Message It: How to Make the Most of Your Facebook Timeline Page (Part 2)

READ THIS FIRST: Your Nonprofit’s Facebook Timeline Page: Checklist for Connection (Part 1)

Your Facebook Cover Photo Is Prime Real Estate, It Better Be Good

Photographs have incredible power in their ability to draw us, almost sub-consciously, into stories. And it seems that digesting visual content, rather than the narrative content we’re more used to, allows us to engage a bit more freely and fully than usual. Here’s how to make the greatest impact with the large cover photo featured in Timeline, the new Facebook page format:

Facebook Timeline requires organizations to place a large “cover photo” at the top of the page, up to a size of 851 x 315 pixels. That’s about 70% of the screen on my huge iMac screen, which means it could cover up to 80% of the vertical space of the average laptop. That doesn’t leave much space to view other elements on the page, so you have to make it rich and ultimately engaging.

This transition in your Facebook page layout is of minimal importance, but what is compelling is how this transition (and the need to come up with an engaging cover photo) has focused nonprofits like yours on a key challenge: How to convey their value in a single image.

Beyond the real estate, your cover photo is a vital hook in drawing your Facebook community (and visitors) into your organization’s story (now conveyed as a timeline on Facebook), and drives them to learn more about the organization and (we hope) take action.

How to Know What Photo Will Work

Select a photo (or collage of photos) that conveys the core message of your organization’s impact in a way that’s relevant, specific, and emotionally compelling. Before you choose a photo, join your colleagues to pinpoint what you’re trying to achieve, and whom you need to engage to get there, . Then move on to define the strategies and impact that should be conveyed in the photo.

Search for, or take, an image that is strong enough to transport members of your network so they can experience what it’s like to step in another’s shoes. That’s what the best storytelling does, and what you can do with visual storytelling Facebook style:

Here’s how to shape your new page around photos and images that engage and motivate your community:

The Right Message Makes Even the Best Photo Resonate More Strongly: Shape and Use Your Cover Photo Well

Most photos (and video) are stronger when framed by some context. That’s why video starts with a title screen and generally finishes with a close, and why many photos and illustrations feature captions. The messaging has to be just enough—not too much as to prevent the viewer from fully experiencing (think of it as entering the photo), but not too little so that the viewer is barred from entrance by confusion or frustration.

A succinct, targeted message that complements your photograph provides credibility. Even more importantly, it frames the image to direct the viewer towards the action you want them to take, often leading directly to the “aha” moment.

But Facebook Says You Have to Soft Sell—No Calls to Action

Facebook’s always been big on rules, and this transition is no exception. Here are the rules for cover photos:

Cover images…may not contain:

  • Price or purchase information, such as “40% off” or “Download it at our website”
  • Contact information, such as web address, email, mailing address or other information intended for your Page’s About section
  • References to user interface elements, such as Like or Share, or any other Facebook site features
  • Calls to action, such as “Get it now” or “Tell your friends.”

Well that wipes out the most vital messaging there is: Your website (still your home base online) and your call to action.
It’s ironic that this ban comes from the organization that turned “Like” into the biggest call to action ever.

But I hear that Facebook enforces the rules, and I advise you to play by them. Pages like the one below, featuring two banned messages, are likely to be yanked:

Here’s How to Use Messaging that Connects, While Following
Facebook’s Rules

I urge you to integrate messaging into your cover photo to frame the experience of your page for your Facebook network and occasional visitors. Here are some messaging approaches that work well:

1) Weave in your tagline, if it connects your organization’s results with what’s important to your target audiences, quickly and effectively in eight words or less. Make sure it is motivational, and easy to remember to repeat. And your tagline should relate clearly and easily to your cover image.

This example from the International Rescue Committee is a fantastic example of powerful branding. I always knew what IRC did but this cover photo plus tagline clarifies its impact in a deep, emotional way.

2) Announce an event or campaign (but don’t try to sell tickets!)

3) Include Messaging Within The Image Itself

If you’re dead set on featuring a call to action or other messaging, this is one of two ways you can do it.

4) Feature Your Call to Action in the Description Field

 Mix and Match

I recommend that you approach your cover image much as you do your website home page. Like your home page, your Facebook page is viewed by fans who return constantly, and by those who are learning about your organization for the first time. There’s no longer a welcome page option, so your cover page has to engage all groups.

Here’s how:

  • Rotate your cover image, but ensure it conveys a consistent organizational brand. Otherwise, you’ll confuse visitors and fans alike.
  • Use your four tabs to engage return visitors.
  • “Highlight” and “pin” key updates.

Bonus: Create a Cover Image or Two for Your Facebook Community and Other Supporters to Use on Their Pages

The quickest, cheapest and one of the most reliable way to expand your reach is to ask your colleagues and supporters to serve as messengers, and show them how to be most effective.

I urge you to jump on this opportunity to get your community involved at the nitty-gritty level, by asking them to use your organization’s cover as their personal cover image. And these images can include your vital calls to action!

The Food Bank of Contra Costa & Solano models this approach and provides a range of images for its supporters to choose from.


Here are several other models that provide a strong jumping off point for your own “spread the word” campaign.

What’s your organization’s Facebook cover photo strategy—what are the types of images you think will work well and why, and how often to you plan to replace the photo?

Remember to read: Your Nonprofit’s Facebook Timeline Page: Checklist for Connection (Part 1)

(Note: This article was first published as a post in Beth’s Blog, thanks to blogger Beth Kanter).