Last week Facebook unveiled Facebook Places and it’s exactly what you’d assume it is if you’ve spent any time on the Web over the past six months. Like many sites/applications that have come before it, Facebook Places allows you to see where your friends are and to share your location with the real world. You can see which of your friends are nearby, tag the people you’re with and leave comments on their updates. There’s a lot of speculation about how Facebook Places may affect Google Places and what it means for applications like FourSquare or Gowalla, but I’m going to save all that for later. What I am interested in is what this means for small business owners, right now.
As a small business owner you need to be aware of Facebook Pages, and you need to be aware of it even if you have no intention of ever using it. Because some of Facebook’s 500 million users are your customers and, regardless of your feelings, they’ll be using it.
To access Facebook Places you’ll have to use the iPhone Facebook application or, if you don’t use an iPhone (hold out!), you can access touch.facebook.com from any mobile browser-supported phone. The Facebook Place Page listings I’m seeing right now are very reminiscent of a FourSquare business listing. They show your basic business information (address, phone number, directions, etc), a Bing map (read Bing’s announcement), the number of check-ins and any of your friends who have checked into the business.
Here’s a screenshot of an early Facebook Place listing for the Burbank Airport:
As you can see, these pages are still pretty bare. However, more is coming!
Right now Facebook Place Pages is existing completely independent of your company’s Facebook Fan page that you’re using to engage and connect with customers. That means you have to watch and monitor both to protect yourself from attack. However, Greg Sterling spoke to Facebook’s Chris Box and got the scoop that small business owners will be able to merge their Fan page listing with their Facebook Place Page at a later date. There’s quite a hefty claiming process to set the stage for the eventual merger, but once it’s done, the new Place Page will serve as your business’ identity on Facebook. You will have one page that users can interact with and check in at.
Having a fully integrated page will also open up different promotional opportunities for small business owners who can now tie calls to action with check in activity or run ads directing people to their page. It should be interesting to see how Google responds and what social components will be added to Google Place Pages as a way to compete. But that’s all in the future.
Right now, small business owners need to do their part to make sure that their information and brand are both protected. You can’t merge your Facebook Place page with your Fan page yet, but you can claim it. By claiming it you give yourself the ability to edit the information, complete your profile and authorize page admins. Getting this done ahead of time will help you take advantage of the merged profiles once they become available. Also, there’s no current way to edit the title of your Facebook Place Page, so if you want to make sure it gets inputted correctly, you may want to be pro-active and create it yourself.