Villing & Company

Facebook Places: A New Dimension in Social Media Marketing

When I moved back to Indiana from Illinois, I put off making the necessary trip to the local license branch as long as legally possible. (Probably longer.) My instincts at self-preservation were spot-on, as usual. Without diving into the sordid details, my driving credentials were held up for approximately three months because a couple other gentlemen by the name of “Andrew Fuller” ran afoul of the law in New York and Pennsylvania. The kicker? Their alleged crimes – including drug trafficking – were committed while I was a sophomore in high school in northeastern Indiana. Yet nothing could move forward until I claimed my identity and proved I couldn’t have been in two places at once.

It’s an extreme example of mistaken location, but I find so much similar in the concerns many have with Facebook’s new Places feature, introduced August 18. Amid the privacy potshots taken at the service, marketers must not waste time in familiarizing themselves with this potentially powerful tool for customer engagement.

First, the concern: Places allows your Facebook friends to broadcast your location for you. When someone “checks in” to a venue, he or she can proclaim your presence there as well, even if you don’t want them to and even if you’re not actually there.

To be sure, there are many reasons a lot of users would have a problem with this. The solution is a multi-step process in which you adjust your account’s privacy settings to disable the ability of your friends to check in to places for you. (Instructions here.)

The relative simplicity of the solution is lost in the near-hysteria of many of the feature’s detractors. My favorite example is this post from MSNBC. (Helpful Tip: When looking to raise concern, nothing beats an ominous-looking title banner and strained references to “Big Brother” in the copy.)

My hope is that marketers don’t lose sight of Places’ tremendous opportunity for customer engagement and business growth. The usefulness of location-based applications is obvious, especially for marketers of restaurants or retail outlets. Simply put, the ideal scenario goes like this: 1) A customer “checks in” to your business, 2) one of their friends sees the message and decides to stop in as well, and 3) you now have two customers instead of one.

Well-established brands are already leveraging location-based applications to drive business. That is not new. Two things make Facebook Places a game changer in location-based marketing, however. The first is its sheer size. With over a half-billion users, Facebook stands ready to take location-based applications mainstream. While Places does not currently have the bells and whistles or “gamesmanship” of a site like Foursquare, its familiar look and parent site make it poised to move from early-adoption to mainstream usage quickly.

The second, and most important, is the creation of a page for each place referenced in a check-in. If someone checks in to your business, Facebook creates a page for it. This is a user-generated forum for talking about your brand at the specific store level. Facebook appears to be working out the details for ways for brands to “claim” these pages, but this much is sure: Marketers must be more attentive than ever about what is being said about their brands online, as Places could provide a widely-used avenue by which these conversations take place.

Marketing in the ever-evolving space of social media means constant monitoring of the mentions and conversations involving your brand. Your brand’s identity will be formed in part by what consumers see online. Unlike my license branch episode, the damage caused by failing to claim your brand’s identity could take much longer than three months to make right.

Filed Under: social media

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