Facebook Timeline: Help or hindrance for agencies?

Studies show whether Timeline is helping or hurting agencies seeking public interaction.

While Facebook Timeline for Pages was touted as a better way to engage fans for government agencies and other brands when it rolled out last month, several reports suggest it might not be performing as well as expected.

The social media network’s Timeline application features splashy displays of graphics and photographs, and arranges posts in an easy-to-browse chronology. The switch became mandatory for all brand Pages on March 30. Federal agencies including the U.S. Army and Navy made the change in mid-March.

While Facebook supporters talked up the new format’s possibilities for attracting and engaging with fans, initial tests by Wildfire Interactive, published exclusively in a report by Mashable, suggest that Timeline may not be performing as expected.

Wildfire studied 67 brands that adopted Timeline to determine their level of fan engagement before and after the switch. One of the findings showed Timeline was having a positive on "likes," with “likes” on the brand Pages rising by about 22 percent per post, Mashable said in an article on April 21.

At the same time, however, Timeline comments were down 6.5 percent per post and growth in fans was “slowed slightly” for all brands on average, in comparison to pre-Timeline levels. Large brands with more than 1 million fans were the most sluggish, Mashable said.

A separate study by EdgeRank Checker also found that Facebook Timeline had little to no positive effects on fan engagement, according to an April 2 blog post by AllFacebook.

AllFacebook said those findings contradicted other earlier reports that had suggested Timeline would improve engagement, but those earlier reports might have been skewed because of media reporting on the early adopters of Timeline.

EdgeRanker reviewed 3,500 Facebook pages. It looked at pages that had converted to Timeline by March 26 vs. those that had not converted.

The study found that "posts from all pages were receiving less interaction. Pages that switched to Timeline has less of a decrease, but this is likely due to extra attention to Facebook pages (because of press exposure). which may not continue,” AllFacebook said.

Analytics made available by OhMyGov Analytics also suggest that Facebook Timeline might have contributed to slower growth in the fan base for government agencies in recent weeks.

Federal Computer Week computed the average growth in fans for the 10 government agencies with the greatest increases in fans during periods examined by OhMyGov on April 23. The agency with the highest growth was eliminated from calculations as an outlier.

The average growth rate for the top 10 agencies was .44 per day for the previous three months. Since Timeline was introduced, growth averaged .36 per day for the month and .40 per day for the previous week. That suggests that growth in the number of fans, on average, had slowed down.

Facebook officials were not immediately available for comments about the reports.

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