Facebook Timeline - New Design, New Opportunities

Welcome to the first in our series of posts designed to help energize and equip a local church’s social media strategy. Our hope is that these posts will be informative and fun enough that everyone from the social media power user to those still wondering why a blog is called a blog can get something they can use in support of our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Today’s topic will explore some of the exciting changes that have been made to your Facebook page and how to use them to best reach your community and fans. If you aren’t active on Facebook or (shudder) if you don’t even have a Facebook page for your church, well…. ummm… (sigh)… that’s a whole different topic. One we’ll address a little later down the road during this series. For now, please just read on and have faith that you’ll see the light as it pertains to social media and the church before we this series reaches the end of its road.

Facebook's New Timeline Opens the Door to New Ways to Welcome New People and Keep Your Congregation's Story Fresh and Alive

by Vance Morton* and United Methodist Communications**
Just when a lot of the churches in the Central Texas Conference have gotten comfortable driving their social media vehicles along the information super highway that is Facebook, the keepers of Facebook have decided that everyone now needs to drive a new, fancier vehicle – a vehicle they like to call Facebook Timeline. Now then, if you didn’t abandon this page at the first sign of the words Facebook or social media, chances are that you have at least heard of this change. Many who are familiar but haven’t really dug into what’s truly new with Facebook Timeline are under the impression that it is simply a new way of presenting the same old content. Many would be wrong. Facebook Timeline has new implications, different algorithms and more choices thatrequire a new mindset for churches employing Facebook as one of the tools they use to actively seek, make and develop disciples of Jesus Christ.
In the below we’ll touch on the power of the upsized image; what content Facebook’s new algorithms appreciate and how to work the system in your favor; and the tools available to keep your older posts fresh and current. After reading, if you have any tips to share that we fail to cover or if you’d like to expand on one of the concepts below, please send those in and we’ll post them up. (Apologies that there isn’t a comment section available…it is all about baby steps.)

Timeline profile images are HUGE!

If you haven’t seen the new Facebook Timeline layout, get ready for a pleasant surprise. No longer are you limited to a postage stamp sized icon to represent who you are. Now you can say “cheese” in a BIG way and develop a great cover photo that really tells the story of who you are and what you stand for. Make 850 pixels by 315 pixels your new favorite size and choose a photo that introduces people to the narrative of your church.
However, please be on alert and don’t fall into the trap of thinking, “We have so much space now. We can finally display a photo of our beautiful church building” Ummm, no. As the people of St. Barnabas have reminded following the tornadoes that ripped through their buildings, the church is not the building, the church is its people. Besides, unless you are shopping for a new house, when is the last time you were just captivated by a photo of a building? A brick-and-mortar picture is not inviting in the least. The new cover size lets you show that the church is people and illustrate what your church is doing. Display images of the fabulous mission work your church supports. Showcase your awesome Easter egg hunt. Feature the sermon series your pastor is preaching. 

Keep in mind that you are not married to this cover photo forever – you can change it as often as you like. The key is to make your Facebook page relevant and inviting to everyone who sees it – members, regular visitors and seekers alike. Here are some free profile covers for Jesus, Bible and Scripture and saying "welcome" that you might want to try or use for inspiration for your own creations. CreationSwap is another great source of free photos, slides, postcards, bulletins, banners, invitation cards, logos, vector art and other media for churches.

Know what content Facebook considers important

Before Facebook rolled out the new Timeline, posting to your Facebook page once a day or twice a week was usually enough. Though it’s always best to keep the content and conversations as current and fresh as possible, once or twice a week was fine to keep your church on your fans’ radar. However, Facebook has a new algorithm that determines what is important and relevant to your fans. Facebook now uses the EdgeRank algorithm, which uses three factors to determine what Facebook considers important to you:
  1. Affinity: What pages or profiles you visit most often.
  2. Weight: The popularity of a post (i.e. how many comments or likes it gets).
  3. Time Decay: How recent the post is.
Here are few tips to use these new algorithms to your advantage. 
  1. To increase affinity, engage your fans. Ask direct questionsto spark interest and dialogue. And for goodness sakes, respond to their comments and direct questions back to you in a timely and engaging manner. For example, invite people to give their opinions about the new worship service time, choice of music or activities for children and youth. Post polls to get those who “Like” your page to vote on the topics above or something else relevant to them. If you don't want to use a polling application, you could simply post a question on your timeline and ask friends to "like" the comment for which they want to vote. Be sure to quickly insert each voting option as an individual comment below the post. This trick will also increase the "weight" of a post.  
  2. To increase weight, post interesting pictures and videos. Facebook deems these more important than text-only posts. Your page fans love seeing themselves in photos – they can tag themselves – and when their friends view, "like" or comment on the photo, this increases your weight.
  3. The best way to beat time decay is to post frequently. A post made on Monday is in rigor mortis by Thursday. Updating once a week is no longer often enough. Posting one or more times a day is a good practice. Have two or three people in your church dedicated to keeping your Facebook page recent and popular. You should also experiment with posting at different times of the day to see when you get the most interaction from fans. Remember that the majority of Facebook users work or are at school during the day. So, even though you also work during the day, you may get the most interaction in the evening. If you don't want

    to alter your work hours, use a free update scheduler to post status updates and greetings in the future.
  4. Facebook has introduced a cool feature called “Pin Post." This allows you to “pin” your desired post to the top of the page so that they don’t get pushed down the timeline as you update the page. The “pinned post” could include a short welcome from the pastor, a list of worship times and dates or a notice of an upcoming activity such as vacation Bible school. Status updates can now be 60,000 characters — or 240 typed pages — so you have plenty of room to say whatever you need people to know. (but please, don’t test those character limits). Be careful that you don’t fall prey to the digital demon of pinning a post and never updating it. Keep it fresh and relevant.

Spring clean your old posts

The new Timeline lets you travel into the past easily and alter earlier posts. Suppose you posted about your church’s living Nativity but didn’t include a photo? With the Timeline, you can go back and add those pictures that cute-as-a-button Baby Jesus pulling on the ears of those adorable live sheep. Or perhaps you posted about Ash Wednesday on Feb. 15 only to discover it was Feb. 22 this year. Timeline is also your new eraser – you can delete posts that might detract from your page.
The new Timeline focuses on sharing your story and including major events. For example, a major event for your church may have been the visit a group made to the Holy Land in August 2010. Getting to this event in the old format would take hours of clicking “Show Older Posts.” Now you can go to your private Activity Log, jump to that event and add it to your Timeline. The new Timeline paves the way for showing all the neat things your church is doing.
It may take time to get used to the Facebook Timeline, but it will be worth the effort. By making these updates to your Facebook page and process, you’ll create an inviting, engaging page that users will want to visit often. The Timeline layout is here and it isn’t going away, so, like many of the changes we face in this post-Christendom world, let’s make the most of this new opportunity. It has the potential to reinvent your church’s social media presence. 
If you have questions, comments or other tips to share, please contact CTC_Communications and we’ll try to help and/or post up your thoughts in an upcoming post in this series. Speaking of this series, next time we’ll put on our Charlton Heston beard and come down from Mount Cybernai with the 10 Commandments of Social Media.
*Vance is the Director of Communications & IT for the Central Texas Conference. vance@ctcumc.org

**United Methodist Communications is the official communications arm of the United Methodist Church.   www.umcom.org