Social Strategies Marketers Can Learn from Facebook's Timeline Rollout

Facebook’s rollout of Timeline as part of the profile redesign has been deliberate, well thought out and well-executed. The social network has had its fair share of user backlash as its undergone redesigns in the past, and this rollout will certainly have its fair share of complainers who are simply adverse to change of any kind. However, that doesn’t change the fact that the approach has been smart, and marketers can learn from it.

An Opt-In Rollout

The effort started with Facebook allowing users to turn the Timeline feature on in December. It adopted an opt-in strategy, allowing users to activate when and if they chose to. When activated Facebook gave users a 7-day preview period to edit their Timeline settings, delete/add content and tweak to their preferences before it went live to their social connections.

What Marketers Can Learn: Social media movements are created when users are given control. Marketers can’t control the message in the social space. The best we can do is put the message out there in the most compelling way through the right channel.

Creating a “Me Too” Movement

The combination of a slow rollout and an opt-in strategy was smart because it created a rift within the Facebook community between the hip, cool Timeline users and the old profile users.

You can say what you will about Timeline, but you can’t say it doesn’t look good. Once a user sees it, he or she likely wants it. Creating this rift within the community allows Facebook to create what’s essentially a cycle of jealousy. One set of users sees the Timeline being used by others, they want it and they find out how they can sign up too.

What Marketers Can Learn: An element of exclusivity can play an effective role in building consumer participation. Whether that exclusivity is real (providing an exclusive deal or access to a segment of users) or fabricated, which is exactly what Facebook did, people will want to participate if they feel they’re being given something others aren’t.

Making It About Them

Last week Facebook announced that the final rollout phase of Timeline is underway. Within the next few weeks all users will be using the Timeline, so people who aren’t using it yet soon will be.

As addressed above, there’s bound to be a degree of user frustration with the change, but Facebook aims to change this.

It’s worked to create the Timeline Movie Maker, an app that creates a dynamic and engaging video depiction of a user’s Timeline similar to the video Facebook used to introduce Timeline (below) but custom to the user.

The result is a one-minute video capturing a user’s Facebook life from photos they’ve taken, changes in relationship statuses, events attended, places visited and so on. Once it’s created, users have the ability to edit and tweak the music and content used.

Then the magic of sharing happens. Users can post a video that’s all about them and share it with their Facebook friends.

What Marketers Can Learn: The social web isn’t about brands. It’s about consumers, and brands happen to be there.

The motivation behind a consumer sharing a brand, product and service with a friend on Facebook isn’t to help a brand. It’s because they get something from it. Whether that’s pumping up their ego, feeling good about helping others or showcasing their personality by associating it with a brand, the more marketers can make sharing about the consumer and not the brand, the more successful an effort will be.