DAYTON -- Facebook, the social networking company that has become increasingly important to businesses and their brands, is instituting mandatory changes that will alter the look of company profile pages starting Friday.
The new "timeline" profile page layout allows businesses, brands, and organizations to express themselves more visually to boost the amount of time people spend looking at the pages. But the changes also remove a popular marketing feature that helps drive people to those pages, marketers said.
Facebook introduced the timeline-style profile pages for brands in February, but switching to the new layout was optional. All brand pages will forcibly convert to timeline starting Friday.
The brand page redesign has "huge potential," but businesses need to be proactive about upgrading to the new layout, said David Bowman, chief marketing strategist for Ohlmann Group, a Dayton marketing communications firm. "There is a lot of discussion about it," he said, "because Facebook is such a large entity and most people interact with it both from a business and personal perspective regularly."
The social networking company had 845 million monthly active users and posted $3.7 billion in sales last year. Facebook brand pages were introduced in 2007 to allow public figures, businesses, brands, organizations, or charities to create a presence and communicate with people. At the end of 2011, there were more than 37 million brand pages.
Timeline features include a large cover photo at the top of the page, the ability to keep a story at the top of the page for up to seven days, and controls for page administrators to track their performance and to respond to private messages from people.
Some marketers have complained the redesign eliminates default landing tabs, a welcome application for nonfans that teased special content such as contests or coupons, but required users to "like" the page for access. Some businesses use the number of likes they receive as a marketing tool.
Mr. Bowman said the change will improve user experience, but he expects to see "like-gating" to return in some fashion. "You can expect that people will find ways to work around that to incorporate that technology into it," he said.
Facebook says the massive transition to Timeline is going well, with more than 8 million brands and companies having switched their pages to the new format. Facebook says big companies and brands such as Ben & Jerry's, Dr. Pepper, and Ford already have strengthened their interaction with customers by using Timeline and other marketing tools the social network announced at its first-ever marketing conference Feb. 29. Some companies have complained Facebook was moving too quickly, allowing just one month between the announcement and Friday's changeover.
Creating a cover photo was the most time-intensive part of switching to a Timeline profile, said Missy Davish, a graphic designer at Insignia Signs in West Carrollton, Ohio.
"It is quite a lot of space for a marketing opportunity, so we really wanted to make sure that it reflected our company and our branding," she said.
The San Jose Mercury News contributed to this report.