My article in MediaPost this week takes a look at the new Facebook Timeline brand pages, and what impact they’ll have on email marketing. At the end of February, Facebook rolled out Timeline for brands, allowing any brand page to switch to the new format right away. Some did, but many are still waiting. Not for too much longer though – Facebook is forcing marketers’ hands at the end of March, and switching new brand pages to Timeline whether marketers are ready or not. So now is the time to get ready – not just to optimize your new page for Timeline’s new engagement opportunities, but to use the new design to boost your email marketing programs as well. Here’s how.
How Facebook’s New Timeline Brand Pages Affect Email Marketing
by Mike May
published in MediaPost’s Email Insider, 3-7-12
Facebook has announced that it is moving all brand pages to Timeline at the end of the month, leaving marketers with only a few weeks to rework, redesign and otherwise recast their existing Facebook presences. So far, the brand feedback on Timeline is largely positive, though the new design does present some challenges to email marketers. Principally, the biggest functional difference in the Timeline design is that brand pages can no longer designate an alternate home page, and must rely instead on various elements on the main page to merchandise content. Brands that relied on this functionality to drop first-time visitors on a Like-Gate or an email subscription page are now pressed to revamp their approach within the confines of Timeline.
Some new opportunities do present themselves, however — not just for the branding and engagement opportunities that promises to one day justify Facebook’s $5 billion valuation, but for resourceful email marketers as well. Here is how email marketers can take advantage of the new Timeline for brands to increase subscribers and drive cross-channel engagement:
Join the Facebook Timeline internal meeting: This is one table at which email definitely needs a seat. The switch to Timeline will precipitate revisions not only to a brand’s Facebook design, but possibly the entire Facebook strategy. All of the new real estate on the page is up for grabs, so the concerns of the email business need to be represented here.
Identify email opportunities within Timeline page attributes: Timeline offers brands a number of new or enhanced ways of driving engagement and merchandising content. Chief among these are the “Favorites” boxes below the new cover photo, four of which are visible without opening up a tab. These will become as valuable to marketers as a mini navigation bar on a website, and operate largely the same way. Because alternate landing pages are no longer possible, these Favorites boxes are likely to be pressed into cross-channel promotion service. If email is a meaningful part of your communications program, use one of these boxes to drive subscriptions. The subtler listing of these same tabs on the previous brand page design rendered them largely ineffectual at driving subscriptions, but the Timeline design puts them front and center. Look also for ways to use design to incorporate a Subscribe tab for the Favorites, as in this example.
Incorporate newsletters into timeline’s chronology: The Timeline design excels at giving visitors a deeper dive into your brand, by flowing content chronologically as far down the page as a visitor is willing to go. If you’re publishing a weekly or monthly newsletter, Timeline is an ideal way to merchandise it and give visitors more insight into what your brand represents. Post the Web version of each installment onto your Facebook page for a lift in engagement and interactivity, and to create an archive of past installments. Since so many prospects will be exposed to your newsletter through Facebook, make sure that the Subscribe link is prominent.
Put a premium on graphics: The Timeline layout emphasizes photos, which break up the design and arrest visitor attention. If you’re posting your newsletters or other emails onto your Facebook page, make sure each has a powerful central image that is captured with the shared link and works well on the page to corral interest. The image should be different each time and should telegraph the content of the email. Perhaps as important, images should simply be interesting. Facebook is a social place, after all. The people who enjoy the most attention at any social gathering I’ve ever been to aren’t the loudest or the most insistent, but the most interesting.
Kill two engagement birds with one stone: Timeline allows brands to link directly to a Favorites tab page, as each has a distinct URL, shown here. You’ll see that the page has full email functionality (and can also have a hidden field that tells your email database which subscribers came from Facebook – useful for targeting later on), but also contains the “Like” button on the top. After receiving the subscription request, use the “Thank you” copy served up on the same page to ask visitors to click the “Like” button as well. Coupled with a promotion supported by Facebook ads, a well-constructed Subscribe page could serve double duty, growing your Facebook fan list and email subscription list at the same time.