As reported by Ad Age, Facebook is preparing to launch functionality that allows people to instantly broadcast their present locations and whereabouts in addition to their status updates, and latitude and longitude to the long list of data points that marketers can use to engage audiences with the most relevant messaging.
Many of us have long seen this as an inevitability. Facebook is a platform for sharing and connecting, and where we are at any given moment might very well define what is most relevant to us, and to the people around us.
Up until now, if you’ve been paying attention to location-based services, the recognisable players have been Foursquare, Gowalla, MyTown, Whrrl, Loopt, HotPotato, and several others. Most of these services have leveraged Facebook (and Twitter) as platforms and drivers for growth (e.g., Foursquare has been integrating the “like” button on its business pages). Foursquare, with over a million users, has generally been looked at as one of the most visible of the bunch.
But what happens to these services, and what are some of the marketing and behavioural implications when Facebook enters the field?
All of a sudden, location-based services will have immediate, massive scale.
Almost overnight, the ability to easily broadcast your location on and via Facebook will be put into the hands of about 500 million people — 500 million people that retailers and businesses with physical locations will have the opportunity to influence people nearby to visit. This will go from curiosity to one of the biggest opportunities that a marketer can have within a month of its launch as users become more comfortable with the feature.
There will be significant opportunities for local businesses.
This will be the biggest thing to happen to local businesses since paid search. The ability to leverage frequent visits to their locations to passively and actively influence others to do the same, deliver special offers, or redirect local foot traffic at a moment’s notice can lead to a direct, measurable impact on in-store sales and word-of-mouth.
It won’t kill Foursquare or other location-based services.
Foursquare has been working on a very comprehensive model for not only rewarding and adding value for its users, but for delivering relevant data to local businesses in a way that helps them get better. Foursquare and Gowalla (and others) have also built brands that people have been loyal to (so far) and (game) dynamics that encourage deeper and more frequent engagement. They are not going anywhere soon, but it will be important to keep an eye on these platforms as well as Facebook to see if consumers will suffer from either “check-in fatigue” or get tired of seeing location updates in their Facebook news feeds. It is also likely that these services will find a way to “play nice” with Facebook’s platform and API, as they have in the past. This may also move us all a step closer to a unified “places” database standard, making every location-based service better in the process.
It will make Facebook’s mobile app even more important to Facebook and its users.
Currently, there are more than 100 million active users currently accessing Facebook through their mobile devices. And people that use Facebook on their mobile devices are twice as active on Facebook than non-mobile users. Once people start using the mobile app to broadcast their whereabouts as well, it will become even more indispensable, and even more frequently used. Watch those statistics skyrocket, and watch Facebook start selling ad opportunities to reach people within the app — which they have not done yet.
This is another step toward making Facebook Credits a mobile payment platform.
Location awareness + purchase behaviour awareness = the ultimate way for retailers, restaurants, and any other establishment to reward people for loyal patronage and frequent (or any) transactions.
The inevitability of Facebook’s foray into location-based services was one of several things that led my agency, Deep Focus, to launch a specialised marketing practice GEOFocus around this technology and behaviour. We think this is going to get very important, very quickly, important enough to devote a specialised unit that lives, breathes and thinks about the inherent opportunities full-time. Location is about to move from niche to scale. Are you ready?
Ian Schafer is the CEO of Deep Focus, and can be stalked on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ischafer.