How to navigate and integrate Facebook Timeline into your agency marketing plan
By Tim Sawyer
It's no secret that online social networking is a game changer in every industry. From the dawn of the industry, insurance professionals have made their living by leveraging their networks—family, friends, fellow group members, and centers of influence—but as the Internet crept into the lives of every American, more of our social interaction has moved to the Web. With more than 800 million active users currently engaging their friends and acquaintances through Facebook, a growth-minded insurance professional would be silly not to prepare for harvest.
One thing we all know about technology is that while it makes our lives easier, it's constantly changing. This past December, Facebook launched a complete redesign of its interface and dubbed it "The Timeline." On the surface, Timeline allows users to better organize, customize, and filter information to their friends and network. The marketing value of this change is not so evident. So why should an insurance professional care about these techie changes? Because it's now easier than ever to use your already developed "real-world" social marketing skills via Facebook, America's largest social network.
The new "multi-faced" profile
Let's face it—most people in America have a Facebook profile, some for years, while others have more recently and reluctantly joined the conversation. Either way, it's the second most visited Web site on the Internet and is a powerful tool that many Americans spend a significant amount of their time using. Growing numbers of agencies have already joined the party by creating a Facebook page for their businesses. This is one strategy, but let's first discuss another—using your personal profile.
Though LinkedIn is the self-proclaimed chief social network for professionals, studies indicate that these same professionals use Facebook even more as their primary platform for interaction and communication. And while Facebook is a more active network, most professionals still see it as their personal social network and are hesitant to intermingle it with business. Timeline has changed this completely. Using your Facebook personal profile for immediate personal connection in your professional network has never been simpler, as we'll explain shortly.
The Timeline feature is currently affecting only personal profiles and has not yet touched business pages, but many social media resources like Mashable and Social Media Examiner eagerly anticipate its release, particularly since competitors Google+ and Twitter are already there. Either way, Timeline's personal profile changes will benefit any user who understands the importance of leveraging personal profiles to drive "likes" to your business page and traffic to your agency. Also, learning how to use Timeline on your personal profile will put you ahead of the game once the changes are applied to business pages.
Timeline? More like a time machine!
The most obvious change in Facebook Timeline is the new layout. The new two-column layout sorts all of your posts and activity into a visually dynamic chronological format. Images are much more prominent in this new design to make your profile more engaging to a visitor. It makes your profile a 30,000-foot view of your social identity while subtracting the clutter of unnecessary facts. The new design increases the value of a Facebook profile in terms of how it builds your personal brand.
Think about it…Timeline turns your profile into a virtual time machine. It's creepily addicting to scroll through years of your friends' lives to gather a deeper perspective of what makes them tick, what their values are, where their passions lie, how they prioritize their interests and excursions. Because your Timeline becomes a transparent expression of your identity, you have a responsibility to ensure that it accurately represents who you are. Smart professionals will leverage this knowledge to shape their story and build value in themselves as a top professional. Try it. Scroll through your life today. What do you think of your own story? Would you do business with you?
All of these new features are made effective by the new privacy and filtering tools that came along with Timeline. Although some privacy filters have been on Facebook for a while now, the new updates drastically improve the user's ability to manage content. You can now control, with perfect precision, which people see which posts and, more important, which people don't.
Professionals who have been hesitant to incorporate their professional network into their "personal life" on their Facebook profile no longer need to worry about boring some friends or offending others. We all empathize with the conflict of how a single post may appear to college buddies, extended family, political allies, coworkers, employees, clients, and vague acquaintances that are all on the same network. Though they're all connected to us in real life, we relate to these different social circles differently. Facebook has adapted to that reality.
New features mean new strategies
Let's dig into some of Facebook's Timeline update to see how an insurance professional can use these tools for gain.
Timeline layout. Timeline is primarily a visually engaging, aesthetic change to your Facebook profile layout. Every post you make is now much more noticeable, so take care to craft engaging and interesting updates, and include photos or other images where possible.
Activity log. Perhaps the most important new feature, the activity log is a control panel that allows you to see all your Facebook activity by types of posts, date, visibility, and other useful filters. Only you can see your activity log. Use it to review and filter all your activity, and monitor and adjust the visibility of your posts to different social groups.
Cover photo. This is a large banner photo emblazoned across the top of a profile. Think of it as a billboard for your profile, where your personal branding can have its biggest impact. Choose a photo or image that helps your Facebook community recognize you the way you want to be recognized.
"Featured" posts. You can now "feature" posts on your timeline by clicking the small star in the upper right corner of the post. It doubles the real estate of the post across both columns of the page. Highlight posts that you especially want others to see, and think of them as secondary billboards. Featured posts that are most relevant to your brand and identity, especially those that will hold a client's interest—charity events and giveaways—are great "feature" fodder.
Life event (or newsworthy event). A "life event" is similar to a "featured" post, except that it can be used to share specific or important events in your history, or that of your company, and give it a story. It's another opportunity to let others see your life and business through your eyes, keeping a human side to the brand you've worked so hard to cultivate. Once Timeline applies to business pages, agencies will be able to use this tool to share the history of their agency with their Facebook network by creating events for past dates (a great feature).
Share. Simply an upgrade to the old "Share" function, the new Timeline share allows you to share your posts more specifically where you want to—whether it's your Timeline, a friend or coworker's Timeline, or even a company page. You can use this new feature for community building and growth. Share specific news, events, and interesting finds with targeted people in your network to engage them in conversation.
View as. The "View As" feature allows you to see your own Facebook profile from the perspective of any of your Facebook connections, or the general public. This makes it easier for you to see how your filtering is working. Set up friend lists based on simple network groups such as, "friends," "family," "clients," "coworkers," etc. While posting anything to Facebook, set its visibility to a particular list. Regularly review your Timeline with the View As feature to ensure that you are presenting the story and history that you want to each network subset.
Embrace the change. Facebook's new radical changes are just a reflection of the massive changes that new Internet technology is making in our lives on a daily basis. The new social aspects of the Internet should have insurance professionals cheering in the streets. Think about this: Facebook is dividing the power of the Internet out of the hands of the massive search engines and bringing it back to the basics—networking and communication. These are two things that most insurance professionals do very well. Rather than scoffing at the time-wasting aspects of social media, identify how this incredible tool can be used to bring your message further faster. The insurance professionals who do will benefit greatly. Those who don't—simply won't be a part of the conversation.
Tim Sawyer is president of Astonish Results, a digital marketing firm based in Rhode Island. He has trained hundreds of insurance professionals in every aspect of the business with a focus on leadership, digital marketing, and best sales practices.