Regulated companies need to make a plan for the rollout of Facebook Timeline

Posted on March 2, 2012 4:59 pm by | Business | Facebook

Come the end of the month, the timeline will become the gateway to all Facebook pages. That’s when Facebook plans to flip the switch so that all pages, not just those managed by companies that have opted for it, will get the timeline treatment.

Opinions about timeline for brands are divided, but there are examples of organizations that have already demonstrated that they can be a powerful way to convey a story.

President Obama’s page has made the switch. According to Sean Ludwig, writing for Venture Beat, “Obama’s team has taken great care to pepper the Timeline with notable events from the President’s life before and during his stay at the White House.” One entry, Ludwig notes, is Obama’s first job working at a Baskin-Robbins. Since Ludwig’s first job was also dishing out 31 flavors, “it crees a sense that I understand his life story a little bit better. This sense of connection is calculated and intentional, and Obama’s social media managers probably hope that I relate more than I did before.”

A number of brands have taken the plunge. Ford Motor Company, not surprisingly, has done some nice work on its timeline, incorporating assets like a photo of the groundbreaking of its world headquarters in 1953 and a shot of its one-millionth world car that rolled off a Kansas City assembly line in 1995. Ben & Jerry’s uses the timeline to highlight a proud history of corporate social responsibility, along with product introductions. Nike’s approach is to focus on recent innovations.

The mandatory change to timelines may open opportunities for storytelling, but there are companies that could face some hard decisions based on the inability to direct visitors’ attention to important content; there will be no more default landing tabs.

That’s not a big deal if your landing tab promoted a contest. You can change the header graphic to promote anything you like. Some people are even applauding the loss of what they consider to be an irritating obstacle to quick Wall access.

The problem will be more substantive for pharmaceutical companies, many of which abandoned their pages when Facebook revoked the ability to screen comments and proactively delete those that posed regulatory problems. Pfizer was one of those that maintained its page, but the default landing tab served to minimize the number of comments people might post that could create those thorny compliance issues.

Visit Pfizer’s page and you’re greeted the company’s Facebook comment policy, a laundry list of reasons someone may find their comment deleted. Whoever wrote the policy knew what they were doing. It’s written with a Facebook audience in mind, less dry than a lot of policy statements. Under “Medical Advice,” for example, you’ll find: “It is great to want to provide help to your fellow visitors, but given the serious implications unsolicited and unverified medical advice might have, we can’t allow it on our Wall. As always, we recommend consulting with your physician on any medical condition.”

Pfizer Facebook Comment Policy

Most people who glance at this default notice before proceeding to the wall will be far less inclined to post an offending comment. Why waste the effort if it’s just going to be deleted? For Pfizer, it was probably jsut the right balance between risk-mitigation and the kind of social engagement that must get baked into their business processes.

Another tab provides visitors with a form for reporting an adverse event, keeping such comments off the wall and requiring visitors to think through what they’re reporting instead of just tossing off a complaint that would result in a mountain of paperwork.

Once March 31 rolls around and Pfizer’s page defaults to the timeline, the comment policy tab will still be available, but just as a tab. There’s too much content to cram it all into the header graphic. There are other options and considerations pharmas and other heavily regulated companies should consider, though, before giving up on Facebook pages altogether:

  • As with most content management systems, you can set “pin” a status update so it is “sticky”—that is, it will remain the first post anyone sees, no matter how old it gets or how many newer updates you add.
  • Couple the sticky functionality with the ability to set a post to span two columns, and it’ll be hard to miss. Putting your comment policy in this prominent position could duplicate the functionality of the default landing tab.
  • You’ll be able to embed an iframe-based “mini web page” (as one developer calls it) in a prominent position on the timeline. The comment policy could live here, too.
  • One new feature of brand page timelines leets visitors contact page administrators directly. If you can get those adverse reactions and other compliance-challenging comments to go as a direct message to the admin, the lawyers will be a lot happier. Just make sure you make that option easy for guests to see.
  • If you set up your page to allow anyone other than the company to post an item, these comments will no longer get the same kind of play they got on the old Wall. Now, they’re confined to a separate box that displays only the first few words of the comment; you have to click through to see the entire post and any comments others have left to it.

For regulated companies that haven’t already studied the implications and details of the brand page timeline, time’s a-wasting. Make sure to explore the alternatives to the default landing tab and develop a strategy for how you’ll address the compliance challenges you’d already figured out under the old structure.

Here are some solid resources on the changes to help you get started:

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