At the 2011 F8 Developers Conference in late September, Facebook announced several changes to its platform that will hugely affect not only how the platform is used by individuals, but how much of the web as a whole will work going forward. While some of the changes are obvious visual overhauls, there are many underlying changes that might not be so apparent. How will these changes affect higher ed? Let’s look at some of the biggest changes and find out.
The announcement of the new Timeline was undoubtedly the biggest change, as the Facebook profile has been totally revamped. Overall, Timeline is really a few different things, not just one. First of all, it’s an interesting way users can view events over time on a single page. Info, photos, “Likes,” apps, and more, are all in a central location. Everything that you do on Facebook will be recorded in your Timeline. It’s even possible to update your past by adding milestones, experiences, family/relationship updates, work/education updates, health/wellness updates, and more. Timeline is comprehensive, and it’s clearly Facebook’s intention to make this a one-stop-shop for everything you. You could say it’s a digital scrapbook of your online life.
As you might imagine, Timeline looks much different from the old Profile. Posts are organized into a two-column layout, and each post can be customized to be seen by only certain friends, certain groups, or the general public. At the top of your profile is what’s called a cover, a large 851×315 image designed to grab attention, and you’d be hard pressed not to grab attention considering its size.
While it was not announced if Facebook Pages will eventually receive the Timeline treatment (they haven’t yet), it’s not much of a stretch to believe they will in the near future. The mockup below, by designer “Skinny,” as seen in this Mashable article, demonstrates how a brand page might look in the new Timeline design.
How does the new Timeline affect higher ed? First, and most obviously, is the increased opportunity to place high-impact branding on your presence. Also, when the Timeline feature most likely makes its way to your higher ed Facebook Pages and when someone “Likes” or interacts with you, it would have a permanent place in your Page’s Timeline. While it won’t necessarily be accessed a lot, it is a permanent ‘milestone’ in a profile. As far as Pages getting the new Timeline treatment, we’ll have to wait and see. Many speculate this change could be right around the corner.
Don’t want to friend someone but want to follow their updates? Subscribe. Vice versa, if someone subscribes to you, note that anything you post as “Public” will show up in their News Feed. This is a major feature that relates closely to how Google+ and Twitter work. With this change, Facebook has become more of an interest/news platform. Keep in mind users can turn off the Subscribe button on their profile. At this time, this functionality is for people and will not effect any higher ed Pages.
The focus of the new ticker that resides in the upper right corner when logged into Facebook is the idea of real-time. Any actions your friends are performing are updated there in real time, and you have the ability to easily act on any of them simply by hovering over the update. If a Page or friend posted a status message, you can comment. The same goes for a photo (see above). The focus on engagement is real in the new Facebook, and this is one of the best examples. How does this affect higher ed? Real-time interaction. You’re even more visible and relevant in the eyes of your audience.
As a follow-up to the Ticker mentioned above, this isn’t really just a feature, but a clear philosophy moving forward. Not so long ago, you had to click a “Like” button somewhere to interact. As time moves forward and Facebook continues to work with developers, this will slowly become an old way of showing off what you’ve been up to. Updates will come across automatically and the integration will be intense. Look no further than Facebook’s new agreement with Spotify and other entities for a demonstration. In the case of Spotify, as Facebook users listen to music within the Spotify program, the songs automatically broadcast to Facebook in real-time. No “Liking” necessary. This concept will continue to emerge as the driving force behind a change in behavior on the web. Higher ed can start looking for ways in which they can provide more real-time updates from events to crisis communications.
Acting as a Page
One of my favorite new features is one of convenience… and much more. If you admin one or more Facebook Pages, you now have the ability to engage with Facebook as a Page with the click of a button. Facebook streamlined this function. And once you are acting as a Page you can carry on as you always have been able to, with access to all of the other Pages you “Like” in your news feed, and ability to interact with others as a Page. Incredibly easy. This is wonderful for higher ed as it eases the ability to interact with other Pages.
The News Feed
Probably the single most important change for higher ed Page admins in this round of Facebook changes is the increased difficultly for a Page’s news item to appear in users’ news feeds. Killer content and engagement are more important now for higher ed than ever before on Facebook.
In order to show up in the “top stories” section of your News feed, your posts will almost always have to be “Liked,” Shared, and/or commented on. It’s not good enough to simply post. In fact, it can do harm to your Page if you aren’t posting strong content. If your content is not strong enough, it will appear lower in the news feed of your Page follower and possible buried under competitor institutions who post content that is more often acted upon.
Engagement Remains the Driver
Overall, don’t out-think these changes. While it’s always important to be “in the know,” it’s also important not to overreact. Engagement was, still is, and will continue to be the most important immediate result you can strive for on Facebook. Whether you’re achieving engagement with ads or fantastic content, it doesn’t matter as much as the fact that you are “getting it.”