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Facebook Timeline: What Top Politicians and Activists Are Doing to Prepare

BY Miranda Neubauer | Thursday, March 29 2012

Health Care for America Now is one of many organizations that's already switched to Facebook Timeline.

Ahead of Facebook's plan to switch all Facebook pages to the new Timeline layout March 30, many government figures and advocacy groups have already made the change.

The new layout for Facebook pages features a large cover photo across the top, larger photos and visual content in posts on the Facebook page. Timeline pages also offer the ability to highlight older posts, mark historic points in time, and make use of a new messaging function. And Timeline gives more power to a visitor's friends, whose posts referencing a person or brand will appear on the corresponding Facebook page without the page administrator's say-so.

Five Things to Include On a Facebook Timeline

  • Your organization's entire history: The profile page isn't just about what's happening now anymore — it's a way to tell an entire narrative, from the beginning to the present day.
  • Photos and videos: Members of Congress, activist groups, political candidates — all of these folks are digging through archives to populate their timelines with as much visual material as possible, in some cases going back decades.
  • Milestones: Page owners can now highlight individual posts as "milestones," landmark events in the person or group's history.
  • An Up-to-Date Cover Photo: Organizations are using the cover photo, which dominates the top third of each new page, to push their biggest issue or most urgent call to action.
  • Balance the personal and the public: Pages representing a single individual, like a politician or a civic leader, should strike a balance between telling that person's story and explaining their achievements in public life.

Among the pages that have already launched are the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the page for its chairman, Rep. Darell Issa (R-Calif.).

"With the timeline if you're not generating good content that is engaging and visual, it would be hard and confusing for the viewer," said Seamus Kraft, Issa's director of digital strategy and press secretary. Ahead of the planned switch, he said, staff looked through the content they had available to highlight as milestones with infographics, videos and pictures, such as a video accompanying a major bill or a microsite launch. Particularly for the Oversight Committee page, it was also an opportunity to bring content together from different sources such as YouTube and Flickr, he said.

On individual congressional pages, different members take different approaches for how they balance personal and political content, he noted. Issa highlights his background as a small business owner and his move to California, but otherwise mainly highlights his public service, Kraft said. The new look on Facebook is a chance for members of Congress to reask themselves how they want to present themselves, and particularly to invest in more high quality visual content with a decent camera. It's about using the site the same way their constituents are, Kraft said.

"People like, literally, engaging visuals … If you can tell the story in a picture, that's more than a Facebook post could ever do," he said. "It's not just Obamacare is being discussed today, but getting a staffer out there with a nice camera for all the Americans who aren't lucky enough to be there."

For example, Issa's staff recently posted a picture of protesters demonstrating about the Affordable Care Act, which is now before the Supreme Court for review on constitutional grounds.

The Timeline, he added, "has the power to be a true window on what is going in Washington." The majority of congressional pages he's seen have not switched over yet, he said. When everyone is switched over, for those that have not yet invested in video or visuals, "Facebook Timeline really exposes you."

The emphasis on visuals appears to be bipartisan. Health Care for America Now is pleased with what the new cover photo can offer, said Will O'Neill, online communications associate.

"When we are able to use a photograph of thousands in Upper Senate Park by the U.S Capitol, you can see that there are thousands of people at our events, that we are a group with lots of popular support and you know that we are effective," O'Neill said.

O'Neill said in general the group is more focused on making sure content appears in users' newsfeeds. "What we want with our content, is that people have the ability [to] share the information," he said. To achieve that end, he said, the group is using more pictures, actively requesting that users like and share posts, and responding and liking users' comments.

Another page that has switched over is the Republican National Committee.

"Not only did we want to allow fans to explore our national conventions and the leaders who have reached the White House, but we wanted users to see the impact that the party has made on the lives of Americans today and in the past," Brittany Cohan, social media coordinator for the RNC, wrote in an e-mail. As with other groups' timelines, the RNC's has been updated to go all the way back to its inception in 1854. "Finally, the new timeline photos allow us not only to provide dynamic content through our photos but also to update that content so that it relates to the important debates of the day."