling? What are the key insights learned about Timeline in the past six months?
Brand Timelines are here to stay
Like it or not, brands need to accept that brand Timelines are here to stay and start looking on them as an opportunity to step up their creativity game -- to really look at what consumers want when they connect with a brand on Facebook. The job at hand is to look for ways to make Timeline pages compelling, engaging, and successful with their opted-in fans. When brands give consumers interesting and fun things to do on their Timeline -- ideally making them appear smart, witty, funny, or sexy in the process -- they start down the road of turning fans into long-term paying, loving customers.
Timeline disrupted traffic measurement
When Timeline for brands launched, one of the most significant changes was the discontinuation of branded "landing pages" (i.e., essentially a brand's homepage for Facebook). Many companies, such as Buddy Media, built a successful business on crafting those landing pages for brands.
The change caused a major disruption in the way traffic was measured to landing pages, and mainstream media has continued to report that traffic to brand custom tabs has dropped since Timeline view launched. Yet, they are comparing a time when traffic was "force funneled" into a landing page default, to now, when traffic is not.
Taking away landing pages also caused a major marketing disruption. To brand marketers, the Facebook default landing page approach was straightforward, understandable, and web-like. It allowed brands to repurpose thinking (and assets) they already were using on websites and microsites. Traffic didn't need to be driven to those pages. They didn't need to be promoted effectively. But none of this was necessarily a good thing. It didn't foster social creativity in marketing. The switch to Timeline has challenged brands to come up with alternative marketing methods on Facebook. Some brands have risen to that challenge, but many have not.
Get engaged with apps
The more creative and socially savvy brands tend to look holistically, judging the success of their Timelines beyond the quantity of traffic and the number of fans they have attracted to their page, to measuring how their fans engage with their content. To significantly affect engagement on a page, brands need to go beyond posting links to their websites -- still remarkably standard practice. Sending fans elsewhere discourages engagement.
Instead, brands should use their Timelines for producing regular, diverse, and interesting posts that prompt comments, feedback, and discussion on Facebook. At the very minimum, brands should focus on watching the following Facebook Insights numbers:
- Daily engaged users
- Daily content "liked"
- Daily content shares
- Daily organic impressions
- PTAT number
- Fan count change
One of the very best ways to foster engagement is through an engagement app installed on Facebook. Engagement apps power social sharing and provide more options for fans to participate with the brand.