New Facebook Places Features Poised To Expand "Checking In" To The Masses

Today Facebook announced three mobile enhancements for Facebook Places, including new functionality that developers of mobile applications may incorporate into their products and a powerful new (and free) platform for connecting mobile consumers with relevant ads for nearby businesses.  Today's pronouncements demonstrate the ambition and vision Facebook has for itself in mobile computing and socializing over the long term, but in the immediate future Facebook now is poised to bring the wonders of checking in to the masses. 

Chances are, you are NOT reporting your location (aka "checking in") to your friends and followers in social networks.  According to Forrester data from earlier this year, just 4% of US online adults have ever used location-based social networks on their mobile phones.  Simply put, there hasn't been enough WIIFM ("What's In It For Me") to entice and retain the typical consumer.  Now, Facebook is set to change that, lowering the bar and improving the WIIFM for a wider range of consumers. Average Facebook users who previously felt "checking in" was better suited for narcissists and techies can now realize benefits from location-based services (LBSes, also known as geolocation) via a larger and richer set of offers and deals.  

Facebook's new Deals feature is uniquely positioned to bring rapid changes to consumer behavior over the next year.  Here's why:  First, Facebook is a platform with 500 million avid users (compared to the 4 million who currently use Foursquare), and with each passing month more consumers are accessing and updating Facebook via their smartphones.  Second, Facebook's new Deal platform is free for marketers and SMBs; anyone who claims a location on the Facebook Places platform can easily and quickly launch an offer.  Finally, marketers are lining up to create offers on this new Facebook platform. In the coming weeks, watch for deals such as:

  • 24 Hour Fitness: Donating $1 to Kaboom to support children's health for everyone who checks into its fitness clubs.
  • American Eagle Outfitters: Offering 20% off.
  • Chipotle: Giving its Facebook guests two entrees for the price of one.
  • Gap: Giving blue jeans to the first 10,000 customers to claim their deal.
  • Golden State Warriors: Inviting those who check in to an exclusive event with a basketball player on the NBA team from Oakland, Calif.
  • Harrah's: Offering a complimentary nightclub admission, buffet or other gift to people who stop by any of its 10 Las Vegas resorts.
  • H&M: Offering 20% off.
  • Macy's: Offering 20% off select merchandise.
  • McDonald's: Giving $1 per customer to the Ronald McDonald House Charities.
  • North Face: Donating $1 to the National Park Foundation for every person who checks in at a North Face store or National Park.
  • The Palms: Upgrading your room or extending your weekend at the hotel another night — on the house.
  • REI: Donating $1 to a local conservation non-profit when you visit its stores.
  • Starbucks: Donating $1 per guest to Conservation International.

Offers such as these from national brands combined with Deals from SMBs will create a powerful pull for consumers.  As businesses experiment and launch no-cost ads, these offers will become the hook that entices and encourages a fresh group of consumers who are new to the check-in process. This is why Facebook's new Deal platform is a win-win-win:  Consumers will be encouraged to check in more often because of the deals available; businesses can drive more traffic and engage consumers with ads that cost nothing; and Facebook wins by increasing engagement on the platform. 

As of now Deals are in beta, which means that offers can be launched only by a limited number of Place owners at this time. Those who are part of the beta can select "Create Deal" from the right side of their page. Four different types of deals can be created:

  • Individual: Businesses can offer a basic deal such as 20% off an item or a free gift with purchase.
  • Friend: This allows businesses to provide Deals to groups of up to 8 people, when they check in together.
  • Loyalty: To focus on rewarding loyal customers, businesses can create a Loyalty Deal, which may be claimed after no fewer than two and no more than 20 check-ins.
  • Charity: Businesses can donate to a charity of their choice each time a user checks in.

Although Facebook will not charge businesses for these ads, it is evident that there is tremendous revenue potential as this program grows.  Eventually businesses won't want to be just one of many ads that consumers see but will demand ways to differentiate and surface ads, which is how Facebook can eventually turn consumer check-ins and local ads into a new revenue stream.  Within a year or two, businesses will be bidding to have their deals gain more attention on the Facebook mobile platform, just as they currently do in Google AdWords.  

Facebook Deals was just one of three announcements the company made today.  Another announcement was new functionality that mobile application developers may utilize to create a single sign-on on phones. Facebook's ability to become a de facto single sign-on for all mobile apps will depend not only on how developers adopt this functionality, but also on the level of trust that consumers have in Facebook.  Given consumers' concern over privacy, Facebook will have to work to earn more trust and educate consumers before large numbers of people will feel comfortable using Facebook to log into other mobile applications.

One outstanding question is how Facebook's new Places features will affect the fledgling LBS category. To date, foursquare has garnered most of the headlines, and it continues on an aggressive path of innovation.  But in the space of two short months, Facebook has launched and amended its own compelling check-in service with greater reach, more appeal to marketers and SMBs, and a wider variety of ad types than are available on foursquare and other LBS platforms.  I found it interesting to note that while foursquare was a visible Facebook partner at the announcement of Facebook Places two months ago, it was absent from today's Facebook event.  It seems evident to me that the LBS space is in for some profound changes in the coming year as Facebook Places becomes as familiar to Facebook users as status updates and fan pages are today.

For more information on Facebook Deals, check out the information below or visit Facebook's document on Scribd

Finding Deals on Facebook

Four Types of Deals Available to Place Owners

Four types of Facebook Deals

Comments

Not mass yet

Hey Augie,

Not sure Facebook is unlocking the door to let the normal people into the wonders of deal-fueled check-in just yet. From their blog announcement it looks like these features are - for now - only available to users accessing Places thru the iPhone app.

It would seem, for the time being, this behavior will remain the realm of the "narcissists & techies" you correctly & colorfully finger above.

This highlights an important - and naggingly flawed - difference between platforms and brands delivering universal functionality via the mobile web and continuing to subset the world of users into apps ghettos.

The weird, trippy thrill of check-in (I still don't know why I do it, but I still do) now integrated with local deal targeting, offering & redemption, for the time being, at least, will remain aspirational for the great unwashed (that includes me ...) who don't pack an iPhone.

@tkennon | bigevidence.blogspot.com

Going mass quickly?

As always, thanks for the dialog, Thom!

As I understand it from the event, this new functionality is available on both Android and iPhone apps and anyone who can use the touch.facebook.com site. I think that's a pretty wide audience that goes beyond techies and narcassists.

That said, I agree Facebook could be more agressive at rolling this out. If I can check in and get deals via my Blackberry Foursquare app, why not my Facebook app? (The Facebook app on the BB is really pretty mediocre and hasn't, to my knowledge, been updated in quite some time.)

PS I'm hoping to trade up to an Androir device in two months. Then I, too, can among the narcassists and techies! :)

Count me as skeptical

I can always be proven wrong by time, but so far, I've not seen a great up-take of Places by my non-geek friends and family on Facebook. I think that might partially be due to the fact that a large number of them are posting from home in the evenings or while they're at work - 3pm on Wednesdays, right?

I'm not really certain Deals will be enough to pull them in and make them think of opening up their FB app while they're out and about. Maybe if the deals are all as good of a deal as a free pair of jeans, though. ;-)

I'm gonna have to wait and see on this one.
@LPT

Thanks, Laura

Thanks for weighing in. I never underestimate the power of relevant offers, but I agree there's an important barrier that has to be crossed before checking in is maintstream.

Augie, I have a friend who

Augie,

I have a friend who checks in to various locations at least 5 times per day using Foursquare and so I have deleted him from my News Feed as it was always the same places (Starbucks etc.) and nowhere new or interesting. No accompanying status updates or friends tagged.

Has FB considered this issue at all?

Jonathan

Check-In Overstimulation

Jonathon,

People checking in obsessively is certainly an issue, and I believe (but would have to check) that Facebook is taking steps to hide multiple check-ins from the same person at the same location--provided those check-ins come from Facebook Places. As for annoying friends who insist on pushing all of their check-ins from Foursquare to their social networks, that's a problem that can best be solved with a Facebook comment or email message that says, "Knock it off!" :)

Not everyone shares

Based on what I've seen for several of the Foursquare venues we manage, less than 10% of Foursquare checkins are shared through Twitter & Facebook.

Until Facebook changes the process to allow for semi-private checkins, it won't grow exponentially.

Thanks, Dustin

Dustin,

Thanks for the data and the prediction. I don't disgree, but I also think there's a lot of change and evolution we can expect from Facebook (and Foursquare) on check-in functionality. I anticipate that either Facebook will permit semi-private checkins or else checkins will rarely make their way into the news feed. (In fact, if memory serves, Facebook might've said that a person's first check-in at a location will be shared but each subsequent one will not.)

Nonetheless, your point is an excellent one: As checking in becomes more common, this data cannot become yet more noise in our social media feeds!