Facebook's New Business Pages Means Marketers Must Evolve

From a 'Tabs' Mindset to 'Timeline' Means Marketers Need More Engaging Content

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The new Facebook Business Page is not only a visual transformation of the site, it is a game changer for the marketing function. The fact that Facebook will automatically transition existing business pages to the new format over the next thirty days means that marketers will have no choice but to evolve from the static "tabs" mindset to a "Timeline" mindset based on continually fresh, engaging, and authentic content.

As part of the redesign, the company has effectively shelved Facebook tabs as default landing pages, a strategy which many large corporations, small businesses, and social marketers had spent time, energy, and significant budget building out. These default tabs, while effective in certain cases for driving "likes" and other calls to action, were essentially landing pages like what you see on traditional websites.

Never content to settle for the status quo, Facebook is shaking things up by moving to a timeline design. While specific posts can be "pinned" to the top of the page, these get automatically unpinned after seven days. The idea is that continually fresh content will engage fans -- that the best way to drive fan engagement is to make marketers more engaged and having to post, monitor, and respond more often on their Business Pages.

This is good news for both fans and marketers. Facebook tabs provided a false sense of progress that marketers were "going social." In fact, tabs are basically just old website marketing elements grafted onto the social web. Most tab interactions do not get broadcast to news feed. The tab might look different depending on whether you have "liked" the Page (fan-gating) but that is not a very customized and personalized experience that establishes emotional connection with the brand.

Indeed, the vision of Facebook has never been to serve as yet another medium for brand advertisements. Facebook is the place where friends have conversations with friends, and conversations are ever-changing. Sometimes, those conversations are with brands. Other times, the conversations are about brands. Businesses which are best at telling stories and creating emotional connection with fans get talked with and talked about the most. It's that simple.

By eliminating fan-gating and no longer making it possible to apply old marketing tricks to the new medium, Facebook is issuing a challenge to all marketers: be yourself, stay in touch, tell your stories in authentic and engaging ways.

This begs the question: how do businesses come across as authentic and engaging? The key is to appeal to the issues, passions, and pain points that matter most to fans by getting highly targeted and local. Local mom and pop stores have a leg up here, but even large national and multinational brands can achieve this if they can "think global and act local." Each country, each region, even at the store level, there is a unique history and rich set of stories which can be told to reinforce the brand and even drive calls to action while maintaining a unique and authentic local voice.

Take Farmers Insurance, for example. There are plenty of wonderful stories, contests, and educational resources (such as for fire safety and saving for retirement) which can be shared on the corporate Business Page, but they have actually quantified a 6X increase in engagement level as measured by likes, comments, and shares, when these stories are shared on at the local level -- even more so when you get into posting events, celebrating specific team members, and sharing any news that is "hyper-local."

These are the kinds of brand interactions that will thrive in the new Facebook environment and the kind of content Facebook users will find interesting and thereby remember as the old guard of tabs are finally put to rest.

The Internet disintermediated a human touch from many transactions, which is perfectly fine for highly commoditized products. I'm excited to see how the growing richness of social media engagement such as timeline stories are re-intermediating this sense of emotional connection and human touch. I have no doubt marketers will rise to the occasion and quickly realize this sea change in social marketing is actually an opportunity of a lifetime to transform our brands with authentic conversations and customer relationships at scale.

Clara Shih is CEO of Hearsay Social. She is also author of the New York Times bestseller, The Facebook Era: Tapping Online Social Networks to Market, Sell and Innovate. She sits on the Starbucks Board of Directors and was named one of FORTUNE's Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs of 2011.
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