[Originally posted in September 2011, this post has been updated to reflect terminology and screenshots as of February 2015]
The difference between the "news feed" and the "timeline" [formerly known as the "wall" - often the terms are still used interchangeably] is a key concept you must understand if you are going to be an effective Facebook marketer. This post is designed to demystify the difference between them and illustrate the relationship between them so that you can:
- understand what content you are seeing when you are logged into Facebook
- be clear on who is seeing what posts you make in Facebook
- have an understanding of how you can get better marketing exposure for yourself and your brand in Facebook.
The timeline/news feed concepts are confusing for most because they are intertwined with two other important, yet often confusing, Facebook concepts: the difference between a profile and a page, and the complexity of Facebook's privacy settings, which impact the visibility of your profile timeline to other Facebook users. A good introductory explanation of this is given by Will Holloway:
The Timeline is a space on every Facebook user's profile page that allows friends to post messages for the user and the user's friends to see. The Facebook community calls these messages 'wall (or timeline) posts.' Depending upon the user's privacy settings, the timeline posts can be private, but most people keep them at the default setting, which is public.
I’ve compiled the following screen shots to illustrate the differences between a timeline and the news feed, as well as the relationship between them [click on the image to expand]:
As the image shows, if you post content on your business page timeline, you will likely see that post appear in your personal news feed [because you are the administrator and like your own page]. When people like a page, they “opt-in” to receive the posts of that page in their news feed. All of your page fans [aka people who like your page] have the opportunity to see the page timeline posts in their news feed. This is different than the timeline post from your page appearing on your profile timeline. If users are to navigate to your profile, they will NOT see the post from your page. You can prove this to yourself by viewing your own profile timeline. This is one of the great features of pages because it allows for a total separation between the content on your profile, and the content on your page. It also creates an opportunity to segregate your personal and your professional life on Facebook.
Further details and nuances of the difference between the news feed and the timeline are as follows:
The News Feed:
- The news feed is also known as the home page of Facebook. It is what you see when you log into Facebook. Note that when you log into Facebook, you are logging in under your personal profile identity. Even though you are logging into Facebook with your profile identity, you are not automatically looking at your profile's timeline. Facebook programmatically takes you to the news feed when you log into Facebook, not the timeline of your profile.
- You can navigate to the news feed at any time in Facebook by selecting the Facebook icon or the “home” navigation tab on the Facebook blue search bar that appears at the top of every page.
- The news feed reflects “activates” or “stories” related to people, pages, and groups your Facebook profile is connected to on Facebook. Your Facebook profile has “Facebook friends”, your Facebook profile “Likes” pages, and your Facebook profile is a "member" of groups. As a result, any of the activities from these connections can appear in your news feed.
- Your news feed is unique to you. The activities and stories you see in your news feed are a unique display based on the connections you have in Facebook to people, pages, and groups. Since everyone is connected to different people, pages, and groups, every Facebook user has a unique news feed.
- Timeline [previously known as the wall] is a place on a profile, page, or group where Facebook users post messages for others to see.
- Profiles have a timeline [visibility is controlled by each users Facebook privacy settings]
- Pages have a timeline [page walls are public and viewable by all internet users]
- Groups have a timeline [visibility is determined by the group settings and may or may not be visible to all Facebook users]
- The timeline is where you land on when you visit a Facebook users personal profile
- The timeline is where you land when you visit a Facebook page.
Need further clarification? Facebook has some additional information: How News Feed Works.