Facebook Places Checks Out – Will Your Customers Follow?

Facebook’s rollout a year ago of Facebook Places was hailed as the Foursquare Killer and the Gowalla Strangler. It was to be the next big thing in location-based services. Facebook Places seemed to be a win for the social network as many small and multi-location retailers jumped on the bandwagon, ensuring their Places pages were as robust as possible – akin to building out Google Places profiles. However, Facebook is now checking out and taking the Places tool off the market, a move that will create a seismic tremor noticeable in local marketing.

This move may make sense for Facebook. In reality, Places was used by only 6 percent of the Facebook audience. However, that still represents 45 million users. Compare this to category leader Foursquare, which boasts 10 million users, and we are still talking about a considerable user base. Yet, the feature’s potential was dwarfed since the check-in feed was never brought to the web interface, and only users with smartphones could access Places.

Now, this change in no way indicates location will no longer be a part of Facebook. Quite the contrary: as a layer of context within posts, location will actually be upgraded.

“Now when you click ‘check in’ you will be directed to your status and have an opportunity to add social context to your check-in – things like who you’re with, where you are and what you are doing,” a Facebook official told PC World.

Making location a component of status updates, photos, and other content will surely give users more context to what their friends are sharing, and lends itself to a more natural migration into the Facebook user’s behavior.

But the big question for retailers is whether the removal of Facebook Places affects a brand’s overall local visibility? Well, 45 million users isn’t a flash mob that disappears unnoticed. Marketers have three opportunities to overcome this loss and remain competitive in the local space.

  • With check-ins now an integrated Facebook action, it should open up greater targeting via Facebook sponsored stories, creating new ad opportunities.
  • Facebook Places had a high SEO influence (99 out of 100 on the SEOmoz influence scale), so brands must find a way to replace that with on-site optimization and deeper local experiences.
  • Brands may choose to double down on other location-based sites such as Foursquare and use their functionality combined with in-store messaging to transfer the audience to committed platforms.

Facebook is moving toward a more integrated local experience. Long term, that’s good for marketers. In the short term, however, these tactical shifts can mean the difference between customers checking your business out or just checking out all together.

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