Six Things Businesses Need to Know About Facebook's TimelineSince its inception, social media giant Facebook has seen numerous changes to its layouts, and many useful features have been added. The most recent of these is the “Timeline,” which was introduced in December 2011.

The Timeline arranges posts according to date, streamlining all materials, including status messages, pictures, videos, and other Facebook activities, showing a history of a Fan page.

By now every company that utilizes Facebook for their social media networking has incorporated the Timeline. However, many might have been put off by the changes and not taken a look at all that is offered with the new features or optimized the obvious ones.

Here are six things business owners should know about Timeline on Facebook.

1. The Large, Space-Occupying Cover Photo

This area, located at the top of the Facebook page is the first thing people see when visiting a page. Facebook has dedicated 851 x 315 pixels just for this space alone.

The No. 1 consideration when utilizing the cover photo feature is using an image or graphic that will pop out and catch a viewer’s attention.

However, Facebook has placed limitations on business use of the cover photo: no offers of discounts on services, no contact information, like email, and definitely no calls to actions, especially asking viewers to Like your page, are allowed on the cover photo. Even an arrow pointing to the official Facebook Like button is disallowed.

Hence, the cover photo should be striking enough to draw viewers’ interest, while conveying the business brand image and/or its services.

Whatever message is put on the cover photo, it should make people want to view the company’s Timeline and tabs under the cover.

2. No More Default Landing Pages

In the past, businesses created Facebook landing pages where people were asked to click the “Like” button, install an application, complete a survey or even join a competition. These calls to action were usually associated with an offér of a free download, such as an Ebook, or discount on services or products.

Now, with Facebook’s new layout, people are directed immediately toward the company’s Timeline page, without passing through another portal. This is intended to make it easier for users to explore a business and what they’re really about.

Hence, the page and Timeline of a business must be interesting and provide concise information at the same time.

One way to showcase certain aspects of a company’s history is to highlight a posting that has a great image. When highlighted, the post will stretch across the page, making it hard to miss.

Older posts can be re-purposed by pinning them to the top left corner, moving it up from wherever it may be, even if it’s a year old.

3. Using Apps for Promotions and Offers

Even though offers and promotions are excluded from the cover photo or landing pages, these useful lead-generating social media campaigns can be utilized with approved Facebook apps.

Some apps are free, but with the caveat of carrying their maker’s logo. If you don’t mind, then they are very useful. Shortstack is free with limited capabilities, such as not being able to compile a database for contest or other forms. However it’s useful to generate interest, and you can embed your business blog into Facebook with the app, pointing it back to your Web site with links. The app also offers paid versions starting at $30.

Once installed, the tab images will show up under the cover photo. To generate interest, use eye-catching images with informative text below the tabs to entice visitors to click on them.

4. Businesses can Receive and Reply to PMs

With the new Timeline in place, people can now send personal or private messages to companies, and businesses may reply to these messages as well.

This feature is excellent for helping businesses network with potential clients, and enables another avenue to provide customer service.

It can also be switched off, particularly if the message load is too much to handle.

5. Everybody can see Posts About Businesses

If a certain company or business is mentioned in a comment, reply, post, or an uploaded medium, it will be seen in the company’s Timeline, and all can see it.

This feature, as with most others, can be disabled, or, at the very least, posts can be screened in order to see whether they would be harmful to the business.

6. User Friendly Admin Controls

The new Facebook Timeline has made it easier for businesses to monitor the number of likes, comments, sharing, and all aspects of a company’s Facebook fan page from one place.

A more detailed look at visitor engagement is offered with Insights. A fan page must have a minimum of 30 likes in order to utilize the chart, which shows number of Likes, Reach, and People Talking about your page. More detailed information such as what is drawing the most activity – photos, posts, mentions etc. – on your page are offered as well.

These are just a few of the new aspects of Facebook’s Timeline that can help a business draw more engagement from existing and potential customers and fans.

For further, in-depth information, visit the social site’s help center.

By Laura Tate (c) 2012