Facebook recently announced significant changes to its platform that impacts small-business marketing efforts. First, Facebook implemented a planned redesign of business-oriented “Pages” (also called “fan pages” or “business pages”) to mirror the way personal Profiles — for individuals — look and operate. Second, as of March 11, the social network will discontinue the use of Facebook Markup Language, or FBML, for creation of tabbed pages and will replace it with the use of iframes, as described here by Facebook. Third, Facebook added the Sponsored Stories ad unit to Marketplace Ads, the self-service ad platform. It was formerly available only to large-scale advertisers.
In response, Practical eCommerce will publish “How Facebook Changes Impact Ecommerce Merchants,” a three-part series aimed at addressing each of these changes. The series will run in the following order:
- Part 1: Pages Redesign
- Part 2: From FBML to iFrames
- Part 3: Sponsored Stories Ad Units
In this installment, we tackle the first topic: “Pages Redesign.” Facebook will not implement these redesign changes until March 10, but it’s allowing administrators a preview of what the new version will look like. Administrators are free to upgrade at any time prior to the deadline. However, once upgraded, Pages cannot revert back to the current version.
Here is a list of the important design changes along with observations regarding how they impact marketing.
Photo Ribbon at Top of Wall
Mirroring a similar change that took place to personal Profiles in December 2010, Pages will contain a photo ribbon on the top of the Wall.
Only images uploaded and tagged by Page administrators will be included. Photos appear randomly and there is no way to align them in any particular order. There is also no option for excluding this component from the Wall.
Depending on how one looks at it, this can pose either a problem or opportunity. After all, not every business posts photos to Facebook. On the other hand, ecommerce sites normally have a wide array of product images on display. By applying a little creativity, this can provide some marketing benefit. Here is how to take advantage of this not-so-useful feature.
Create a series of five product images appropriately sized to fit the image area: 68 pixels high by 97 pixels wide. Images can be larger, but they will be cropped to fit within the thumbnail-sized area.
Upload the images to a new folder and tag them. Tagging photos is a commonly-accepted practice within Facebook and is a component of the Facebook platform. Tagging consists of applying a label, which Facebook refers to as a “tag,” to the image. In this case, for an image to appear in the photo ribbon, the merchant has to tag it with the name of the Page itself. For example, the photos that appear in the screen shot above have been tagged as “Practical eCommerce.”
Write a description of each product on its page in the photo gallery and include a link back to the respective product page on the ecommerce site. (Facebook now uses a “light box” to display images after they are clicked.)
Two good examples in the use of this tactic come from Facebook marketing guru Mari Smith and Facebook app provider North Social. (Smith’s creativity inspired the suggestions above.) I expect we will see similar creativity applied by others in how to use the photo ribbon constructively for marketing purposes.
These are examples of making the best of what, in my view, is not an optimal situation. It forces merchants to be creative with a feature that does not necessarily lend itself to use on a business page. I suspect the reason for it and the other changes are to bring more uniformity to the way in which the Facebook platform works: to align business Fan Pages with individuals’ Profile Pages.
Interact with Facebook as the Page
In the current version, to access their Page, administrators click the “Account” link located in the upper right-hand corner of the Facebook interface, select “Manage Pages” from a drop-down menu, then select the Page.
In the new version, once the Account link is clicked, the option that appears in the drop-down menu is “Use Facebook as Page.” Click the link and a pop-up window appears with a button located next to the Page name that simply says “Switch.” Click it and the user is no longer interacting on Facebook as a person, but as the Page — i.e. company — itself.
For example, I am social media director for Practical Ecommerce and an administrator of Practical eCommerce’s Page. When I log into Facebook and follow the above procedure, I will be no longer interact across the Facebook ecosystem as Paul Chaney, but as Practical eCommerce. If I visit another Page and leave a comment to a Wall post, it identifies me as “Practical eCommerce,” not as “Paul Chaney.”
That takes some getting used to, but carries with it some useful benefits. Administrators who are interacting on Facebook as the Page will be able to:
- Receive notifications for the Page;
- View a news feed for the Page;
- “Like” other Pages;
- Post on other Pages as your Page.
This mirrors the same activities individuals can do via their personal Profiles. (One word of caution, once you are done with interacting as the Page, remember to switch back to your personal Profile.)
Another change is that administrators can now opt to engage with their Pages as individuals. Heretofore, as an administrator I could only interact with the Page as the “Page.” Now, in those Pages I manage as an administrator, but I can choose to interact as Paul Chaney, the individual.
Pages now have two publicly visible Wall filters: “Posts by Page” and “Everyone.” Page administrators can view two additional filters: “Most Recent” and “Hidden Posts.”
A related change is the way Facebook renders Wall posts. In the current version, posts are listed in reverse chronological order. In the new design, posts that Facebook deems as most engaging are listed at the top. How Facebook makes that determination is open to question and no one yet knows what this change will mean in terms of post views. (Administrators can still see posts in chronological order, but not Fans.)
Page administrators can opt to be notified when Fans post or comment on the Wall.
Featured Pages and Administrators
In the current version, Pages are able to “favorite” other Pages. In the new version, Pages will be able “feature” other Pages. Administrators themselves can also be featured.
I see marketing benefits to featuring other Pages. It’s a gesture of courtesy that the owners of those Pages would appreciate. It might even have business development implications, as well. In addition, I see benefit to featuring Page administrators. As with all social networks, Facebook is designed to be a personal medium. And, in social media, people relate better to other people than to brands. It’s a way to add a human element to the Page.
When people visit a Page, they will now be able to see other friends who “Like” it and can see other Pages that both they and their friends Like as well. This is certain to increase engagement and encourage greater “Like” activity.
Up to now, navigation throughout the Page has been done via a set of tabs that ran horizontally across the top. That, too, has changed to match the way it appears in personal Profiles. Now, tabs appear in the left-hand column beneath the profile banner. In fact, it may be no longer appropriate to refer to them as “tabs.” With the shift away from FBML to the use of iframes for building custom pages, “apps” may be the proper term.
The fact that the navigation is located in a less conspicuous place is troublesome. First, depending on the length of the profile banner, navigation may appear below the fold. Even with shorter profile banners, the navigation is more hidden to the eye. That is likely to result in decreased use, at least in the short-term. I am hopeful that will change as users become accustomed to the new format.
This places increased importance on the designation of a custom “Welcome” page as the landing page for non-Fans. They need to be confronted with the brand’s claims prior to transitioning to the Wall once they like the Page.
The menu defaults to showing six items. There is a “More” button that allows users to see additional apps. The administrator can rearrange the list. Simply drag and drop the items in the order of preference.
Profile Banner Size
Profile banners — also called avatars — can currently be as large as 200×600 pixels. In the new version, the largest they can be are 180×540. Since Page navigation will reside beneath the banner, designers will likely make them much shorter to ensure navigation appears above the fold.
In the current version, category selection could only be made at the time the page was created and, once chosen, categories could not be changed. In the new version, administrators can change both the category and sub-category of existing Pages. It would be in a merchant’s best interest to double-check the category and sub-category to which Facebook has assigned the Page.
In the past, category selection only served to govern the types of fields that were chosen for the “Info” tab content. Different templates were used based on category selection. For example, a local business would have fields for business hours and parking. A celebrity, on the other hand, would have no need for such fields. If there are other uses for categories in the new version, Facebook has yet to clearly define what those are.
Overall, I am pleased with the Page redesign. The experience of interacting with Facebook is more uniform between Pages and personal Profiles. And, with the exception of the photo ribbon, they offer some positive benefits to merchants, both from an operational and marketing standpoint.
Next week, I will address the discontinuation of FBML as the primarily development tool for custom tabbed page creation.