How to use a Facebook cover photo

One of the biggest lessons I learned when first studying social media and multimedia production was, “Follow the eyeballs.” Know where your audience members are looking, what draws their attention and how you can take advantage of it.

Today, Mashable published an interesting piece about Facebook’s Timeline pages for brands vs. the old generic brand pages, using an eye-tracking study. The study found that viewers were less likely to notice sidebar ads on a timeline page, that there was less immediate interaction with the Timeline content (i.e. the new Wall) and that quantitative data measures (Likes, Followers, etc.) are now much more prominent.

The biggest takeaway, though, was the awesome power of the cover photo. Cover photos are new to Timeline, and are found on both personal and brand pages. The eye-tracking study found that everyone — everyone — looks at the cover photo. It’s the prime page real estate, choice material that on an old page would be dominated by the more content-rich Wall.

So why are so many brands wasting this space by filling it with nothing? Take the Huffington Post. The site’s flagship brand page actually has a decent cover photo, of the newsroom. Or more specifically, it’s a photo of people in the newsroom — the Mashable article also notes that cover photos with people in them are better at drawing and keeping viewers’ attention. A similar cover photo adorns its UK page. But on some of its other sub-section pages, the cover photo space goes to waste. HuffPost Religion, HuffPost Denver and HuffPost Books, for example, have generic titles on a colored backdrop. Gawker’s page isn’t much better, with a graphic of the site’s logo.

Considering the study, I offer up a few suggestions for brands looking to maximize the potential of their Timeline cover photos.

1. Don’t repeat anything that can be just as easily seen in your profile photo or in the basic information section directly beneath your cover photo.

2. Use people whenever possible. Even if they’re Muppets (yes, that page was one of those featured in the Mashable article).

3. Don’t be afraid to make use of text, especially if that text conveys information and/or cross-promotes the brand’s other social media profiles. The New York Knicks make great use out of points two and three with their cover photo — it includes both J.R. Smith (a face) and a hashtag for fans to use on Twitter.

4. Keep it fresh. Sports teams can include hashtags for games or playoffs, or information about their next matches. Companies can update their cover pages with newly introduced products, or craft them to fit new marketing campaigns’ visual styles. Newspapers and magazines can use actual staff photos that accompany prominent/centerpiece stories. No brand, be it a news agency, a sports team, a corporation or anything else, is ever completely sedentary. Neither should their cover photos.

The cover photo block is the biggest thing on the page and it will be seen, even if the viewer misses the Timeline, the ads or the metrics. Make sure that the photo does your brand justice.

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Adventures in personal branding: the business card

There’s a scene in “American Psycho” where psycho-in-question Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) and his colleagues compare business cards. To the viewer, the cards look identical. It’s only through the group’s discussion and Bateman’s inner dialogue that we learn the differences: colors on the white spectrum, typeface, paper weight, watermark.

So … psycho … is Bateman over the perceived inferiority of his own business card that he commits murder as a direct result. (Or does he? I’ll leave the story’s numerous interpretations alone.)

How would Patrick Bateman respond to Vistaprint?

I found Vistaprint last year through 10,000 Words, one of my favorite journalism blogs. The entry suggested that journalists were moving away from identifying with an established company (say, their newspapers or stations), and further toward identifying as one-man (or -woman) operations.

Faced with no longer having a newspaper with which to identity, I’ve spent much of the last year and a half cultivating my own personal brand. I tweet all the time, I blog and I follow a variety of people and news organizations. I redesigned my CV and made sure to join emerging social networks.

And I made a business card.

While it’s been a few months since I did this, I thought now — in the midst of post-graduation job-hunting — might be a good time to describe my process.

1. I browsed Cardonizer, looking for inspiration. The examples on Cardonizer vary from the chic to the absurd, but all are eye-catching.

2. I decided what information I wanted to include. I settled on my email, phone numbers, website and Twitter handle. I also decided to list my basic job titles/attributes, from the more serious (copy editor) to the more personal (traveler).

3. I “sketched” a rough layout in InDesign. One card I’d seen had used icons, so I decided to make my own. I painstakingly drew a cursor (website icon), an envelope (email icon) and two mobile phones (phone icons), and found a black Twitter icon. I placed all of my icons in the middle of squares with rounded edges, to make them look like buttons.

My business card.

My business card.

4. I selected a color palette. In addition to black for the text, I used the same cranberry-blueberry-lime combination that I’d chosen for my magazine prototype.

5. I added the text and chose a typeface. The contact information is prominently featured on the right, while my professional/personal attributes are lined up along the bottom, separated by colored vertical lines. I selected Merge for my typeface, a clean, slender sans serif that looks modern without being too cold.

6. I created my own “logo.” In my case, I drew a piece of notebook paper in one color (cranberry) and splashed a big “STET” across it in another color (blueberry). My name appears within a lime-colored dialog box, in black text.

7. Because Vistaprint lets you use both sides of the card, I selected a photo of mine for the back (Tower Bridge). I captioned the photo with a simple cranberry-colored bar, with white text.

8. I saved and exported both sides of the card and went through the motions on Vistaprint. I selected my order volume, chose a paper color and weight and cropped the graphics to fit the appropriate frame. Once I was satisfied, I ordered my cards. Voila.

The hardest part for me was settling on a design. It may be easier to use a template, but there’s something rewarding about making your own card from scratch. I know that mine’s unique, and love that it’s zippy and colorful while still being informative.

So if you’re thinking about making your own business card, knock yourself out. Chalk it up to bolstering that personal brand.

What’s Google+ waiting on?

Google+ is working on developing business/brand accounts, and asking businesses not to join the network yet. It seems reasonable on the surface, but it could easily backfire.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my first impressions of Google+. I liked it a lot then, and I like it now. I’m noticing, though, that there’s an unhappy trend in posts from people in my Circles. There’s a prevailing attitude of, “Well now what do we do?”

Some brands have managed to slip through. Pete Cashmore of Mashable has a personal Google+ profile that he’s now “winding down” in preparation for a Google+ branded account for Mashable. This is after Mashable’s original personal-esque account went on hiatus. It’s enough to give you whiplash.

Given the benefit of hindsight, I have to wonder if Google wouldn’t have been wiser to beta test branded accounts first, or in conjunction with the very first personal accounts. Waiting until the site has 20 million users before actively discussing branded accounts (and suspending many branded accounts masquerading as personal ones) is like opening a shopping mall with no stores.

A site like Facebook, which started out as personal and casual and only gradually migrated to a more business-friendly approach, is a different animal. The main draw of Google+, near as I can tell, was always the networking/professional aspect. Some people I follow or who follow me use it casually, but the vast majority of them post about technology, journalism and politics. Even the personal is professional.

We can always discuss such things on personal accounts, but if we can’t engage with “official” newspaper, TV station, magazine, business and news site accounts, what can that accomplish?

Google+ needs to present a clear and compelling reason for its existence and open up the personal-to-business channels, or it’ll be drowning in cat GIFs in six months for lack of anything else for people to do.

Your Social Media Strategy Here

Fertilizer-pushing is not my strong suit.

I’m deep, deep into the job hunt at the moment. When I apply for a position, I do my very best to use direct, plain language. If I describe an achievement or a milestone, I use tangible markers. Kansan.com saw increased site traffic and expanded multimedia content, and won a Pacemaker from the Associated Collegiate Press when I was the site’s managing editor. See how simple that was?

No mention of “humanizing the brand.” Or starting “organic conversations.” Or “leveraging influencers.”

Almost a year ago, I wrote about social media strategy with the same level of annoyance, and nothing has really changed.

How can we, as journalists, put such a high value on clear, concise language, while simultaneously clogging our CVs, “About” sections and job postings with rhetorical nonsense? If I read a job posting and can’t even figure out what my daily duties would be, I move on.

In my earlier post, I hypothesized that maybe we use vague language to describe social media because even we haven’t really figured it out yet. Or we want to seem indispensable. I grimace when I see anyone describe themselves as a “social media guru.” There is nothing spiritual about Twitter, I promise. If you’re that good, you don’t need to hide behind flowery language.

Ascribing some higher level of importance or even mysticism to social media ignores or downplays the stone-cold truth: If you link to quality content and reply to your audience respectfully and helpfully, you will gain and maintain followers. If you ignore queries or rarely tweet or spam people, you won’t. From the perspective of a company like Foursquare, successful branded accounts will post tips early and often and reward their followers with badges and possible merchandise discounts. Foursquare is, at its root, a game. So give your customers that experience.

I love editing. I love the ins and outs of journalism on the Web, and I love social media and what it can accomplish in terms of connecting people and spreading information. I love those things so much that I can call a spade a spade. I can say exactly what I do. I hope others can do the same.

Google+ — a plus, or a minus?

It’s been about 32 hours since I accepted my Google+ invite, and I’m ready to give my initial reaction.

My signed-up friends — most of whom are former journalism school classmates — and I have used Google+ to debate the merits of Google+. How meta. One of my friends called it “Facebook built by the post-Facebook generation.” Others praised its cleanness and ease of use.

While I maintain a pretty far-flung social media presence, it’s rare that I join a platform this early on (although my Facebook account, from June 2005, is relatively ancient). So I thought I’d take advantage of that and offer up my impressions. Here it goes.

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  • The design is remarkably clean and straightforward. It doesn’t have a signature “look” like Facebook just yet (although it dovetails well with Gmail, Reader, Docs and other Google goodies), but nor is it an eyesore like MySpace tended to be.
  • I love, love, LOVE the idea of circles. My friends’ opinions vary somewhat — some praise it, others think it builds walls needlessly. My one hangup with Twitter is that it’s hard to separate personal, non-DM replies to friends from more professional/serious tweets. With circles, you can easily keep professional items professional and personal items personal. You can do this with Facebook, too, but in my experience it’s a much bigger headache.
  •  It seems to take the best parts of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Tumblr and combine them. You’re free to shape your profile however you want — one of my friends is off and running with GIFs, others are sharing videos and photos and others are having conversations through status updates. It has a definite “it is what you make it” feel.
  • The simple yet aesthetically nifty way that Google+ displays photo albums is something I like, but I haven’t seen much said about it. Instead of cycling through individual photos in an album or seeing a wall of uniform thumbnails (like Facebook), photos are displayed with their cutlines in a crisp mosaic. Thumbs up.
  • I like the idea of Sparks, where you submit subject tags of interest (politics, economics, news, whatever) and receive a filtered newsfeed as a result. It’s nothing that Google Reader and a Twitter feed don’t already do, pretty much, but it’s nice having an in-platform option.
  • I’d like to see photo- and video-specific postings that allow URLs and not just file uploading. You can share online photos and YouTube videos, obviously, but as far as I can tell it’s treated like a generic post. Given Google’s ownership of YouTube, this is kind of awkward. EDIT: Google+ actually does allow for photo- and video-sharing using URLs. For some reason I was unable to locate it earlier, but it’s definitely there. Consider this shortcoming deleted.
  • The hangout feature, which is basically a sprawling video/chat meet-up (either planned or impromptu) has potential, but I confess I haven’t tried it yet. It looks like some outlets, like The Huffington Post, have used it already with some success.
  • Unlike Twitter (which allows one “official” URL) and Facebook (which buries them), Google+ lets you link to multiple personal and social media profiles, and displays them prominently on your page. I have links to this blog, my LinkedIn profile, my Tumblr, my Twitter and my Foursquare. Nifty.
  • The biggest complaint: so few people. With about 4.5 million users (last time I checked), Google+ has less than 1% of the registered users that Facebook does. It seems content to follow a pace of steady, gradually increasing growth. I think its real test will come when “normal” people — not journalists or technology enthusiasts — start migrating over, if they do. Google+ has to offer them something that they’re not getting with Facebook or Twitter. What that might be, I think, depends on the user. But Google+ can’t rely too much on exclusivity and being a journalistic utopia, or else it could easily go the way of Google Wave.
So there you have it. Frankly I’m pretty impressed, but only time will tell if the novelty can successfully segue into indispensability.