Facebook Places: The Essential Guide for Marketers and Developers

On Wednesday, August 18, 2010, Facebook launched Places, a location based service that enhances current sharing capabilities (like wall comments, videos, notes, etc.) by allowing user to broadcast their whereabouts to their Facebook friends. The idea behind Places is that Places will simplify and encourage spontaneous interactions with other friends.

Over the past few days, I’ve had a chance to get “under the hood” and check out Facebook Places. Below are the essential things that Facebook marketers and developers need to know about this new service.

How does Facebook Places work?

Facebook has created a short video that explains the features of Places (see below). The critical feature to note is that friends can easily add a location by completing a couple of fields (Name and description of location). However, once a location is added, friends cannot edit or delete it.

But with an iPhone, you can report on a location — you can tell Facebook that the location has closed (eg: gone out of business!) or it is a duplicate listing.

How can Facebook users access Places?

At the present time, Places works only on the iPhone or via the Places mobile site. To access Facebook Places via the website, you must have a browser that supports the W3 Geo-location specifications. This means that you can check-in on advanced browsers such as Firefox (3.1 or greater) or Chrome (assuming that you know how to enable the -enable-geolocation flag). While this service is currently available only in the United States on the iPhone, Facebook has indicated that they will offer this service in new countries and support other platforms in the near future (no specific dates were provided).

What can business owners do with Places?

Business owners can claim their location by clicking on the “Is this your business?” link on the listing page and completing a short form. They must also provide a official document and confirm that they  authorized to manage that listing. Once the information is submitted to Facebook,  they  receive a confirmation email that their information is being processed. They are also taken to the Facebook business centers where brands can learn how they can interact with Facebook users (eg: purchase ads).

Location listing on Facebook Places

Form business owbers complete to claim a Place

Confirmation email from Facebook that Place ownership is being verified

How can developers and marketers leverage Facebook Places?

Facebook Places provides additional data about users on Facebook. The data is available only once a user has agreed to share their information with the application. Since this data is not a part of the standard user profile (it requires a user_checkin extended data permission), Facebook developers have to create an application that would compel users to allow/release their location information. The data that marketers can access includes, the location information, the user’s information, the check-in date/time, etc. (view diagram via MindMeister). Once a Facebook user checks-in at a location, the information is readily viewed from the news feed as Facebook has elevated the weight of these postings. To maximize exposure and access to Places data, it is highly recommended that developers add friends_checkin extended data permission. This permission would authorize marketers to collect check-in data for a user’s friends, which can enhance the overall experience. At the present time, Places data can only be read — Facebook has not exposed the check-in API calls. These calls surely exist but are available only to partners FourSquare and Gowalla who are currently working to integrate their services with Facebook Places.

Data diagram for Facebook Places

Why did Facebook create Places?

At first glance, you’d think that Facebook saw the success of FourSquare or Gowalla and got location-based services envy. However, it seems that there are more compelling reasons to roll out this service, including:

  • Access to more data. Google showed the world that user data is king. The people at Facebook are smart and they see how the additional location data provides one more bit of information about the user that can be used to better target the user. Places also provides Facebook with user-generated data on businesses that otherwise would have to be purchased.
  • Location-based services offer an important dimension. One of biggest challenges with web searches is the lack of context. For example, a user that searches for “tiger” may be interested in either tigers (the animal) or Tiger (the golfer).  Facebook has the same problem when it comes to social media data. For example, the Like button may convey a user’s interest or preference but it lacks context, as a user may like the brand, the product or some other attribute. With Places, Facebook is one step closer to understanding what the user wants. (NOTE: Om Malik also shares my point of view on this matter; source).
  • Revenue from businesses. Google monetizes each and every search using their ad network. In the same way, Facebook has attempted to monetize their network of users. Facebook is promoting Pages as the desired location where brands should engage with the user in conversations. Looking to the future, it is not unimaginable that Facebook will require brands to pay a fee for either a premium Page listing or a premium position within the news feed (which is no different than what Twitter is doing these days). By that point in time, brands will be forced to jump on board and pay a premium to differentiate themselves or ignore Facebook, which is highly unlikely.

It seems that Facebook took a page out of Google’s playbook when they considered this service. As Facebook Places gains momentum, it will be interesting to see how brands utilize this service to interact with and market to their consumers.

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