Miranda Miller, April 5, 2012 5 Comments
Brands on Facebook have some work to do in helping fans understand their message on the new Timeline brand pages. Users find some elements confusing, such as unexpanded apps and the “See More” breaks in content. Others, like cover images, may not be as important as you would think.
A new eye tracking study by SimpleUsability, in which they play back activity to the user and have them recall their thought process, highlights a number of challenges and opportunities for brands using Facebook as a marketing channel. As of March 31, all brand pages have changed over to the new Timeline layout; some early adopters have had a month or more to learn their way around the new layout. Others are just getting started. Whether it’s brand new to you, or you feel fairly comfortable, a few of these insights and tips may surprise you.
Each key insight is followed by a tip enclosed in quotes, which comes directly from SimpleUsability’s report.
1. Facebook Brand Pages Must be Kept Current
Tip: “Page managers should consider how promotions, competitions and themed content can be contained within a specific timeframe that doesn’t require excessive scrolling.”
It can be challenging, especially for smaller companies, to commit to posting new content on a regular basis. However, study authors found that users would not scroll back farther than one month to view content. Users became confused by breaks in content, where Facebook reloads additional posts; they thought they had come to the end of the Timeline or simply weren’t willing to wait for older content to load.
2. Cover Images are Perceived as Advertisements, Largely Ignored
Tip: “Brands should make full use of new functionality – such as the Timeline and cover Image – to engage users, being aware that the latter has to be used imaginatively and not just considered to be a Facebook ‘billboard.’”
Timeline cover images are tricky. In an earlier study on Twitter brand pages, which have a similar banner-like cover image at the top, users were confused because the image is not clickable. In addition, Facebook has stringent rules about what cover images may and may not contain, such as no contact information or calls to action.
In their study, SimpleUsability observed that most users disregarded the cover photo and profile image, even when they were creatively designed to work together. They quickly scrolled down to get past the top of the page, which they saw as ad space. Said one user, “I think timeline like that works much better for a personal than a product page, I just think because it is a banner with a main picture, it just looks like advertising.”
The takeaway? You’re going to have to work really hard to convey a message in this space; it may be more sensible to use cover image space for branding and leave the promotion and calls to action for the content section of the Timeline.
3. Users Want to Know More About Your Company
Tip: “It is worth incorporating your company’s history into the timeline.”
Users were observed taking interest in the “About” section of brand pages and shared that company information was often difficult to find on corporate websites. They were interested in learning more about the company’s history, yet some were confused when information appeared that seemed to predate Facebook.
Said one user, “Back in the 1990s there shouldn’t be anything there because there wasn’t Facebook then.” Another user said they would explore the historical information available about the company over a period of years, if it were available.
4. Relationships and Friends’ Interactions: More Important Than Ever
Tip: “Brands should focus on nurturing positive brand mentions wherever they may be on Facebook.”
Whether friends Liked and interacted with a page was a part of users’ decision to Like it themselves. This wasn’t absolute though; if users had no interest at all in the page, they were not influenced to change their mind because friends Liked it. However, if they had any interest at all, friend activity became a factor.
Underneath the box that shows which friends Like the page, there may also be an activity box displaying friend activity around the brand name. This doesn’t necessarily mean the friend posted directly on the Page. They may have mentioned the brand in a status update or photo comment. If this activity feed showed recent friend activity, users were more likely to interact with it.
According to one user, “The comment bit was there, but it was from last year, if it had been more recent I would have probably commented [on it].” The takeaway for brands: stay on top of brand mentions and let no interaction go unreturned.
5. Users are Confused by Timeline Elements; Brands Must Educate and Offer Guidance
Tip: “Brands must focus on helping fans understand the new page layouts and indicate the availability of new content and functionality. Unless this barrier is overcome interaction (which is now key to increases a page’s community) may be depressed.”
Users found a number of Timeline brand page elements confusing or missed them entirely: the small arrow indicating collapsed apps went unnoticed, pinned posts were not differentiated enough, the “About” link and company description were difficult to find.
SimpleUsability MD Guy Redwood said it “is clear that the average user doesn’t fully understand the new layout, or interact with it in the way intended. This will likely change over time, but as the mechanics of obtaining ‘Likes’ has become more difficult for brands, they now need to drive engagement more than ever. Page editors no longer have the ability to set targeted landing tabs or applications for non-fans. In the past you could direct people onto a particular tab to encourage likes or interaction with a promotion.”
He advocates user education as a part of the social media marketing strategy: “I would encourage brands to help users with the transition and explain what is on offer in terms of functionality and content – you cannot simply assume they already know.”
Facebook Timeline: Unique Challenges & Opportunities for Brands
Facebook is constantly tweaking and updating their platform, as we’ve seen over the years with personal profiles. Expect the same with brand pages, as advertisers and users offer feedback for Facebook to consider.
As Facebook seems poised to continue their reign as the most heavily populated channel for social media marketing, brands need to tie brand page activity back to goals and measurable outcomes more than ever. The spaghetti approach, throwing time and money at it to see what sticks, simply won’t work. While Facebook’s new Insights (analytics) have taken some flack, Google put out new social reports recently; the two systems combined offer a far better overall picture than either on their own.
You can check out the full New Facebook Brand Pages: A first look at usability briefing paper from SimpleUsability. They examined six different implementations of Timeline for brands, using American Express, Pizza Hut, Manchester United, Gap, Coldplay and Coca-Cola as examples.
Share your own experience with Facebook brand pages in the comments!
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That said, it doesn’t surprise me that many people were confused, as FB doesn’t strike me as the shining example of usability — and — what do most people expect to find at a brand page . . . non-branded ‘personal’ stuff? Of course businesses are going to use these like an ad of sorts.
I think we have to be careful how much of these reactions we consider as valid. Lets do this again in six months, OK?