Will Facebook Places and Deals save small firms?

9 Nov 2010

For ordinary businesses, the advent of Facebook’s geolocation service Places and its associated application Deals will emerge as the main marketing techniques firms will use to drive customer footfall and loyalty.

That’s the view of Declan Kennedy, founder of Dublin-based web agency BetaPond, which is 90pc focused on the Facebook ecosystem. The company is opening a new office in London to spearhead business with some of London’s top ad agencies and the city’s top brands.

Earlier this week, BetaPond launched the first Facebook Places platform, Visit Britain, to help the UK market itself to the 30 million people who visit the country each year.

Every single one of the estimated 50,000 UK attractions will be able to register themselves onto the platform which will allow people to check in, recommend attractions to friends and see where friends have checked in. Visit Britain will publish a leaderboard ranking based on the number of check ins.

Facebook Places is Facebook’s answer to Foursquare, but its real potential lies not only in amusing the 500 million users on the social networking site but how businesses could reward and attract customers through all manner of loyalty schemes based on physical location and geotagging.

Facebook is also testing a new Facebook Deals service that enables businesses to provide deals whenever a visitor checks into a physical store. It is being tested with a limited number of major brands. For example, if a user checks in a number of times at a coffee shop, they may be rewarded with a free coffee or in a clothing store, a discount on an item.

Kennedy says: “Facebook is the new web from where we’re standing and we’re part of that ecosystem. Hundreds of web companies are being built on Facebook’s ecosystem and that’s where quite a few bets on future services, technologies and business models are being made.”

There’s an app for that

He explained that 90pc of applications built by BetaPond are built for the Facebook ecosystem. The company’s PromoBuilder technology will prove essential to agencies and brands building customer relations around location and check ins.

“The market for these services isn’t quite mature in Ireland and the UK but it is very much so in the US. We are hoping to set the standard in this part of the world. The nearest firm we would compare ourselves with is the highly successful BuddyMedia in New York. That would be who we would aspire to emulate in the London market, what they offer is what we’re aiming at.”

BetaPond’s current client base is a mix of advertising agencies, PR agencies and brands.

Kennedy reiterated his conviction that Facebook Places will become one of the main marketing techniques used to drive customer footfall and loyalty.

“They will do so by rewarding people for checking in at their premises once or frequently. They can use the technology on their smartphones to see what deals are nearby,” Kennedy said, pointing to the example of The Gap, which recently ran a promotion whereby the first 10,000 people to check in at its stores received a free pair of Gap jeans.

“There’s a whole science of algorithms being developed for loyalty programmes. The social graph will be truly disruptive.”

Kennedy acknowledges there’s a groundswell of activity taking place in terms of grassroots e-commerce, where players like Groupon and Yelp, for example, are driving business from the web straight into the premises.

“Brands are thinking smart and being quick about this. Clever executives are realising how marketing to the social graph will lead to more business at the premises, whether it’s a local bar in a little town, a coffee shop in a shopping centre, a high-street boutique or your local supermarket.

“On the one hand, you could run loyalty schemes, but if you’re a big brand or a rock star you could do clever things around personal location and billboards,” Kennedy said, referring to a recent billboard campaign for pop star Cheryl Cole, where people who checked-in near her billboards were entered into a draw for tickets to The X-Factor.

“What we’re doing right now is pioneering for Facebook Places,” Kennedy said, adding that being located close to Facebook’s European headquarters is a good advantage.

The company currently employs 10 people in Dublin and Waterford and is about to open its London office in the heartland of the ab-fab advertising industry, Clerkenwell.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years