PALO ALTO, Calif. (AdAge.com) -- In front of about 100 reporters from almost every news outlet in the Bay Area and beyond, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced this evening his social network's long-awaited geo-location product called Places.
The mobile product will focus on three major features, he said: It will allow users to share where they are with their friends; allow them to see who is near them; and allow them to discover new places around them. And company executives were quick to push Places' privacy controls in an effort to stave off criticism that has plagued Facebook during the past year.
Places is a mobile product for "advanced mobile browsers" and can be accessed through Facebook's most recent iPhone app or via touch.facebook.com.
Several of the major players in the local-mobile digital space, including Gowalla, Yelp, Booyah and Foursquare, were on hand at the press conference and some showed off ways they'll be integrated into Places. While many pundits suggested Facebook's impending launch of location would be the death of Foursquare and its location-based ilk, the companies -- at least publicly -- appeared eager to work with Facebook and tap its 500 million worldwide users. (Yelp, for example, boasts 2.5 million users of its mobile app, a fraction of Facebook's user base.) Mr. Zuckerberg said this first version of Places will only roll out in the U.S.
While Facebook didn't introduce monetization plans for Places, it suggested that was coming. "You can imagine a whole world can develop around this," Mr. Zuckerberg said. "But we'll check in on the monetization at a later time."
Still, there are opportunities for any marketer with a physical location to benefit from Places by taking some basic steps.
"[Business owners] can claim their business's Places page, and every time anyone checks in from that location, that's a huge deal," said Chris Cox, VP-product. "We wanted to make sure that feature was available before we launched." About 1.5 million business pages exist on Facebook, and each one can merge that page with their Places page by "claiming" it, or letting Facebook know that business belongs to them. Facebook will verify it, Mr. Cox said, but he said he's not sure if it'll be giving away stickers for owners to put on the door like Yelp does.
Places is, in some ways, a reach extension for marketers -- when people check in from a venue, they essentially broadcast their presence at that spot to their Facebook network -- as well as way to attract new visitors through the discovery feature. "It's an additional venue where you can communicate with the customer as they're walking by and provide them with something of value," said Lisa Bradner, president of Chicago agency Geomentum.
And, eventually, it could be a place they can offer discounts and marketing messages to people within a particular proximity -- whenever Facebook introduces such a feature.
Tom Bedecarre, CEO of AKQA, suggested that while Foursquare popularized the gaming aspect of checking in from physical venues, with Places the prize could be not just a "mayorship" of a venue, but a coupon or other type of award. "It creates another level of engagement with the consumer. If you check into the Gap, let's make a special offer for you," Mr. Bedecarre said. "If you check in at 3 p.m. near a Starbucks, it's 'Hey, do you want a special on this latte?' We see your favorite movies on Facebook, and the movie theater nearby can say, 'Hey, this movie is playing here, come in now and we'll give you a free popcorn.'
"I can see advertisers connect the dots as quickly as Facebook allows them to," he added. "It gives them a chance to put an offer in front of someone when they're in a position that allows for an immediate transaction."