The Day Places Died... Kind Of

Facebook unveiled some major privacy changes (which we’ll discuss in depth on Episode 37 of the podcast) this week, but perhaps the biggest news for marketers was Facebook’s plans for Places, the geo-location feature that allows users to check into locations they’re visiting and share with their Facebook Friends. Facebook announced that the feature is to be replaced with the ability to add your location through a status update. No more checking-in.

Yes, tagging one’s location to a status update is still possible, but the dedicated button to check-in is gone. Without that little prompt to remind users, it’s doubtful they’ll share their location now. It’s difficult to assess exactly why Facebook has made this move, but one can likely assume that Places just didn’t click.

Places came about as a response to the rising popularity of other check-in services like Foursquare and Gowalla. It may be the case that consumers didn’t quit using those services to use Places. Instead, they stuck with what they were used to primarily because Facebook didn’t add anything new to the equation. Places was simply check-ins on Facebook. It lacked the flair, personality and sense of personal achievement that comes with other geo-location services. Plus, with Foursquare users can already share their locations with their Facebook friends (as well as Twitter). Why would someone switch over?

What this Means for Competitors

Facebook isn’t getting rid of Places exactly, but its refocus takes it largely out of competition with other services. This is pretty big news for competitors, particularly Foursquare, the most popular geo-location service. Facebook is the social behemoth, and it’s incorporated features of other services in the past to their detriment. In facet, many predicted the death of Foursquare when Places was announced.

It looks like Foursquare is sitting pretty. They’ve unrolled a slew of new features, and marketers will likely begin to focus in on them for geo-location opportunities versus placing an emphasis on Places as seen previously.

Consumer Usage

Geo-location services, while relatively new social behavior, are gaining traction, particularly with the penetration of smart phones. More consumers are becoming aware of the apps (56% of smart phone users) and 39% use one or more location based application. This is something marketers should be looking at.

How to React

Facebook will probably be back with a bigger location play in the future, but at the moment it looks to be taking a backseat (no matter how it tries to spin its actions). That doesn’t mean marketers shouldn’t be taking action. At the very least, everyone should be considering what these services mean for their businesses and how they can be leveraged or why they shouldn’t be leveraged.

Here are some considerations to get started:

  • Determine whether or not geo-location makes sense for your brand. Why or why not?
  • If yes, align on how geo-location can be leveraged by your business.
  • Stake your claim. Facebook or Foursquare, there’s nothing wrong with claiming your businesses locations on these platforms. You may not use them for anything at the moment, but you might as well claim them now.
  • If you do decide to place an emphasis on geo-location, incorporate rewards (monetary and non-monetary), such as deals, tips and information. Make consumers want to check-in.
  • Measure the data on the backend. Look at when, where and who is checking into your business location(s), learn from it and take action.