Brands' 'free ride' on Facebook to end?

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Brands using Facebook for social media marketing may have to cough up cash to get seen on the site in future.

Up until this month, businesses were able to set up free pages on Facebook, allowing fans to "like" them and interact with the brand.

But mandatory changes to Facebook profiles, with Timeline set to be introduced at the end of March, will see the site start to squeeze out free advertising opportunities: and monetize them instead.

Businesses won't be able to set up "welcome pages" any more - which previously allowed them to highlight offers, give further company info, or post cheeky ads. Instead, the public Timeline will become the one and only landing page.

Even business profile images and cover photos will even be examined to ensure they don't constitute advertising material - with pictures posted free but deemed to be 'advertising' removed.

The bottom line is that Facebook is set to make brands pay for exposure. It's one way to help the site meet its whopping $100bn valuation following the initial public offering on the stock exchange.

Traditionally, bigger brands could set up a page and watch the "Likes" roll in with little effort. These brands will still get organic visitors by virtue of their size and history.

But the potential changes to the way Facebook currently operates run deeply: eventually, 'free' business pages may come to end altogether.

In the meantime, Facebook marketers can expect a long readjustment period.

Here are just two major changes Facebook is introducing to make paid-for advertising a necessity:

Throttling: Just before filing the IPO, Facebook made a tweak to its algorithm. The sneaky change means only 16% of fans for a public Facebook page get to see any given status update for free. If a business wants the other 84% of its fans to see its statuses, it's going to have to pay Facebook for the privilege.

It is thought this move was a pre-cursor for Facebook's new Reach Generator - a premium, paid-for service with a fixed fee based on the number of "Likes" a page has - which ensures updates are seen by at least 75% of fans for a monthly cost.

For businesses, this is an irritating change: for public users, it's almost non-sensical. It basically means that even if a Facebook user "likes" a page - let's say the restaurant chain Burger Queen for example - they won't actually get to see any of that businesses' updates unless i) they're in the lucky 16% or ii) the business forks out for Reach Generator.

Limiting tabs: Businesses could get away with hosting a string of tabs or apps on their pages previously, but Timeline will severely limit this feature. Tabs/apps will appear just below the cover photo, with box space for a maximum of four tabs.

Photographs are cemented in place - you can't get rid of this one - and most businesses prefer to publicly display their total number of fans or 'Likes', so that's two boxes down before you even start.

It's worth thinking about what apps/tabs are crucial to your business, and what makes your page unique to make sure you decide on the two best extras to display on your profile. Any other apps will be hidden away in a dropdown menu on the right of your tab boxes - it's highly unlikely anyone's going to bother clicking on these.

More information is available from Facebook directly: but the bottom line is this - come March 30, your business page on Facebook *will* become a Timeline, whether you want it to or not.

From today, you have just shy of three weeks to play with Timeline, decide how to set out your business page, and get relevant feedback from fans, so you can be sure you've got everything right before the compulsory switch.

News brought to you by ClickThrough – a best practice Internet Marketing Agency.

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