Facebook’s new “Timeline” layout and its associated functionalities are allowing supermarket retailers the opportunity to expand and deepen their virtual relationship with shoppers while challenging them to craft online personas with the same care they’d give to the best display of produce in their flagship store.
The Timeline layout has been slowly rolling across Facebook’s personal pages for months but became mandatory for all brands on the social networking site on March 30. Timeline represents a major change from previous iterations of Facebook. Not only is the look upgraded — notably with the horizontal “cover photo” and content arranged chronologically in boxes providing more visual impact and a more compelling search — but the behind-the-scenes upgrades now give brand managers more visibility into how visitors to their pages interact with them on and off their “walls.”
Brands now have the power to talk to fans directly, just listen in on them, or even shut them out. The change evolves Facebook from being a kind of sprawling democratic message board to a place where brands craft a narrative that relates with their fans socially.
“At a minimum, Facebook has become an important touch point within a portfolio of touch points for a retailer. And being sure you’re showing up there, and showing up well, as part of a multichannel communication strategy is an important thing,” Bill Bishop, chairman of Willard Bishop and chief architect of its associated digital shopping project Brick Meets Click, Barrington, Ill., told SN. “But Facebook isn’t just a nice thing that’s happening. It’s something people are making a big part of their lives. For retailers it can be a way to share information, to influence opinion, to deepen relationships and ultimately, to deliver value. It’s relationship building. Not the kind of relationship building inside your loyalty card, but relationship building in a broader, more authentic kind of way.”
Immersed in the Conversation
That’s the potential of Facebook, anyway. Realizing its capabilities is forcing supermarkets to sharpen those branding skills, observers said. They need to be attuned to trends, prepared to spark conversation, and be immersed in ongoing discussions with shoppers in a voice that at once reflects brand ideals while also being a credible representation of a store’s real-world presence. Above all, Facebook requires brands to have an overarching strategy to take it on.
“It really makes brands work harder,” Leesa Wytock, digital director for Jack Morton Worldwide, a New York-based digital branding agency, told SN in a recent interview. “The way it’s set up, you can’t just throw everything up there at once. You have to have a point of view on how you’re talking to customers at any one point of time.”
The specific features of the new pages include the namesake Timeline — a column along the right side of the page that archives posts chronologically and can be backfilled with milestone moments. The timeline on Weis Market’s Facebook page, for example, dates back to 1912, where a post and vintage photo details Harry and Sigmund Weis’ founding of the company’s first store in Sunbury, Pa.
“The timeline suits itself to tell the story of a brand really well,” Wytock noted. “In the case of a grocery store, I can see this being very useful in telling their evolution from mom-and-pop grocery stores into regional and national chains. I think people like that mom-and-pop feel. They like to know that the store they go to now grew up from a great entrepreneurial spirit.”
Visitors to the Facebook pages of their favorite stores using the timeline now also see when a Facebook friend of theirs also “likes” the page as well as some interactions between a brand and the visitors’ friends. For example, Safeway’s Facebook timeline recently featured a post from a user that “tagged” the company in a post congratulating a friend for a promotion at a Safeway warehouse. “Friends care about friends,” according to a Jack Morton white paper on the new functionality, “making the prominence of this section a compelling reason for brands to respond to each and every post on their pages.”