How Facebook's Timeline can drive engagement
There's a growing debate about the impact of Facebook's Timeline interface on fan engagement. Hearst Magazines, for one, has seen positive results across 19 of its magazine brand pages that have converted to the Timeline.
A Hearst spokesman shared these metrics in response to a query about the Timeline's impact on the publisher's magazine brand pages:
- New fans surpassed 630,000 in March, a new monthly record
- Engaged Users increased 18% over the previous month
- The People Talking About This metric increased 27%
- Page Stories increased 16%
- Page Reach (unique visitors) rose 27%
- Referrals from Facebook increased 52%
These numbers will fuel the discussion about the effectiveness of Facebook's new Timeline interface, which became mandatory for all business pages as of March 31. Other studies have shown similar performance gains - or none at all. A study last month from Simply Measured, which analyzed the fan pages of 15 early Timeline adopters (consumer brands such as Toyota and Red Bull, not publishers), found double-digit increases in fan engagement (14%), content engagement (46%) and interactive (video and photos) content engagement (65%).
Earlier this month, EdgeRank Checker studied more than 3,500 Facebook pages and concluded that Timeline had no direct impact on engagement. The consensus among EdgeRank and other bloggers seems to be that the Timeline isn't likely to have a major impact on engagement because most fans interact with a brand through their newsfeed, not on the fan page itself.
But there is an opportunity - especially for premium content publishers - to take advantage of the Timeline to improve engagement on their fan pages. From the dozens of fan pages I've examined over the past couple of weeks, publishers are not doing much yet to take advantage, beyond improving their cover photo. The Timeline inherently makes brand pages more interesting visually, with larger photos and a scrollable timeline that lends itself to storytelling.
"We like the style of Timeline," Golf Digest Senior Editor Matt Ginella, who leads the magazine's social media efforts, said in an email. "It's a cleaner platform, which is easier on fans to consume and engage with content. The cover image is a useful brand billboard."
Ginella attributed last week's 14.5% increase in engagement, along with a "significant spike" in fan growth, primarily to coverage of the Masters golf tournament. But the Timeline, he added, "certainly didn't hurt our cause."
To help the cause further, Facebook Timeline offers a few key enhancements that most publishers are not yet fully leveraging. They include:
Journalists will appreciate the ability to highlight important stories and give them more prominence on the page. Clicking on the star at the corner of a post will expand its width across the full page. Clicking on the pencil icon will pin a post to the top of the page.
Facebook's Milestones feature is what makes the Timeline a timeline. This is a great feature for any publication with archival content such as articles or old cover pages. The Atlantic's timeline dates back to 1857. Here's a cut from 1913:
Publishers can also post internal archives - as the New York Times has done with classic photos from its newsroom and its printing plants.
You don't have to be a 150-year-old brand to go back in time. Publishers can post about historical events related to the topics they cover. Spotify has sprinkled its Timeline with notable music-related events, such as the launch of the Sony Walkman in 1979.
Spotify also has posted references to more than 1,000 years of music history on its page, creating what the company describes as "a destination where you can discover and listen to the history of music." It's a great way for the company to showcase its catalog of songs.
You can also highlight milestones from your own company, such as fan growth or new product launches. Facebook itself has done this to highlight its "active user" counts.
Apps and custom tabs are more prominent in the Timeline, appearing directly beneath the cover photo. In addition to Photos (a mandatory tab), you can add as many as 11 apps, though only four are visible by default. While the app choices haven't changed, their placement and larger size give publishers a chance to promote assets more effectively.
Here are some app types that make sense for publishers:
Subscribe: Sign up for email newsletters or magazine subscriptions. The Washington Post also promotes sign-ups for its Social Reader app (which has been downloaded by more than 21 million people, more than three-quarters of which are under 35 years old, according to WaPo Chairman Don Graham.
Downloads: Promotions and links to mobile apps, ebooks, white papers
Giveaways: Contests and daily deals are very popular with enthusiast brands. Here's an example from Better Homes and Gardens:
Events: View a calendar of conferences and/or register for upcoming events
Likes: Show the size of your fan base
Feeds: Integrate your Twitter stream or RSS feed into Facebook
Videos: Showcase video content
People: The Washington Post's staff page acts like a social masthead - and cunningly promotes subscriptions to staffers' Facebook feeds.
A note about apps: Make sure you optimize images and text for these larger custom tabs, or else Facebook will resize them automatically or use a default icon. Notice the difference among these app thumbnails on Seventeen's page. Which ones are you more likely to click on?