Facebook Timeline for businesses is here

Facebook is introducing major new features for branded pages. Here's what you should know before March 30, when the layout goes live for all

Facebook today introduced a major revamp for business pages that gives you more control over the look and feel of your company's page. The new page layout helps you interact more easily with your Facebook fans, enabling enhanced graphics, the capability to feature posts, and private messages with fans.

Most Facebook users are familiar with the new Timeline layout. Not only does it organize status updates onto a timeline, making it easy to call up a Facebook user's posts by month and year, but the Facebook experience becomes much more visual, with larger and more clearly displayed photos.

Here are the key features, and how to get your company ready for the Facebook-wide rollout on March 30.

Upload New Cover and Profile Photos

To get started with the new design, upload a cover photo to showcase your brand. If you have the budget, hire a graphic designer to do something special. Facebook states that the ideal size is 851 by 315 pixels if you want to give it a go yourself. Just click on "Add a Cover" near the top-left of your Facebook page, and choose "Upload Photo".

The profile photo is the smaller image that appears beside all of your status updates, as a box within your larger cover photo. This is an ideal spot for a logo (as in Red Bull's example, above), about 180 by 180 pixels. If you already have a page, your existing profile picture will be here, but you may want to move or resize it. To change the profile photo, hover your mouse over it and click "Edit Profile Picture".

View the New 'About' Section

The section that used to be buried in the "Info" tab on your company page is now front and center along its very top, so consider rewriting it to show it off. Keep it short and to the point; think mission statement rather than an entire company biography.

Control How Posts Are Displayed

With Timeline, you can pin a post to the top of your Facebook page for up to seven days to highlight popular or relevant content. You can also change post dates, which will help you bump up posts that you want to keep at the top of the page.

You can "star" a post to feature it more prominently, increasing the size of the post to take up the full width of your Facebook page. This means you want to pay a little more attention to photos that may end up on your Facebook page; you'll want to take them at a minimum width of 851 pixels so they can be featured as part of a "starred" post without pixelating.

Add Company Milestones

You'll be able to create company milestones on your Timeline, which gives you an easy way to translate company history to Facebook. You can also feature events like new store openings and product launches.

Control Posts on the Activity Log

Facebook's new Activity Log will let you manage your posts. This administration panel lets you hide and reveal posts, "star" posts to feature them, and change post dates.

Admin Panel Shows Stats and Activity

The new Admin Panel features private messages from Facebook users to your company, which removes complex customer issues and complaints from your public Facebook wall and puts them in your inbox, where they belong.

The Notifications tab keeps your notifications about likes and comments in one place, which will allow most company page admins to turn off the notifications filling up their email inboxes.

Insights is Facebook's own analytics tool, which tells you who's talking about your company page through "Talking About This," and how many people the conversations are reaching through "Reach". While Insights isn't new, its integration with the Admin Panel makes it more accessible.

Track Friend Activity

When people visit your page, they'll be able to see their friends' interactions with your company near the top of your company page. This gives a more personal feel to those visiting your page, and builds trust in your brand. The only downside is that a negative mention from a visitor's Facebook friend is also likely to show up here.

When to Take Action

All business pages will be upgraded to the new layout automatically on March 30. To see what your new page will look like, click the preview button at the top of your current company page. If you like it already, you can publish your page right now rather than waiting a month.

What I Would Change

Companies should be most concerned about the Friend Activity. While it's a great feature if everyone is speaking in glowing terms about your company, negative comments have a way of bubbling to the top faster than positive ones. If a company is concerned about reputation management, it should have the option of turning off Friend Activity. And if it were up to me, I'd roll in the Activity Log to the Admin Panel rather than having two separate consoles to manage my page.

Other than these minor gripes, the new changes are definitely an improvement to the company and user experience on Facebook.

Facebook Also Updates Advertising and Offers

Meanwhile, Facebook announced it will feature Premium Ads and Sponsored Stories on the mobile newsfeed as well as the Facebook logout page. They will also be introducing Offers, a free way for businesses to share promotions directly from their company Facebook Page.

Angela West is on Facebook far more often than she should be, but at least 5 percent of the time is work-related. She's written for big insurance companies, small wildlife control businesses, gourmet food chains, and more. Follow her on Twitter at @angelawest and Facebook.

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