With its forthcoming IPO, it’s been widely expected that Facebook would undertake a major overhaul of the site, making it more commercial and brand-focused - and essentially, more valuable for those sitting on top of the online goldmine. This overhaul began in earnest last week.
The main talking point over the last few days has been Facebook’s introduction of the ‘Timeline for Brands’ function. Attractive, modern, and certainly more consumer and user friendly than the old profiles, we’ve already seen a number of brands leading the way with impressive pages – Manchester United, Coca Cola, and our own client, Bulmers, to name but a few.
For those who aren’t quite up to speed on Timelines just yet, what do Facebook's changes mean for your business? Well, for starters it’s an opportunity for companies to tell their story as far back as 1800, good news for those who have an interesting and rich history. Perhaps not so good for those who have a rather unscrupulous past – for example, how will BP –which is yet to convert to a timeline – gloss over the events of 2010? Further visual updates include the introduction of cover photos - a challenge for brands to find a compelling image that will draw in potential fans, demonstrated well by Red Bull.
On to the more technical details, the introduction of Timeline means that ‘Welcome’ tabs have now effectively bitten the dust, relegated to the Facebook abyss. Instead of choosing which page tab to land on, the Timeline page will be the default every time. Perhaps to compensate, admins have been granted a little more power to control their page, with additional tools to manage the content. Posts can be ‘pinned’ to the top of a page for up to a week, allowing brands to keep good news visible for sustained periods.
Of course, as we discovered at the Facebook Marketing Conference just hours after the Timeline announcement, Timeline functionality for brand pages is only the tip of the iceberg. There has been a fundamental shift in the relationship between businesses and Facebook.
Most importantly, Facebook have introduced direct messaging between Brand pages and users, making it easier for businesses to use Facebook for customer service – but does also means that fans and non-fans alike will be expecting near to real time and personalised customer service on Facebook.
Facebook is also pushing brands to reach more of their fans and their friends through 'featured stories' in their newsfeeds - whether on the web, or on their mobile phones. 'Featured stories' are amplified page updates linked to users' social graphs, with their friends and other fans actions driving recommendations - and therefore effectiveness. These are not 'ads' in any conventional sense of the word, but a new combination of brand conversation and word of mouth, irrevocably blurring the lines between paid, earned and owned media to the extent that the lines no longer exist.
Facebook of course, is not making the transition easy. They've given businesses a 30-day ultimatum to totally change the way they manage their community on Facebook – a deadline that many will undoubtedly struggle with. Facebook is clearly serious about this re-vamp, and is dragging brands into this new reality whether they like it or not.
It will be the ones that embrace the change and become truly social businesses that will prosper as a result.
Robin Grant is managing director of We Are Social