It’s official — Timeline for Facebook Brand Pages gets rolled out universally on March 30th. Users have been playing with many of these features since late last year but now they’ll be applied to the massive social network’s 37 million Brand Pages

While many are referring to this Page update as ‘Timeline’ there are many new features and a couple notable subtractions that make this a pretty comprehensive transition. As many businesses cite Facebook as the social platform their brand is most active on (Social Media Examiner has it leading the pack in their most recent study), here’s a quick overview for how to best leverage this exciting new update.

A More Graphically Branded Social Experience

Perhaps the most talked about feature is the implementation of Facebook’s popular cover photo layout to Pages. Gone are the days when you have to create one vertical image that, when maximized, can be bold and impactful but also have the ability to be shrunk to an iconic yet readable thumbnail. That was asking a lot of one image! Now marketers have two images to utilize. First, a simple, square profile avatar that can be 180 x 180 pixels to 32 x 32 pixels. This should just be your brand’s logo. Where you can have fun is in the cover photo (left). This 851 x 315 pixel image allows you to brand in broad strokes. Check out the Pages for Coke and Starbucks (above) for good examples of cover photos in action.

Before you go thinking you’re going to make your cover photo into a giant billboard featuring a % off or ‘Download now’ offer, be aware that Facebook forbids this. They also don’t allow URLs, physical addresses, calls to action (even ‘Liking’ the Page) or any other information on your cover photo that should go on your completed ‘About’ section. Instead use a bold, visually appealing image that conveys something about your brand.

What Are Your Friends Saying About the Page?

Some find Timeline’s two-column approach distracting. However, if you look at the top of the second column below the total ‘likes’ on a new brand Page, you can now see recent activity from your personal friends who like this Page. Referrals and recommendations from friends amount to social currency. This feature gives brands a new trigger in connecting with friends of friends and growing their online reach and influence.

Timeline Allows for More Visual Brand Stories

Photos, videos, and linked stories are all much bigger and more visual in the new Timeline format (right). It’s no secret that content with images drives interaction (look at Pinterest’s meteoric rise). This graphical focus pushes potential Page engagement even further. As an admin, however, this means you need to start thinking more visually in terms of your status updates. Any post should have a visual component, whether it’s a photo or video. A plain text update could get lost in the new, very visual Timeline.

Admin Panel Allows You to Check Vital Page Stats

If you’re curious about changes that really make an impact for brands and community managers, it’s the new admin panel that expands atop all Pages you manage as needed (left). This pane provides a useful snapshot of recent Page activity allowing for efficient follow up on comments and messages. It also gives at-a-glance insights and performance data. All of this used to be a click or two away (I know that’s a ton, right?). While not as outwardly sexy as the addition of cover photos and the graphical Timeline, this feature alone packs enough of a punch to make the switch to Timeline worth your time.

Better Curation Tools

You can now ‘pin’ important posts as well. Settle down — this pointed term has nothing to do with Pinterest. Rather, pinned content functions like a ‘sticky post’ in WordPress. It can stay at the top of your Page for up to seven days. Mousing over the upper right section of each post now allows you to either ‘star’ a story or ‘delete’ it entirely from your Timeline.

More Robust Management & Customization Tools

Inside the admin panel you can also find an activity log for managing your Page posts in bulk (starring, hiding, etc.). You can also grab posts you like on other brands’ Pages by selecting the “Allowed on Timeline” button which does just what it says — it shares their post on your Timeline. Views & Apps are shown in your top tool bar. You can customize which ones show here at Admin Panel/Edit Page/Manage. Developers should also take note that you can adjust your app width to a narrow (520 pixels) or wide (810 pixels) setting as part of the new layout.

It Is Called ‘Timeline’ After All …

You can also create milestone posts charting key points in your brand’s history. A great example of this is on Coca Cola’s Page (left). They literally follow their history back to their founding in the 1800s on their timeline. You can easily scan through a brand’s Timeline via the date selector in the upper right Page margin. Of note, milestone photos can be as large as 843 x 403 pixels.

It’s Not All Pony Rides & Cotton Candy

While many of these updates give marketers tremendous new tools for brand building and community management, there is at least one notable drawback. Default landing tabs are gone. This turns the tables somewhat on former Facebook power users who built custom tabs that they could set as the default landing page for new arrivals. Many used these tabs for special offers to encourage more Likes. Now that Facebook has doubled down on the Timeline user experience there’s no turning back and no avoiding the inevitable.

It’s Timeline Time

Again, just as Facebook provided users with some free time to play with Timeline last fall before applying the features globally, brands too can chose to preview, play with, and publish the new style Pages at their convenience before March 30th. After that, they’ll do it to you. As Facebook is increasingly such a critical brand touch point, a proactive brand should control this update instead of having it thrust upon them. Plus, having time to preview is valuable given how visual Timeline is. You and your creative team may need to employ some trial and error to find a cover photo that works for your brand.

You can check out Facebook’s updated Official Page Guidelines here.

Have you made the switch to Facebook’s new Page format? What do you think of Timeline?

Photo via Facebook Pages