February 29, 2012; Source: ZDNet

Facebook has begun to roll out its new “Timeline” design for Pages, a change that will be mandatory for all users by the end of March 2012. What does this mean for your nonprofit and your constituents?

Facebook’s Timeline design is a new look for the site’s profiles and pages that the Washington Post as “a personal history, scrapbook, autobiography, and news center” all in one. Facebook users were recently offered the opportunity to change how their personal profile looked and functioned on the site. Come March 30th, Facebook will transition all Pages to the Timeline format, meaning that your nonprofit’s Facebook presence will undergo a mandatory change.

Your fans will be greeted with cosmetic changes, like a new layout that includes ample space for branding, and a chronological ordering of all your Facebook interactions. There are other changes to how Timeline pages work and what they can do, including full integration of third-party apps. In other words, Timeline apps automatically post to Facebook information about your activities elsewhere on the Web. Social media strategist Debra Askanase describes the change this way: “Facebook is promoting this as the new way to know what your friends are doing, in real time. I’m a bit more realistic: this roll out offers Facebook and application developers a lot of information about what you like to do.”

Askanase goes on to explain what fundraisers have already done to capitalize on this free information, and how nonprofits can benefit from the new Timeline. The added promotion of your cause, activities, and mission on Facebook, she argues, can give your organization a lift.

Beth Kanter has also extolled the potential nonprofit uses of Timeline, and her readers were quick to point out their privacy concerns. Indeed, the new Timeline changes rules about how information is accessed, and not simply new information, but all of your historical data, as well. The Electronic Privacy Information Center, which has been among the first in line to guard Facebook user privacy in the past, is asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the legality of the changes.

Legal concerns aside, not all users want their online lives broadcast, especially without the chance to vet what information is being shared about them. When handling personal information on social networks, we would do well to—at a minimum—treat it like we do e-mail addresses: with the kind of concern for privacy that we grant to opt-in mailing lists. –James David Morgan