One of the first offices on Capitol Hill to adapt timeline to an official Facebook page was Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican from Washington. Perhaps it comes as no surprise then, that she is also the co-chair of the U.S. House of Representatives’ New Media Caucus.
We asked Patrick Bell, director of new media for House Republican Conference Vice Chair McMorris Rodgers, about the transition and his suggestions for helping others make the move to Facebook timeline.
What were your guiding principles when transitioning to Facebook timeline?
Our basic principle in transitioning was the same as it was signing up in 2009. That is, making most effective use of the platform and its features.
We also wanted to get it published as soon as possible, so we could start experimenting with new features in the wild. After we get a few more updates rolled out, we plan to ask our fans what they think of the new design, and incorporate their feedback where possible.
What were the biggest opportunities and challenges to making the transition to timeline?
The biggest opportunity is to tell a more visually compelling story of the congresswoman’s work, amplifying her voice on behalf of constituents, and showcasing milestones along the way.
The biggest challenge was picking out the most salient, interesting, and important points for milestones. It’s a very personal process to think of the major events in one’s life, let alone career. So we’ll continue to be highlighting milestones as they come up, and as we brainstorm with the congresswoman.
How do you plan on using timeline to boost engagement or grow fans on Facebook?
We’ve always found that fan growth is highly correlated with peaks in engagement. Whether responding to questions, sharing news links, or simply “liking” a post – our goal is to get fans to interact and talk back.
We also plan to streamline direct communication, with an iFramed “Write to Cathy” tab. That will allow us to bring our existing correspondence workflow into Facebook.
Of course, the congresswoman will still monitor and respond right on her Facebook timeline. But we also want to give constituents a way to send in their concerns and thoughts privately, and get timely responses.
We also plan to continue our regular Facebook chats, where the congresswoman sits down for a half hour and does live Q&A in a thread.
What’s your favorite new feature of timeline for pages?
So far, the favorite is probably a tie between pinning a post, and highlights. The horizontal space that highlights allows is going to be a lot of fun going forward. That is, all of the high quality photos we take can finally be done justice when displayed.
For fans, I think they’re going to like enhanced features to see how their friends are interacting with our page.
What additions or enhancements to timeline would you like to see in the future?
One enhancement could be adding a permalink for milestones. That way, we could link for external reference off the site. Another addition might be offering more control over the cover photo.
That could mean easing the rules about graphics, such as adding custom branding. That could spur interest in image link mapping. I’m thinking of an interactive infographic or chart as the first thing to greet you on a page.
What do you plan on adding to the congresswoman’s timeline in the future?
Our next round of updates will likely include her past jobs working in the family orchard, the McDonald’s drive-thru, and as a maid at a hotel. We’re scanning our archives for more photos to match the milestones, such as MBA graduation day, and so on.
Further, as important legislative milestones arise this year, such as the passing of the Joba Act, we’ll add those. Of course, we’ll also try to find ways to highlight user-generated content, like spotlighting the need to address rising gas prices by producing more American energy.
Does the congresswoman have any plans for creating applications in the open graph?
We have basic integration with the AddThis share button on most of our congressional website’s pages. We would love to add more social plugins, such as Facebook comments on our blog. That might be something we look to our vendor, iConstituent, for in the future.
What advice would you give other page administrators for making the transition to timeline?
Embrace the new features, and think outside the box in terms of adding creative. Consider rotating the cover photo, or letting fans vote in an album for the photo to feature the next week.
Take advantage of the new tabs and apps locations for highlighting what you want fans to see first when they hit the page. And finally, I’d say tell your story through the best visuals you have. Take full advantage of timeline’s visual and intuitive design.
Earlier this week, Facebook’s Washington, D.C., office met with more than 200 congressional staff to talk about timeline features and walk them through the transition before March 30. Expect more congressional Facebook pages, maybe even your Senator or Representative, to launch their timeline in the coming weeks.