E-marketing E-ssentials: Facebook’s New “Deals” Feature - A Geography Lesson

Did you happen to notice the latest news from Facebook last week? It was perhaps the quietest, least controversial announcement they’ve made in years, but it may very well have the most impact for anyone selling anything to the public.

Here’s the opening of the article in The New York Times:

Facebook introduced a feature on Wednesday that will allow retailers and other merchants to offer coupons and special deals through its mobile application, intensifying competition in the market for mobile searches and advertising.

People who use Places, Facebook’s location feature, will see a yellow icon indicating that a redeemable deal or coupon is available

Before we discuss the specifics of this announcement, let’s talk about the technological innovation behind it: geolocation. Quite simply, geolocation technology embedded within a smartphone or other mobile device enables you to find relevant and timely information based on where you are at a given moment. The same technology also enables you to broadcast your whereabouts, should you choose to. Geolocation has been around for a while, but it’s starting to go mainstream — if you’ve ever been out with a friend who has an iPhone or Android phone, you’ve probably seen them check their phones to find nearby restaurants, banks, or bars (and reviews) within two blocks of where you are.

There are many location-based social platforms like Foursquare, Facebook Places, Loopt, and Gowalla, and they’re gaining a lot of traction today. The reach of most of these services is still small, with some sources saying that fewer than 5 percent of smartphone owners participate now, but their existence foretells the future.

The idea behind these services is that you sign up for an account and download an app to your geolocation-enabled smartphone. Then, when you’re out on the town — whether “on the town” means bar hopping on a Saturday night, going to dinner and the theatre with friends, or going away on a business trip, you take a moment to “check in” at each location when you arrive by opening the app on your phone, letting the geolocation technology figure out where you are, and then touching the “check in” button. Your friends who also use the app can see that you’ve checked in, and you can see which other app users are currently at the bar with you! People can also leave “tips” for other users, like “Heather the barista makes the best frappuccinos,” or “Don’t order the sweet potato fries.”

The technology gets interesting for marketers because businesses can offer specials and discounts on some of these platforms, and this is where the Facebook announcement comes in.

The “check in and get a deal” model has already been around other platforms — things like “Visit this bar three times in a month and get a free glass of wine!” are common on Foursquare, but Facebook’s 200 million mobile users mean that this new feature is the first truly mainstream location-based “deals” app.

With 200 million people accessing Facebook through mobile devices, how many of them are your patrons or people who could potentially be your patrons? Imagine a woman sitting down at a restaurant at 6:30 in the evening and checking in on Facebook. She finds out that the theatre across the street is offering discounted tickets for anyone who checks in there during the next hour. Geolocation gives you another way to reach out beyond your venue walls and catch someone’s attention.

These deals are not hard to set up (here’s Facebook’s video showing you how), and cost nothing to try out — and best of all, your results are completely trackable. You couldn’t ask for a more compelling new marketing idea to test.

Anyone up for it? (Let us know how it goes and we’ll write about you in a follow-up article.)

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