SHIFT: What marketers need to know about Facebook Timeline

Introducing a weekly column on what's new in technology, culture and consumer behaviour, George Nimeh reviews Facebook Timeline and looks at what marketers need to know.

Woody Allen once said: 'A relationship, I think, is like a shark. It has to constantly move forward or it dies.' Clearly, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg thinks like a shark.

From the start, Facebook has been in 'perpetual beta' mode, a business constantly on the move.

The changes are often subtle: a slight shift of an ad placement or a modification to the rules governing the way companies can publish apps.

Facebook Timeline, however, is both ambitious and significant, as it radically alters profile pages. Rolled out to Facebook's 800m users, region by region, over the past two weeks, Timeline is a streamlined, hierarchical and chronologically ordered profile that creates individual online diaries of everything they do on the social network.

There is always negativity when changes are made to popular sites, and nowhere more so than Facebook. Analysts report that Timeline may make it harder for users to flip their data to rival sites, and with the rise of competitors like Google+, it is not hard to imagine why they would want to lock people in as much as possible.

As insidefacebook.com notes, some protests have appeared on Facebook, and privacy concerns continue to loom in the shadows of the network's 'frictionless' social sharing apps, launched in tandem with Timeline.

Despite the inevitable criticism, Timeline is clean, personal and intuitive. It is live on the desktop, as well as on Android and the iPhone, and, rumour has it, a slick new iPad version will go live this month.

Timeline is also a technological achievement. On peak days, more than 500m people visit Facebook, and the company stores 1tn rows of indexed data. Mention all this to your chief technology officer and wait for the reaction; it's a very big shark.

George Nimeh, aka @iboy, is a digital consultant

THE UPSHOT

What does Facebook Timeline mean for marketers?

Content in focus

Since posting and embedding content in Timeline has been improved, people will be looking for interesting stuff to share. The 'cover' image measures 851x315 pixels, and clever marketers might consider offering fans an assortment of images of that size to use, as well as higher-quality images and videos for brand posts and Sponsored Stories.

Conversations are favoured

As time passes, the amount of content surfaced on Timeline is streamlined, and preference is given to highly commented and 'liked' items. Creating engaging content is more important than ever, as Facebook is all but telling marketers to be interesting, or be relegated to the archive.

'Frictionless' sharing

Timeline is a seamless part of Facebook's wider Social Graph and needs to be understood that way by marketers. Using Timeline, a new breed of social app allows marketers to post automatically. It's called 'frictionless sharing', and examples from The Guardian and Spotify are doing well.

Unified user experience

Timeline helps solidify Facebook as a powerful cross-channel platform on the web, mobile and tablet. Today, 350m active users access Facebook through their mobile devices, and tablet use is set to explode. Are you ready?

As Facebook accelerates toward its IPO, the company continues to push ahead with products that tie together its Social Graph. If an iPad version of Timeline goes live soon, we should heed Police Chief Martin Brody's words in Jaws when he was confronted with the shark's size: 'You're gonna need a bigger boat.'

g.m.o.o.t

Pronunciation /'Gmu:t/Acronym Get me one of those

The Samsung Galaxy Nexus.

If you didn't get one of these in your Christmas stocking, you were obviously misbehaving in 2011.

First of all, it's gorgeous.

The sleek design of the case is matched with a whopping 4.65-inch, 720p display. There are no 'physical' buttons on the front of the phone, which adds to the sophisticated look. It's a big device, yet thin enough to fit in your pocket.

The real story, however, is what's under the hood. It is the first phone to run Android 4.0. As well as being one of the better desserts on the planet, Ice-Cream Sandwich is a lightning-fast operating system packed with many intuitive and useful features.

What's in it for marketers? With more than 700,000 Android devices activated every day, it should be a vital part of your mobile strategy.

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