Beginning this week, businesses and brands will start to notice significant changes and enhancements when using Facebook Pages. Among other things, you'll be able to assign up to five different degrees of access for Page administrators and gain access to real-time analytics surrounding popular activity metrics. You'll also see an entirely new user interface -- complete with an optional messaging platform for fans to correspond with your business and brand.
These changes, along with others, are certain to get people talking about just how far Facebook is pushing the business and brand Page envelope -- and to what extent the social-networking giant is helping or hurting.
Starting with the user interface, businesses will find themselves in the same situation as individual users did last month: Presented with Facebook's new Timeline feature that was optional at first, and then as mandatory as breathing. Come the end of March, Timeline will become a fact of life for all Pages. It's an offer that you actually can't refuse.
Now, if you're among the considerable number of Facebook users who absolutely "unlike" Timeline, consider this: Some of the features you hate on individual user profiles might prove to be valuable assets to your company or brand. Or maybe not. Here are the pros and cons of Facebook's Business Pages facelift:
Pro: For instance, an optional Message button at the top of the page -- once activated through the Manage Permissions tab in your administrative settings -- can be used by your Page's fans to communicate with your business or brand in a one-on-one environment. That could go a long way in keeping complaints and angry rants about your policies, practices and performance from appearing on your Page.
Con: The messaging function could generate dozens if not hundreds of messages per day -- especially for larger businesses and popular brands. Few companies are set up to manage such a level of messaging from an external platform such as Facebook. But consumer demand may force your hand in how you field customer communications.
My recommendation: Test the Message option by enabling it for a week or two. Devote internal resources and mindshare to monitoring and responding and see what work is really required. At the end of the day, you might find that traditional communication channels such as phone, email and chat may slowly get replaced by Facebook messages.
Pro: Another significant change ushered in alongside Timeline enables you to make certain Status Updates "sticky" -- allowing an important update to appear at the top of Timeline for a full week -- by "pinning" it. To pin an update, post it to Timeline, then select the pencil icon in the upper-right corner of your post, followed by "Pin to top" in the dropdown menu.
This feature is especially useful for businesses or brands that want to keep one particular call-to-action front and center each time a user visits their page. For example, if your office is going to be closed due to a holiday or you're in the last few days of a user survey, upfront placement makes sense.
Con: Keep in mind that your users aren't going to make a habit of revisiting a Page that maintains the same content each time they view your Timeline. Though, users do tend to receive news and information about your business or brand in their News Feed, not from your Page, so the pros and cons here appear to be a wash.
The Cover Photo
Pro: Timeline's cover photo provides an opportunity to put your business or brand's personality on display. (See photo below of my cat, Star.)
Con: Slapping a gorgeous photograph on the top of your page draws a visitor's attention, but is it useful and will it really benefit your brand? Due to its dimensions (851 by 315 pixels), the cover photo actually forces the most important elements of your Page -- your updates and interactions with fans -- down the Page and "below the fold" where a user must scroll in order to view them.
Also, if you're considering using a cover photo that contains more than just images, consider this a warning: You'll be in violation of Facebook's policy. Facebook says Page cover photos must not contain anything that might incent a user like a sales pitch or discount offer. Nor should it contain contact information -- web address, email, mailing address or other information intended for your Page's About section. Further, skip any references to user interface elements, such as Like or Share, or any other Facebook site features and calls to action including "Get it now" or "Tell your friends."
In the weeks to come, I'll follow up with a more detailed analysis of the changes you'll need to know about most -- for instance, switching administrative settings for individual Page Admins, how to best leverage real-time insights and advertising options. In the meantime, take some time over the next 30 days to fill in the details along your business or brand's Timeline. Despite the extra work, you may learn a little something about your own operation while you're at it.