Last week, Facebook teased out a few concepts and potential future policy changes, some of which were not even fully formed, in order to gauge reaction and presumably reduce public blowback whenever they do roll out. You can read the Facebook blog post by Facebook’s Deputy General Counsel (Michael Richter) here. Some of the changes were merely welcome tweaks, others far more significant tips of the hand for what’s coming.
There are some very big ideas, possibilities, and yes – alarm bells from a few of the announcements. Not the least of which was the possibility of sharing your data with select partners so when you leave Facebook, but visit a partner page that has Facebook integrated, that they could target ads to you. There’s a lot to chew on in that concept and if you can get past some of the more alarmist headlines you can try and see where they’re going with it. However, a single tip of the hand may signal how business owners and brand stewards may have their use of Pages dramatically changed in the future.
One of the more interesting nuggets came in a brief comment on Facebook’s location plans. Facebook has been open about exploring how geography intersects with the social graph and the possibility of creating their own check-in system or using existing ones such as Foursquare. Regardless of how they pull it off, the intention of the concept is becoming more clear, to the point of them admitting they’ve changed direction in how they would incorporate it:
So, we’ve removed the old language and, instead added the concept of a “place” that could refer to a Page, such as one for a local restaurant. As we finalize the product, we look forward to providing more details, including new privacy controls.
Let’s explore that for a second and explain how that concept differs from what we currently see within Foursquare and Gowalla.
The assumption many (myself included) made when it came to Facebook getting into the check-in game was that its concern was purely focused on absorbing or controlling the user’s check-in habits and subsequently making this about user profiles (and possibly advertising interaction) and geographic location. One reason behind that is the relative slowness with which Facebook improves or changes the Facebook Pages experience – things just tend to happen first with the base user population, and then later features trickle to Pages.
But this statement signals something different entirely, suggesting that they have begun to think of check-in and Facebook’s role in it as a deliverer of nearby places. In other words, you are already a check-in fiend, what you really need is places to go, places nearby and places you may want to hear from later. Replace “places” with “Pages” and you begin to see what Facebook saw in their own system. Foursquare and Gowalla already connect with Facebook and therefore many users of those services already connect their location, even if they choose to not share it with friends, with the social network. What Facebook ostensibly realized was that with Pages they had an opportunity to leverage locations around a person. Set a Page as a single geographic location and suddenly you have markers on a map – virtual orange cones – that can be bumped into, seen nearby, “fanned” and whatnot.
What few have begun to ponder yet is how tying a single Facebook Page to a single location begins to radically change the foundation most businesses try to establish: Pages have typically been about Who and not Where. It’s easy to demonstrate, just think of the business with two offices – what location do you tie it to? Perhaps they will allow multiple “places” for a single Page, but I would not bet on that right out of the gate. Moreover, that would mean the experience would be limiting and not as geographically relevant or hyper-local (or less about community).
Pulling back to 30,000 feet, the frank assessment of where we are now is this: a brand has a Page. Rarely do we see the need (and at this moment most would always advise against it) to fracture a business into multiple Pages for several reasons, not the least of which is having to fracture your fan base or reveal how few fans might only feel an attachment to one location. We’ve been playing a power in numbers game.
While we’re talking about specifics of adding geo-location to Facebook, all we are truly doing is following the path we could see laid out a year ago as location became the next frontier for the social footprint. We’ve been saying for two years now that the user experience is becoming more about niche, and the most granular niche you can uniquely occupy is your physical location. It doesn’t take much to see how sites like Google could incorporate Facebook Pages into Maps, allowing you to browse Page content or become a fan from a coffee shop next door. Or how any geographically categorized list of Facebook Pages essentially becomes the Yellow Pages phone book of a new generation.
This new thinking, that a Page is a Place, creates interesting opportunities but does shift how businesses currently use Facebook. It means we will further refine our audiences and our messages. It means we may have to think in terms of general brand and specific location, building out new Pages for each location as necessary (and smart brands might want to start doing that sooner rather than later), building Pages for trade shows, consolidating Pages on Service and Product in order to focus on Place and more…
It means discussions had on our Pages will become even more localized and pertinent, which is a good thing. But for all of the potential it will mean businesses will have to pay more attention to Facebook. The garden we tend to is about to become bigger.