Facebook isn't even a decade old, so what's a century-plus-old picture of Sierra Club founder John Muir doing there, as if it had been posted the day
it was taken?
With the advent of Facebook's new timeline page format for brands, Sierra Club has posted commemorations of its biggest moments, dating from its
founding in 1892. The environmental organization has taken the social media site—an ongoing catalog of the here and now—and has turned it into an
archive of its history.
"We go back 120 years," says Chris Thomas, the organization's director of digital strategies. "There's a lot of content, there's a lot of media that
exists over that period. It was sort of an immediate light bulb where we thought, this is something we can really take advantage of."
Building the timeline
Thomas concedes that when Facebook introduced its timeline for individual pages in January, he didn't quite get it. Individual users aren't terribly
likely to backfill their timelines with their life stories, he says. But for an organization with a long history of achievement, it's perhaps the
"optimal way" to use Facebook, he says.
Sierra Club built its Facebook presence early on in Facebook's life, Thomas says, and the organization is active on Twitter and Pinterest, too. So when Facebook
announced timeline would open up for brands in late February, Sierra Club acted fast. The communications department dug through the organization's
archive of historic photos—"We put a lot of effort into tracking our history," Thomas says—and built the timeline in two weeks.
"We have a newly launched digital strategies department where we come up with the strategies for what we want to do; then we work with the
communications department," Thomas says. "Their process is deciding exactly what photos to put up there."
The organization's aim was to remind fans what Sierra Club has accomplished but also to inform people of things they may not have known about, such as
photographer Ansel Adams' tenure as a member of Sierra Club's board of directors. Adams took the famous 1928 photo "On the Way to Drawbridge Peak," which is featured in the timeline.
"To actually see that embedded in the context, to realize how many years came before that really gives you a sense of the scope of the Sierra Club,"
The banner image at the top of Sierra Club's Facebook page serves as something of a contrast to the historic pictures in the timeline, he says. The
iconic tree in the foreground symbolizes Sierra Club's environmental history, but the stars in the background, shot with a time-lapse technique,
indicate forging ahead to the future, with "a sense of community and inclusion," Thomas says.
Soon after Sierra Club unveiled its Facebook timeline, Fast Company magazine recognized it as one of five brands using the format well.
"Internally, people have been extremely excited about it, because nobody has had an electronic or digital document" of the organization's history,
Thomas says. As for public response, it's been "unanimously positive," he says.
The 100-year-old pictures on the page don't have a ton of comments just yet, but of those that do, the comments tend to be geared toward the impact of
what's being documented or the beauty of the image.
The changeover to timeline hasn't had a tremendous impact on Sierra Club's "day-to-day advocacy" on Facebook, Thomas says. "We're still trying to work
out the puzzle of how to most effectively use it to get people to take action," he says, noting that email is still its biggest driver of community
However, Thomas says it'll be interesting to see how the organization marks milestones that come along in the Facebook era. "How we're going to
continue to maintain that record of history outside of the temporal stuff that's appearing, I don't think we've thought about that yet."
In some ways, thinking about that could fundamentally change Facebook as it becomes a historical record and not just a place to keep piling up
announcements and updates, he says.
"We know what our big victories are," says Thomas. Now Sierra Club's got to discover how best to commemorate them.
Matt Wilson is a staffer writer for Ragan.com.