Since Facebook rolled out its major Timeline redesign in early 2012, marketers and researchers have been scrambling to figure out just how to use the new format to its full potential. This post will focus specifically on the panoramic photo at the top, known as your Cover Photo. As a recent eye tracking study for Mashable showed, your visitors will be looking at it – and in .5 seconds or less.

Before we get started, take note that Facebook specifically prohibits the following in custom Cover Photo designs:

– Price or purchase information, such as sales and special offers.
– Contact details like your website or address – this belongs in your “About” section.
– References to Facebook features including Like and Share buttons
– Calls to action like “Get it now!” or “Tell your friends”

Basically, whether you’re choosing a single photo from your library or designing a custom image from scratch, keep the following in mind: your Cover Photo is not just a billboard.

Studies have shown that viewers will blow right past the whole top section of a page if it looks anything like promotional material. People are already pre-disposed to think of this as “advertising space” so your Cover Photo needs to challenge that assumption right away.

Consider an evocative photo that speaks to the tone of your brand. Digital agency Studiobanks suggests showing people interacting with your brand or product: “What better way to help potential fans connect emotionally with your organization than by embodying the lifestyle and personality of your brand.” Coca-Cola does a great job with this. The eye tracking study mentioned earlier also found that Cover Photos featuring faces attracted the most attention.

Coca-Cola Cover Photo

Another smart strategy is to involve your fans in your Cover Photo selection. Photographic supply company Midwest Photo Exchange uses a long-running monthly Cover Photo Contest to showcase their fans’ images. This not only provides a great way for fans to connect with the brand, it ensures that their image is always fresh and keeps people coming back to see what’s new each month.

Midwest Photo Exchange Cover Photo

Once you get the hang of showcasing your brand’s lifestyle with your Cover Photo, try getting creative with the space. Consider how the 180 pixel Profile Picture (the one that appears in the bottom left corner) can interact with your 850 x 315 pixel Cover Photo. Is there a design element that flows between them? Does the smaller image look like it’s a part of the larger one? Some brands are getting very crafty with this – and if it’s clever enough, it might just go viral.

Corona Cover Photo

Need some inspiration? Browse Hubspot’s compilation of 17 great Cover Photos.

And if you’re not a professional graphic designer yourself, check out the new Cover Photo Designer tool from Pagemodo for creating a Cover Photo that’s sure to grab your visitors and keep them engaged from the beginning.

Have you tried your hand at a custom Cover Photo yet? We’d love to see your creations!

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