How new design will affect your company's Facebook page

Facebook wants every business on its site to be able to express what's happening with its brand right now - as well as the heritage behind that brand - all on a single page.

While Facebook's new look has left many businesses in a scramble, migrating to the new, mandatory change need not be accompanied by gnashing of teeth.  Armed with insights from Web marketing experts, you'll be able to cruise through the upgrade - and perhaps dust a competitor or two - unphased.

In the most fundamental terms, the Great Facebook Migration of 2012 represents a move by the digital hangout to standardize the look and feel of every Business Page on its network.  Essentially, Facebook wants every business on its site to be able to express what's happening with its brand right now - as well as the heritage behind that brand - all on a single page.

"The new functionality really does appear to have been introduced with brands in mind," says Pete Goold, managing director, Punch Communications, a Web marketing firm.

Tom Bukacek, CEO, Black Box Social Media, another Web marketing firm, is less impressed.  "Quite frankly, the spacing issues and the way some of the photos look on Facebook isn't really that impressive.  I'm amazed that while Facebook claims to be going the direction of photos, Google+ seems to really be crushing them when it comes to pictures."

Love it or hate it, the plain fact is that all businesses with pages on Facebook will be forced to deal with its latest design change.  Fortunately, getting from here to there is fairly easy, as long as you know the way.  Here are the guideposts:

Get acquainted with your new start page

Probably one of the most far-reaching impacts of Facebook's upgrade is that the design format of every business start page -  or the page your visitors land on when they first visit you on Facebook --  will be standardized.

Essentially, every business will be required to run a large banner image, also known as a cover photo, across the top of is start page.  "The large cover photo alone presents a fantastic branding opportunity," says Peter Lee, CEO, WireWalkersVA, a Web design and marketing firm.

Shiyana Wainscoat, owner/photographer, Oahu Portrait Photographer, agrees:  "The cover image is perfect for photographers to showcase their favorite images -- the cover photo draws you in."

Other cover images that are also especially arresting include Fanta's, The New York Times, Starbucks, and Tenable Network Security.

Beneath the cover photo, you'll be asked to work with a number of boxes, organized in a two-column format, which will showcase activity on your page.  Some boxes will feature your activity - posts and announcements made by your company, for example.   And other boxes will feature visitor activity - their posts, any ‘Likes' they've posted about your business, and similar activity.

Running down the extreme right margin of your start page, Facebook is also mandating that you create a "Timeline." This new feature is essentially a vertical list of hotlinked dates, which lead to posts and images chronicling your company's history.

Use care selecting a banner image

Facebook sees the banner image as an opportunity for you to give visitors a feel for your brand.  So it's prohibiting businesses from using the giant image simply to sell stuff.  In practice, that means you won't be able to post an image with a ‘50% off' come-on, or populate the image with phrases like ‘limited time offer' or ‘2-for-1.'  Ditto for including other info, such as your email address, Web address or mailing address.  Facebook prohibits embedding that kind of info in the banner image.

For optimum display, Facebook recommends your banner image measure 851 pixels by 315 pixels.

Create a mandatory timeline

If your business has a rich, interesting heritage, you're in luck.  With the aforementioned Timeline running down the extreme right margin of your page, you'll be able to tell your company's story in words and images.  In practice, this will mean selecting a series of ‘Milestones' in your company's history, which will appear as hotlinked dates stacked vertically on the right side of your start page.

If your marketing staff excels at this kind of creative storytelling, Timeline may offer your company an excellent opportunity to connect with visitors.  "In the end, even those who are skeptical about the concept will find that the new Timeline offers greater connectivity and branding opportunities," says WireWalkersVA's Lee.

Burberry, for example, capitalizes on Timeline to give visitors a fascinating look at the last century in fashion.  Ford also succeeds by chronicling the rise of the automobile in its Timeline.  And Sportscenter serves up the historic milestones for every major U.S. athlete.

Pin important news/posts up top

A new feature, post-pinning enables your company to anchor a post near the very top of your start page for up to seven days.  This is perfect for businesses looking to add staying power to important company news.  Plus, it can keep a special offer or sale top-of-mind for visitors for an extended period of time.  Such posts, like all other posts, can also include images.

"These new options enable us to showcase our current promotional burger or contest that we want our followers to see when visiting our Facebook page," Marcie Everett, interactive marketing manager, Red Robin International.

Hide/delete unwanted posts:

Warning -- with the redesign, old unwanted posts may automatically be incorporated into your Timeline by Facebook.  Fortunately, Facebook offers a tool that will enable you to hide or delete old posts that reflect badly on your company, or simply need to be removed.

Be aware of ‘visitor graffiti'

One of the dicier elements of Facebook's new start page is that it is so chillingly efficient at tracking what Facebook friends are saying about your company.  For good or bad, all those posts will show in an activity box just below your banner photo.  The box is put there by Facebook, and your company has no way to remove it.

Essentially, your company may spend tens of thousands or even millions of marketing dollars to ensure your start page on Facebook looks and feels just right.

But all those considerable efforts can be undone in a nanosecond if my friend Wilbur has a bad experience with your business, and posts an especially nasty review about what happened while he is on Facebook.  Unfortunately, the way the new start page is designed, Wilbur's nasty review may pop up - front and center in an activity box - for any of Wilbur's Facebook's friends who happen to visit your Facebook page.

Adding insult to injury, right next to Wilbur's review, Facebook may also post a picture of Wilbur's smiling - or snarling -- face.

Ain't technology great?

Of course, the reverse is true.  If my friend Madeline absolutely adores your product or service, and posts that review while on Facebook, her glowing accolade will also probably also pop up on your company start page any time any of Madeline's Facebook friends stop by.

As you might imagine, the graffiti factor has left many business a little gun-shy.

Consider private messaging:

As a kind of counter-balance to the graffiti factor, Facebook has also introduced company/visitor private messaging with this latest upgrade.  The feature enables your company to handle tricky customer service problems via private messaging.  It's a welcome relief to scores of businesses who previously were often forced to publicly wrestle customer complaints and pubic relations nightmares on Facebook walls, according to Punch's Goold.

Of course, if you'd rather not handle customer complaints in this way, Facebook enables you to eliminate private messaging altogether.

*Say good-bye to custom landing pages:  In another controversial move, the latest Facebook redesign no longer allows businesses to create custom landing pages.  Every visitor who clicks to your Facebook presence is automatically routed to your start page.  No exceptions.

More than a few firms are grousing about this particular mandate, given that many had spent considerable time and money coming up with stunning custom landing pages that worked just fine, thank you, under Facebook's previous design format.

Check out the new admin panel

Virtually every aspect of your Facebook presence can be managed and monitored from the new Admin Panel.  Here, you can work with page and privacy settings and engage in private messaging with visitors.  You can also monitor visitor activity with Admin Panel, including who's ‘liking' your brand.  "From a research and review viewpoint the new admin panel is much more user-friendly," says Punch's Goold.

*Get more help:  There's plenty of help available for companies looking to migrate to the new look at Facebook's help center. Plus, Econsultantcy offers a free, 100+ page "Facebook Pages for Business Best Practices Guide" on its Web site.