Often hinted and long awaited; Facebook rolled-out "Places" last week. Upon accessing this new feature, I was prompted with the message: "This feature will be available in your region soon. Thank you for your patience." Unfortunately, patience is not one of the virtues that was instilled in me at birth, so I got on the train to New York City to view the functionality.
In July, I touched on Foursquare functionality. Facebook Places is a check-in application that works similarly to Foursquare, but in Facebook's case, there isn't a game component…yet. But as we all know, Facebook users love games (e.g., FarmVille and Mafia Wars), and in time, perhaps a game factor will ensue.
How Facebook Places Works
Detailed instructions on how to get started can be found at Facebook Places FAQ, but here's the gist:
Step 1: Go to "Places" using your Facebook app and simply tap the "Check In" button. This will deliver a list of places around you using data from Localeze. If your place isn't on the list you can either search for it by typing in the name or add it.
Step 2: Select your place and "Check In." You will automatically pop up in your friend's news feed and in the activity for the Place's page.
When you check in, you'll also have the option to tag a friend with you, or post an update with your check-in to give people a little more insight into what you're doing.
You can't throw a stick in this industry without hitting a local/social experience. This is even more apparent with the two biggest Internet-mobile giants vying to control the local advertising space. Google has its recently renamed local business center, "Google Places," and now Facebook has its very own "Facebook Places." Coincidence? I think not. Both are targeting small to medium sized businesses to create their place pages in order to attract local consumers and, potentially monetize their offerings.
By the way, Google promotes Google Places with local business door stickers; the Facebook example door sticker is fictitious.
It's not always true that the biggest is the best, but in this case it is. Both Google and Facebook have distinct advantages that other players have yet to grasp…a massive audience.
One gets you to the place you're going to, but the other allows you to share the experience with friends who are with you or in your network.
If You Can't Beat Them, Buy Them
Google is becoming social. In 2010, Google has already acquired 18 companies including: Like.com, Slide.com, and Jambool, which should advance its rumored social site, Google Me. On the other hand, Facebook is becoming increasingly local. Just this week, Brooklyn-based Hot Potato (an event check-in application) announced through its blog that it has been acquired by Facebook. As for Foursquare (the early leader in the check-in space that turned down a $120 million offer from Facebook), it will have to find a big way to come out ahead of Google and Facebook if it wants to remain relevant.
For local and national businesses wondering what's in it for them, check out Checking In on Foursquare Marketing Opportunities for tips on how to get started in this space. The first (and most important) step to any of it, though, is to claim your listing - both on Google and Facebook Places. Users will eventually visit your place page and check in, so make sure your information is accurate when they get there.
Like Google Places, Facebook Places also encourages businesses to create or claim their place page free of charge. Once a business's place page has been claimed, you can advertise your place across the site. You can't target people who have checked in to your place just yet (hopefully soon), but you can target your ads to people who like your place.
In addition to building consumer trust through friend referrals, there are several ways that businesses can leverage Facebook Places to reward people who check in. Big brands are already utilizing other check-in sites (e.g., Foursquare, Gowalla, and Loopt) to reward users who check in with free and/or discounted products. Here are some things to keep in mind when developing a rewards system for check-ins:
Just like Google Places, advertisers would do well to take advantage of Facebook Places to reach consumers where they're searching and sharing. Facebook does a great job of offering businesses the opportunity to build consumer trust and loyalty through personal recommendations. In the end, with the two biggest online/mobile audiences in the world, the local marketplace just got a whole lot more interesting and competitive.
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Gregg Stewart is president of 15miles Local Marketing, a full-service marketing agency specializing in digital local solutions, headquartered in Connecticut. 15miles is a local search agency supporting the offline, online, and mobile solutions for businesses of all sizes, including Fortune 500 companies. At the helm, Stewart applies his successful, tenured career in interactive advertising and local search to the ongoing development of digital solutions for his clients' online-marketing campaigns. Through his strategic counsel, national and local brands become better equipped to target and reach niche consumers for increased leads and sales. In addition to his Clickz columns, additional columns can be found in the Search Engine Watch archive.
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