Facebook Places: What it is, How it Works, What it Means

23 Aug
August 23, 2010

Something substantial happened in the sphere-o-social-media this past week – Facebook’s rumored geolocation “check-ins” feature finally cropped up. It’s called Facebook Places. But you probably knew that already since it’s likely that you’ve recently seen a story about a friend’s location appear in your News Feed. Or maybe you know of it because Facebook alerted you to grant permission for Places.  Anyway, Places is kind of a big deal. Let’s talk about it.

What it Is

Places is Facebook’s newest feature that gives users the ability to share their location with friends in the form of a “check-in” that appears in friends’ News Feeds as a status update. The purpose of Facebook Places (and other location based services) is to allow friends to share the places they like to go. Facebook already allows us to share our activities, interests and experiences; now, Facebook wants us to be able to share another social element we tend to already share with close friends – where we eat lunch, where we shop, and who we’re with. Check out the video below for Facebook’s explanation of Places and why it’s beneficial:

How it Works: The Basics about Places

  • A new type of Facebook Page has been created for local business locations. About 14 million local business Places Pages have been added to Facebook. These pages are similar to the existing Community Pages about a particular topic, interest or thing that users can “Like” and contribute to. Liking the Places Page means a user likes that location rather than the brand’s Fan Page. After claiming your Place, it is possible to link your Places Page with your Fan Page. This article walks you through the process of claiming your Place.

This is what Sitewire’s Places Page looks like:

You can now see “Local Business” locations pre-populating in search:

You can sort search results to show only “Places” Pages:



Once a user likes a Place and it has been published as a story to that user’s wall, a preview of the Place appears when a user hovers over the story:

  • From your phone, tap the Places icon and you’ll see a list of nearby Places. If you don’t see your location, you can add it and a Places Page will be created. Tap on your location from the list, and you can check-in, tag any friends who are with you (similar to how users tag friends in photos), and add a status update about what you’re doing. When you tag a friend, you will be checking them in if they allow third party check-ins. If your friend doesn’t allow third party check-ins, then tagging them will be just like tagging them in a status update. They won’t be checked in to the Places Page. Read the FAQs for more info on how to use Places.

This is what the touch.facebook.com version of Places looks like:

  • You can only check in your Facebook friends (people you’re actually connected to), and only when you first check into a location yourself. You can see who else is at your location under the “People Here Now” section for that place.
  • Facebook says all Places check-ins are visible only to friends by default unless your master privacy control is set to “Everyone.” You can disable your friends’ ability to check you into a location, exclude yourself from the “People Here Now,” and customize who can see your check-ins under Facebook’s privacy settings.
  • Currently, Facebook Places is only available in the United States. It’s only accessible via the iPhone Facebook app and touch.facebook.com viewed on other smart phones with HTML5-enabled browsers and support of W3 geolocation.
  • Facebook’s focus appears to be simply sharing your location with your friends as opposed to including gaming elements or promotional check-in incentives that you find with other location services such as Foursquare and Gowalla.
  • Facebook has decided not to wipe other location-based services off the face of the Earth (which seems contrary to the subtly suggestive number “4″ inside a “square” in the Places logo). Instead, these services can use Places to enhance their own offerings. It’s not entirely clear how this will work, but Gowalla Chief Technical Officer Scott Raymond said in an interview with VentureBeat that Gowalla’s plan was to allow users to push their check-ins from Gowalla into Facebook’s Places feature. It appears you will also be able to import your check-in badges, pins, and Gowalla passport stamps into Facebook.
  • Businesses can now create or claim their listings for free and manage them similar to Facebook Pages. Facebook is currently developing a solution for brands with multiple store locations.

Once you’ve added or found your Place, you can claim it:



Why it’s a Big Deal

The current availability of the Places feature may seem limiting, but there are 150 million active users who access Facebook from mobile phones who also happen to be twice as active as non-mobile users. To put it into perspective, Loopt has 4 million users, and Foursquare has 2.6 million users. POW! Facebook now has a location-based offering that automatically surpasses the user base of all other geolocation platforms.

Even though Facebook claims it plans to play nicely with other location-based platforms, will other users continue to use their services if they a) already spend a hefty amount of time on Facebook, b) already have their friends there, and c) don’t have to go to another app or platform to check-in? Maybe. Maybe not. I predict that people new to location-based services will start with Facebook Places because it’s integrated with a platform they’re already used to, which is another reason why location sharing in general is likely to become far more popular than it is currently.

Besides, Places just launched; it’s not fully developed. Once it’s available in other locations and on more devices, its adoption will increase. Imagine how meaningful check-ins will become if they’re incorporated into Facebook Events, coupled with the ability to post photos so that people can share memories of that event, creating a virtual scrapbook in real time…

The Upside for Marketers and Businesses

There are several big benefits to Places. Benefit numero uno: Any time a user checks in to your establishment, it gets published to their friends’ News Feeds. This means free, organic impressions for your business, its location, who has been there. You pay nothing.

Also, you can advertise you Place using Facebook ads just like you advertise your Fan Page. Furthermore, developers can access location check-ins to create custom applications. If your business is in travel and tourism, you can develop an application that helps Facebook users see which of their friends have frequented a city’s hot-spots. Local bars, clubs and restaurants can use Places check-ins to help Facebook friends connect and find each other. There are plenty of opportunities to make your establishment more relevant to current and potential customers’ lives.

The Bottom Line

Despite privacy concerns, people are starting to check-in using Places, and they’re going to continue to check-in to the businesses they frequent whether business owners are prepared or not. And Places users will be talking about their experiences while they were there, sharing with all visitors of that Places Page whether they had a good experience or a bad one. Should your business consider location-based marketing? Yes. Should your business claim its listings on Facebook Places? Absolutely. We can help.

Is your business prepared to embrace Places? Share your thoughts in the comments.

*Chris Corak contributed to this post.

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