Although it isn’t yet available for business pages, Facebook’s new graphical user interface for personal profiles offers entrepreneurs a chance to explore the creative possibilities for personal branding as a business owner. The interface, called Timeline, features a large banner image with an inset portrait and organizes content in historical, story-telling fashion. This gives small-business owners new options for crafting “a personal brand,” says Dan Schawbel, author of Me 2.0: 4 Steps to Building Your Future and founder of Millennial Branding in Boston.
Although switching to Timeline is not yet an option for fan pages on Facebook — i.e., the pages that allow users to “like” organizations and businesses — Schawbel predicts they’ll soon look the same. “There’s no reason why [personal profiles] and business pages should have a different look and feel,” he says.
Timeline’s chronological organization of posts will change the way branding is perceived on Facebook, a fact that many of the site’s users have yet to understand, Schawbel says. “It’s so new, and they’re just trying to get their hands around it right now.” But the new format offers more branding opportunities and greater ease in forming collaborative relationships. “I think more and more people will figure out how best to equip their profile so it makes them look really good and attractive — not just to sell, but to recruit people to work for the company, and to form partnerships.”
During the wait for the eventual roll out of Timeline for business pages, he advises small-business owners to craft a targeted approach using their existing personal Facebook connections. “Get a sense of the people who would most benefit from what you’re selling. When you look at a [prospect's] Timeline and you can see what they’re interested in, you can comment on relevant status updates, where you don’t sell immediately, but you come up there as a resource. And, you build those relationships over time, through commenting and interacting with different individuals.” Later, you can seize opportunities to assist a potential customer, because you stayed engaged with the target audience, he says.
When Timeline becomes available for business pages, Schawbel advises small-business owners to get creative with the larger banner, using it to showcase employees or to highlight a milestone in the business’s history. Businesses should also have more room in the information section to talk about their mission, vision, and brand, he says.
Timeline hasn’t changed one fact: Neglecting to create new content, friend others, and cultivate fans inevitably leads to disappointing results in marketing your brand. “The more you respond to people commenting, the more time your posts will be on their news feed, and you’ll be seen, and that’s how you really build a community,” he says. “You’ve got to put a lot of energy into it if you want to be seen.”
If you plan to use your personal profile to woo customers, you’ll want to wade through Facebook’s sea of privacy settings, to make sure they’re only seeing the professional you. Schawbel is not alone in describing Facebook’s privacy scheme as “the most confusing settings I’ve ever seen.” He notes that many users don’t realize they can control how different viewers’ — family, friends, or everyone — access to content.” Mary Kay Hoal, founder and president of Yoursphere Media in Sacramento, Calif., posted this helpful guide to the Facebook Timeline privacy settings.