Mainstream news and social media blogs have been filled with articles on Facebook’s new Timeline for Brands (available now, but mandatory by the end of March, 2012). So why another article? This post is designed to provide a simple guide to the steps you need to take to get ready, and to do a good job of it, without getting bogged down with all the “nice to have” extras, or full feature lists, that others have reviewed. Let’s just keep it simple and do a nice, clean job of it. OK? Along the way we’ll provide occasional links to other posts with details you might like to try, but we won’t re-invent them here.

Getting Started

New Timeline announcementYou can preview, and experiment a bit with the new timeline by clicking Preview when the opportunity comes up (when you log in as your Brand). Changes you make there will be visible to administrators, but not to anyone else (yet).

1. Cover Photo

The first thing to do is to add a “Cover Photo”, but before you do, there are a couple of “gotchas” to be aware of. You can upload a photo directly (but don’t do that until you read the rest of this paragraph). Most articles get excited about the dimensions of the cover photo (850×315 pixels), but frankly, Facebook will resize it for you, and you can move it around so it is cropped the way you want, so if it looks the way you want, that should take care of size. The more important thing is to NOT upload the photo right away. To get a better looking photo, upload it to one of your photo albums and be sure to mark that it is a high-res image, so you’ll get a better quality image. Then when you go to set your Cover Photo, select the new image from your photo album.

Facebook has rules about Cover Photos (don’t infringe copyrights, don’t advertise, don’t send people to your website). These are found on the Learn More page.

2. Links to your website

Previously links to your website were in the Info section or the Description box on the left of your Wall or in your Profile. Now the About box shows below the Cover Photo, and usually shows your business category, street address, city and phone numbers. Be careful, however, as a click on the business category or city will send the visitor to a City page, where they may well discover links to your competition. To some extent, this can be altered by removing the city (but not the street address or postal code) from your “Basic Information”. Note that there is no link to your website unless the visitor clicks on the About link.

On personal pages with the new timeline you can edit the About section and put your web address in the description. However, on a business page’s new timeline, you are limited to the information Facebook selects (business type, address, etc.). You can delete your phone number, which will result in the website appearing in the About section. That isn’t a very satisfactory solution, but it is clear that Facebook wants to keep visitors on the Facebook site, and not let them go to your website.

3. Changed App Appearance

New Timeline AppsInstead of a list of apps down the left side of the page, they are now smaller images below the Cover Photo, and to the right of the About section. The Photos app will not change, but you can control which of the other apps appear, and change their appearance, as well. To replace one app with another, click the down arrow next to the number (10 in the image at right), to see all the apps on your timeline. Click the Edit button and you can replace one of the existing apps with the one you select, so the apps you want to see displayed are actually displayed (after all, how often will visitors expand the apps to see what else you have for them to use?).

Be aware that if you display the Likes app, anyone(!) can click on it and see a portion of your insights for the page.

The new timeline does look significantly different than the old page. Consequently, if you have older apps (not built for the new timeline), you may not want to display them until they have been modified. First of all, they usually have buttons that will appear unattractive under your Cover Photo. Second, they are designed to fit a different size of page than is now available. While you can change the icon or button by clicking edit, then Change next to the image, and uploading your own image, the page size must be modified by the app developer.

This raises some doubt about the value of businesses who try to get you to use their app in order to attract your paying business for your website. Every time Facebook makes a change, like the new Timeline (or before that, removing the tabs that were once at the top of the pages), the app must be redesigned to work with the new Facebook layout.

4. Fill Out Your Timeline

The timeline allows you to put in information like “Started Business” or “Opened” along with narrative and a photo. Do it. Put in other milestones as well (you will not be able to add anything older than your “Opened” or “Started” date, so choose it wisely). To add milestones that are before the current date, create a post, preferably with a photo, and use the new Change Date feature to backdate the post. Repeat for all significant dates (See Ford Motor Company’s timeline, which goes back to 1903!).

5. Pinning and Highlighting

Taking a leaf from the Pinterest book, the new timeline allows you to Pin a post to the top of your timeline. Some have suggested using it to put a link to your website there, but we think you would be better off using it for special announcements. Highlighting a post causes it to stretch across the full width of both columns of the new timeline. Both of these features are activated by clicking the star in the upper right of a post and selecting the appropriate action.

6. Adding a Link to Your Website

The easiest way to add a link, if you have an old app on your page that you either aren’t using, or no longer need to use, is to edit it. Simply go to the new Admin Panel, then Manage Page and Edit Page, then Apps, find the app, and Go To App, then enter a link to your website (the proper HTML link, such as <a href=””>Visit our website</a> will do it. Save the app, and change the picture to something you like. It will be like the Visit our Website app on the image above.

If you don’t have an app available that you can use for this, you can always try adding an app, such as the Static HTML app, and putting your website link in that.

7. Other New Features

There are other new features, of course, but we started by saying this is a minimalist guide. Certainly there is the new messaging feature, or the fact that posts from apps are aggregated, and you may want them separated (see here for tips on how to do that). Mashable also has a guide that provides a number of links to other resources.

Overall, we think that many aspects of the new timeline for brands are good and useful. Like any tool, it takes some time to become familiar with it. Like anything from Facebook, so it seems, you should always expect it to change, and not always for the better.

As mentioned above, Facebook seems to have, as its objective, to keep your visitors inside the confines of its system. Consequently, you should both try to use that to your own advantage, by providing the information the visitor needs on your page, but also be aware that it may be challenging to get the visitor to leave Facebook for your website, even though you think it is very important to get them to do so.