Facebook’s timeline may become available for pages at the end of the month, offering unique opportunities and challenges for elected officials and their campaigns.
The powerful visual and graphic elements of timeline give politicians and candidates the chance to present a more complete image — even humanize them.
Don Seymour, director of digital communications for the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives John Boehner, believes that timeline will provide lawmakers with a powerful communications tool:
I think timeline will open new opportunities for lawmakers to really tell a story, whether it’s about the Speaker’s background as a small businessman or the work being done in the House to create a better environment for private-sector job growth.
Seymour adds that the House has passed nearly 30 bipartisan jobs bills in the last year that are stalled in the Senate, and timeline would give him a way to graphically highlight when each bill was passed, what they do, where they stand, and more.
There are times when a campaign or lawmakers’ office may want to emphasize their support for a bill, but that view might change over time. Consider votes to go to war or regarding the budget.
That dynamic will make the role of a Facebook page administrator more important especially during a transition to timeline, when an administrator can adjust privacy settings and remove posts from the page history.
Will Robinson, a partner in The New Media Firm, which integrates traditional and social media for issue campaigns and progressive political causes, describes timeline this way:
Timeline is like visiting your childhood home, taking out all the drawers in your old room and throwing the contents on the bed. Some politicians have been on Facebook since 2006, so the transition to timeline will allow them to edit as well as reintroduce a lot of concepts and affirm their commitment to a cause.
A politico should want their timeline to be representative of who they are. Posts that seemed normal in the heat of a partisan battle, might not be so artfully expressed in hindsight.
Facebook is like C-SPAN. There’s a lot of long-form content that requires context.
Members of Congress have an additional dynamic to consider. Under current House rules, members have an official page and a separate page for their campaign (they are up for re-election every two years.) That means maintaining and editing two distinct but related timelines while maintaining a consistent brand and message for both.
Timeline Cover And Open Graph Apps
The large cover image on timeline profiles will be the most exciting addition for pages, Robinson believes. He says:
It will be really interesting to see what people include and how regional differences across the country are represented. The normal branding for campaigns is a photo of the candidate with a little logo.
We’ll see whether people go with traditional political branding or use something that’s more connecting. I would encourage people to view the cover as something other than a billboard.
The 2012 presidential campaigns have already started incorporating custom Facebook applications and tabs for fundraising, purchases or photo sharing on pages.
When timeline is available for pages, a campaign or advocacy initiative could add open graph actions such as “donate,” or “buy,” which would appear more prominently in timeline.
Robinson believes that people in the political field are going to use more apps with timeline. He said:
For one issue campaign page we ran, a post to Facebook would get 50,000 views. An app would allow us to share the content and capture other people’s information, like why they support the issue, which would increase the persuasiveness of the post.
The key for politicos is creating apps that are seamless and intuitive, added Robinson.