Facebook on Wednesday launched its widely-expected location-based feature, called Facebook Places.
Like competing services, such as Gowalla, Loopt and the dominant player in the space - FourSquare - Places allows users to user their mobile phone to "check in" to places they go, like a restaurant, pub or movie theater.
Once a user checks in, they essentially announce their whereabouts to all their friends on Facebook. Users can also tag other people who are at the same location, provided they give permission to be tagged at least once. This is done by simply choosing the name of the person(s) at the location from the friend list when the user makes the post. This tag will then associate the person whose name you have added to your post. These tags are similar to the ones you would find on any blog posting.
This tagging also shows that these people are in that location as well, with the same effect as the initial check in. For example, if one of your customers comes into your shop with a few friends. Then, they tag the location and tag their friends. Your shops name will come up not only in the original tagger's friend feed, but in the feed of everyone he tags. Allowing your business name to be seen by a wider audience.
While this does create a large amount of concern about personal privacy, with criticisms from sources such as the ACLU, there is an excellent marketing opportunity here for the budding entrepreneur.
And, Facebook knows it. According to the official announcement on The Facebook Blog:
"You may want to share your check-in information with third-party applications that build interesting experiences around location, such as travel planning. Applications you use must receive your permission before getting this information. Your friends will be able to share your check-ins with the applications they use to help create new social experiences with location."
That opens up a few potential markets for anyone willing to make use of this new tool, even if you don't design an app:
- When the inevitable travel apps come up, having your physical locations in the listings can be the difference between end users walking into your doors or walking on by. After all, if your potential customers do not know that your shop is there, they can never buy from you.
- If you work on a Web-based system then a geo-tagging application could be a great way to gather data about your customers, and what they want, for truly custom marketing or taking concierge style service to a whole new level.
- If you do happen to work in Web-based development then using this new tool you can add a whole new audience and set of features to your mobile applications.
- Using geo-tagged location based data can help a start up to pick a location. Once you identify the type of customers you want, you can target where they go and pick your location accordingly.
- Geo-tagging technology is also supported by search engines like Google and Yahoo, that will help you to get better rankings on people looking to shop locally. That way a search like Wedding Bakery, West Point NY will show your results. This one will, of course, depend on how Facebook decides to code this feature.
Admittedly, business who are already in bed with competing applications, such as Foursquare or Gowalla will have the easiest time transitioning to business models that work with this much larger market, but given the size of the end user base of Facebook this could shift things so radically that everyone will be starting on an even footing.
So, how do you get on to get started?
* It is important to note that phone must have "...the most recent version of the Facebook application for iPhone. You also can access Places from touch.facebook.com if your mobile browser supports HTML 5 and geolocation" from Facebook Blog. So plan your customer base accordingly.