As you've probably heard, Facebook has finally launched its own location-based feature, which lets users check in from almost anywhere in America. By checking in, you let your friends know where you are, what you're doing and maybe even what you think of the place.
While there's a lot to talk about from the user point of view — namely what this means for privacy and security — today I wanted to focus on how business owners can get a jump start on this potentially game-changing (and free) resource.
Why should your business use Facebook places? Well, because your customers probably already are. And even if you've ignored other location-based apps like Foursquare and Gowalla, now's the time to get serious about it.
Facebook has 133 million users in the U.S. and 500 million worldwide. When you compare that to Foursquare's 2 million user base, I think it's safe to say that checking in just became a phenomenally bigger deal.
Ready to get started? Check out our step-by-step guide, after the jump.
Before you start setting up an official Place for your business, try it out as a user first. As I mentioned before, you'll need an iPhone with the free, official Facebook app. Don't have an iPhone? Borrow one from a friend next time you're out and about.
Experiment with the check-in system. Try checking in a friend who's with you and making a comment about your location. Then go back later and look at your personal Facebook profile (or your friend's) and see how the information appeared.
If you're concerned about your privacy, be sure to check out the new privacy settings, which now include options for how people can monitor your check-ins. The default is for your friends to see your check-ins, although strangers in the same location will be able to see that you're there.
But before you go locking yourself behind a privacy barrier, be sure to try playing with Places for a few days to see how your customers will be experiencing it. Then you can go all J.D. Salinger and hide away from sight.Step 2: Get started now.
Whenever social media users get a new toy, like the Facebook Places feature, they want to try it out right away. And these initial experiences can determine both what they think of the service and whether they'll keep using it.
So if you put off using Facebook Places, you might miss that initial rush of "Sure, I'll try it" users. And, of course, you'll be giving your competitors a chance at a head start.Step 3: Check in at your business.
While at your business, just click the arrow-shaped button on the top right of your Facebook iPhone app. Then search for your business name. If it's not there, you'll see the "Add Place" option.
Once you've checked in at your place, you'll be able to find it easily — even from your computer — just by visiting your own Facebook profile.Step 4: Claim your business.
This part is easy enough, although it's hard to say how long it'll take before the process is complete.
At the bottom of each Place listing, you'll see a link that says, "Is this your business?" Click on that, and you'll be taken to a form to claim it as yours. You'll need some basic information such as your Federal Tax ID, but mostly you'll need a digital scan of one of the following four documents:
- Articles of Certificate of Incorporation (for a corporation)
- Certificate of Formation (for a partnership)
- Local Business License (issued by your city, county, or state)
- Better Business Bureau (BBB) Accreditation
Upload the document and finish the form. You're done! Kinda. You'll get confirmation that "Facebook User Operations has received your inquiry." Then, at some undetermined time in the future, you'll be contacted again with a PIN code, which you will then have to provide via telephone confirmation.
It's a bit of a hassle, sure, but you might as well go through it now to get a head start.Step 5: Consider linking your Place to your Page.
Already have a popular Facebook Page for your local business? Facebook has a system for merging it with your new Place. The network promises to retain all your existing fans, photos, videos, custom Tabs — just about everything.
However, there are a few caveats. If you have a Page for a business with multiple locations, Facebook doesn't currently have a way to manage multiple Places with one Page. But if you only have one location — or you have a Facebook Page for each of your locations — it's probably work making the merger.
Also, Facebook notes that "not all Pages and Places can be merged at this time."
Step 6: Let your customers know.
What good is all this work if no one knows to check in? Let your customers know that you're proudly using Facebook's newest location feature. It'll make you savvy, and it's a nice way to nudge folks to start using it. Each check-in is like a free advertisement for your business, so don't miss an opportunity!
Put up a sign, post an update on your Page, spread the word on Twitter. You get the idea.Step 7: Offer rewards for check-ins.
If there's one thing Foursquare taught us, it's that people love rewards — even small ones. So be the first on your block to offer check-in bonuses, such as discounts or freebies.
Be sure to promote these perks with signs, e-mail blasts or anything else at your disposal. But definitely be sure to post the rewards on your Place so that customers will see it.Step 8: Keep an ear to the ground.
Facebook will be rolling out all sorts of new ways to use the Places feature, including advertising and promotion options. So I'd encourage you to try and stay up to date on how you could be using Places to help your business grow.
But remember that there are no social media magic bullets. Just as you can't buy a hammer and expect it to build a house, you also can't expect a new Facebook service to do all the heavy lifting for your business.
Try it out. Tell your customers. Ask for their feedback. Keep it interesting.
It won't always be easy, and you won't always get it right. But the sooner you figure out what works for your business, the sooner you'll reap the rewards.