Facebook Timeline for Fan Pages: The Good, The Bad And What it Means for You

If you’ve logged in to Facebook recently (and let’s be honest, we all have), then you may have noticed some of your favorite brands have gotten a bit of a makeover. Starting Feb. 29, Facebook unleashed the option to apply its timeline layout to company pages. That’s right; brands such as Subway and The Today Show are already making use of the giant cover photo and dynamic layout that you’ve likely been using for weeks now. The real surprise here is that by March 30, all brand pages will be upgraded to the timeline, whether they want to or not.

Subway Timeline for Facebook Cover Image
The Today Show Timeline for Facebook Cover Image

First and foremost, let’s have a mini vocabulary lesson. Facebook Profiles are just that – profiles of individual people like you and me. Facebook Pages, on the other hand, are those of brands and companies that gain fans through likes. If you’re a company using social media, likes are what it’s all about. The more fans you have, the more appealing your company looks to other users, and the larger your audience is to receive updates and contests via Facebook.

For a while now, brands have been using Incentivized Landing Pages to prompt users to like their page. These landing pages often promise coupons, discounts or insider info to the would-be fans, enticing them to like the page and rewarding them afterwards. Developers have worked long hours and jumped through many hoops to build some truly impressive landing pages. Unfortunately, with the release of timeline for pages, most of that hard work gets lost or buried. There are many ways to look at this sudden change, so let’s break it down.

The Good

There are definitely positive aspects to the new timeline integration. Cover images allow for a huge branding opportunity, devoting 851px x 315px of prime real estate to a single image. Take a look at how popular brands like Coca-Cola and Starbucks are making use of the cover photo to promote their brand.

Another exciting feature is the ability to “pin” an important photo or post. After pinning an item, a small orange flag is added to it and it will remain in the top left corner of your brand’s page for seven days before returning to its original date on the timeline. This will be especially useful for sweepstakes, contests and other time-sensitive promotions.

Timeline for Facebook Pages Pin Item to Top

Things seem to get a bit more social overall with timeline for pages. For example, when visiting a brand page, you’ll see relatively large images of your friends who’ve liked the page. These are always located at the top right of the timeline. You’ll also see your friends’ latest mentions of the brand near the top of the timeline. This gives pages a more personal touch, showing that your very own friends are talking about this brand, so why shouldn’t you? Administrators of pages now have even more access to their fans, with the new ability to send and receive private messages very easily.

Timeline for Facebook Pages Friends Like this Page

The Bad

While there might be great things on the horizon for brands and new opportunities to connect with fans, developers and marketers are shaking their heads in dismay. For almost two years, developers have spent countless hours reading through Facebook’s technical jargon and following their very strict guidelines to integrate fully interactive landing pages into client Facebook accounts.

These pages act as gateways to the brand’s actual page. Hours of strategy, design and development have gone into these landing pages with the sole purpose of gaining fans. With the implementation of timeline for pages, all that work will be lost.

Where did it go, you ask? Well, it’s not lost in the normal sense. What you’ve created is still there, but it’s now buried under the new bells and whistles of timeline. The worst part is what Facebook had to say about landing pages:

“For Pages with timelines, people will always see the timeline view of your Page when they visit it. Views and apps are now easy to find right below your Page’s cover. You can’t change the default landing view to another view or app, but you can link people directly to a particular view or app on your Page. Find the URL for a view or app on your Page in the Web address bar of your browser when you visit that view or app.”

Facebook mentions the option of linking users to what used to be your landing page, but there’s currently a bug preventing the user from seeing any visual change after the initial like. If you refresh the app page or return to it later, it should display the “after like” version, but it’s not consistent. Sometimes a refresh works, but this eliminates the advantage of having a dynamic landing page that reveals deals and information to a new fan.

Another roadblock with timeline comes in the form of tight restrictions on what can and cannot be in the cover photo. Although it’s not yet known how Facebook plans to regulate this, they ask that brands don’t include price information, prompts to download content, contact information or even calls to actions such as liking the page in the cover photo. See the complete list for detailed information on what kind of content is a no-go for that big, beautiful image.

What It Means for You

No matter where you stand on the latest Facebook update, don’t forget that pages aren’t being forced to switch over until March 30. Until then, Facebook is allowing brands to test out the new layout in preview mode. This allows you to try out new features, upload test images for your cover photo and fill in your timeline. Only when you choose to publish your changes (or on March 30 if you decide to wait it out) is there no turning back.

As any Facebook user knows, changes happen, and they happen often. This is just another one, although very significant, in a line of many. As brands, as users, as marketers and as developers, we need to face the fact that the Web is a living beast, always evolving and growing, placing new challenges in our path. It’s our job in the Web design and development industry to take it all in stride and create something bigger and better than we made before, which is exactly what Facebook has done.