Checking-In to Facebook Places

Two weeks ago Facebook rocked the world (okay, not really) with its announcement of Facebook Places. One week later, SCVNGR, a growing geo-location service announced Places integration. And who knows what will happen this week?

What is Facebook Places?

Facebook’s new Places feature is the popular social network’s take on a growing trend in social, the ability to allow people to share their locations (and other content) with friends using GPS-capable devices. Why would you do this? Users earn bragging rights, virtual “bling” and other rewards, depending upon the platform, which include Foursquare, Gowalla, brightkite, SCVNGR and MyTown to name a few. Not to mention, they get to see where their friends are spending their time.

Places enters the scene with few bells and whistles. It simply allows users to check-in to locations through the iPhone’s Facebook app. Upon check-in users can share their location with their Facebook Friends through the News Feed. They can even “tag” their friends who are with them and share their locations as well, which leads to the next issue.

Facebook’s At It Again… Privacy Controversy

Facebook couldn’t introduce a new feature without privacy concerns being raised, and Places is certainly no different. The ability to share Facebook Friends’ locations by tagging them without their permission and the implementation of semi-complicated privacy settings to opt-out of Places have sparked an uproar.

The privacy concerns are grounded. Sometimes people don’t want others to know where they are or who they’re with for any number of reasons, and giving others the ability to broadcast your whereabouts without your permission is a bit concerning, which means it’s essential to check your privacy settings to make sure you are comfortable with them.

I agree that Places raises privacy concerns, but social media has been pushing the bar from day one. No one would have thought to put their personal address and contact information on the Internet or post pictures of their families or share their dinner plans with the world a couple years ago, but now, sharing once private information is mainstream. What happens with privacy and Places will be interesting to see, but it may simply be another case of initial concern followed by taking up the very practice that was so passionately protested.

Places for Business

What does Places mean for businesses? Well, first it puts their physical locations on Facebook as they can be added by anyone, the business itself or a customer who visits. When someone checks-in to your business, it is shared with their Facebook friends, leading to organic impressions, which are never a bad thing.

Brands can start paying attention by:

  1. Checking to see if their business has already been added using the Facebook Search bar—if not creating it.
  2. Claiming Places that are theirs and ensuring that the correct information is there by clicking at the bottom of the Place’s page on the link that says “Is this your business?”
  3. Merge Places with their Facebook Page IF THEY ARE NOT managing a single Facebook Page that represents a national/global business. Otherwise, they should manage Places and their Page separately.

What Places Means for Geo-Location

Geo-location services have been on the rise for the past couple years. While pretty niche (but growing) a couple weeks ago, Facebook has brought it to 500 million people (we'll see how many adopt it as part of their regular Facebook routine), and that’s the part of this new feature that matters most. Overall, Places is pretty unremarkable compared to other similar services out there, but introducing geo-location to such a large user base is a big deal.

As marketers, we can expect geo-location services to make the headlines more and more. With SCVNGR being the first already established geo-location service to choose to integrate with Facebook Places, instead of compete and Foursquare growing by nearly half a million users per month, we can expect more in this area.

Ultimately, consumers will decide who wins. Maybe it’s one, or maybe it’s all of them.  One thing is certainly true: People will be checking-in to locations more and more. If consumers are embracing the check-in, marketers should certainly be paying attention.