Facebook Timeline not yet a friend to news organizations

Facebook is rolling out its new Timeline format to brand pages, but the flashy visual template adds too little style while removing too much substance.

First, the good part. Some news organizations have used the Timeline format to assemble interesting chronologies of themselves and their reporting.

The New York Times tells its 160-year history with a Timeline documenting the evolution of the newspaper and those who worked there.

The first entry of the New York Times’ Facebook Timeline is its founding in 1851.

NBC’s Meet The Press filled out a timeline dating back to its 1947 founding, with images of guests and moderators appearing on the show through the years.

A section of the Meet The Press Timeline from the 1950s shows appearances by Robert F. Kennedy and Jackie Robinson.

While this is interesting, it seems to be of little enduring value. I can imagine spending an hour one Saturday afternoon poring over this history of the New York Times. I can’t imagine going back to it regularly.

Meanwhile, the Timeline format mucks up the things that Facebook Pages actually need to do well.

The most important function of a Facebook Page is to greet new visitors and convert them into fans.

The Los Angeles Times Facebook Page greets new visitors with a Welcome tab inviting them to like the Page.

With the Timeline format you lose the ability of traditional Facebook Pages to designate a custom “tab” to welcome new visitors. Timeline-style pages always load the Timeline by default when a user visits.

Timeline pages also are significantly slower to load and make it harder for the user to do the most fundamental task — quickly scan recent posts.

Certainly Facebook will continue to improve on the Timeline format, so maybe in the future it will develop more advantages. Facebook has said the new format will be applied to all Pages by March 30. For now, most news organizations would do best to stick with the old format as long as they can.

Related: Facebook seems to be working on an “interest feeds” feature that would let users create a special news feed of related posts (The Next Web).

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  • http://twitter.com/pwthornton Patrick Thornton

    Jeff, I’m going to have to disagree with you on this, ”
    The most important function of a Facebook Page is to greet new visitors and convert them into fans.”

    In my opinion, as a social media manager, the most important thing a Facebook page can do is engage with users and create a stronger loyalty to a brand, product or organization. Raw fan totals aren’t nearly as important as the number of Facebook fans that are actually active and engaged with your content. You’ll see wild fluctuations between Facebook pages in the percentage of Facebook fans that are actually viewing and interacting with content.

    Many orgs used landing pages as a way to try to brute force people into becoming a fan of a page. This only really works if those fans stay fans (churn rate is very high for many pages) and if they actually read, like, share and click on our content.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bradbelote Brad Belote

    For all the anxiety over Timeline for Pages, being in a fan’s news feed and doing the right things to improve your EdgeRank continue to be the most critical things news organizations can do to improve their Facebook visibility. 

    I agree there is little value in back-dating content for brands. I might want to dig through a friend’s history – it’s personal and likely connected to me and my history. The same can’t be said for one’s relationship with a brand.

    As I tell myself, it’s Facebook’s sandbox. They make the rules.

  • http://twitter.com/westseattleblog West Seattle Blog

    I disagree that the most important thing is to greet visitors and cajole them into “liking” you. People are perfectly capable of finding the “like” button themselves if they choose to, and it’s lame to use any tactic (including contests, promotions, etc.) to wheedle them into it. That aside, the confusing arrangement of how statuses – whether the page owner posts them, or someone else (we have a fair amount of “reader reports,” and they are usually of value too) – display, is indeed unfortunate. I do appreciate the “about” information being more prominent; we have a breaking-news 24/7 hotline that I have long wanted to see displayed more prominently.