Facebook Places, the Growing Check-In Culture, and Small Business

23 08 2010

Last week, Facebook debuted its newest and highly anticipated location-based product – Facebook Places.  Much like Foursquare, Yelp and others, Facebook Places allows users to “check-in” to various businesses and locations, and share with everyone in their network where they are or what they’re doing.  They have even produced a fancy video to explain all about it.  However, a recent study has shown that still only 4% of the Internet population uses any of these location-based programs, and even less use it more than once per week.  If that’s the case, it might not matter if Facebook joined the check-in party late because it could be the service that finally makes location-based social networks main-stream.  Here’s why:

  1. User base – Over 500 million people use Facebook worldwide.  This is a staggering number of potential users, and coupled with the growing use of smartphones we’ll definitely see the rise in check-ins across the globe.
  2. Simplicity – Facebook has kept Places simple and easy to use from the start, focusing on three essential ideas: sharing with your friends where you are, connecting with your friends nearby, and discovering new places.  And they included what makes personal connections happen on the site – tagging.  Much like the photos you upload to your profile, Places allows you to tag your friends as you are checking in.
  3. Partners – Facebook didn’t throw everything into this new product hoping to compete with all the various services already out there.  Instead, they partnered with them.  Foursquare, Yelp and a couple of others were included in the press conference and revealed how they would be integrating with Places.  At least for now, you won’t earn badges using Places.  You will still have to use Foursquare, Gowalla, Yelp, etc. to get those.  Facebook wants to concentrate on personal connections and memories people form, and their partners will hope to grow their user bases from the increased exposure being on all those Newsfeeds.
  4. Privacy –  Facebook wanted to make sure they didn’t receive the backlash they’ve gotten for past changes.  Users can opt-out of friends tagging them, set exactly who will see their check-ins and much more.  If these setting are good enough for users, adoption could be high.

So with all this potential, what’s a small business to do?  First, join the coming land-grab and claim the Places Page for your business.  Search for your business in the search box at the top.  If it exists, look for the simple question “Is this your business?”.  Click the link and follow the instructions which include phone verification and uploading a certificate or licence.  If your business is not listed yet, add it yourself on either the iPhone app or touch.facebook.com.  While it might seem confusing now to have both Fan Pages and Places Pages, the two pages will eventually merge once the Places Page has been claimed.  And Facebook also hints that business with multiple locations and Pages might be merged together as well in the future.

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