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Facebook Places officially landed last week and legitimized a new location-based channel for businesses to interact and engage with their customers (see these instructions to claim your Places). In order to help business and functional leaders to leverage, we’d like to see businesses capitalize on Facebook Places through the following opportunities:

1. Branded Applications

Today, only a handful of companies can push data to Facebook Places. This includes competitors like Four Square and Gowalla. Eventually, this will open to other companies, providing businesses a fantastic opportunity to create their own applications. A company like Starbucks — already an early adopter on Four Square — could easily incorporate a store locator with Places check-ins into their emerging mobile payment application, and a reward system that replaces the punch cards distributed at check-out.

Checking-in not only means that the person is in the store (most likely purchasing something), but is also virally spreading the brand to all of his or her friends on Facebook. And because the app connects into the larger Facebook ecosystem, it doesn’t feel like a one-off “microsite,” providing real value to the consumer.

On a side note, see this post by our SVP of Activation, Craig Daitch, to understand how people are posting fraudulent check-ins.

2. Game Mechanics

Facebook has, so far, stayed away from game mechanics. Instead, Facebook leaves them to third parties and partners. As a result, there are no out-of-the-box points, rewards or mayors.

Were Facebook to offer mayorships as a white-label service to businesses, then companies could offer their own versions of a mayorship tied to creation of content by their customers, rather than simple check-ins.

For example, visitors to Six Flags could earn a mayorship based on uploading videos and photos while in the park, thereby showcasing the experience rather than simply checking-in to it.

In the future, firms might enable customers to photograph purchase receipts as an input into mayorship qualifications, thereby preventing check-in manipulation and opening the doors to richer customer rewards. The possibilities are endless.

3. Flash Mobs

On launch, Facebook offers a unique feature that allows users to check-in their friends. While there is some debate on privacy concerns, this functionality offers a very unique way for businesses to create their own Flash Mobs.

For example, The Gap could offer discounts to customers who check into a location with ten of their friends, creating an on-the-fly sample sale.

Business that rely on critical mass could benefit even more. For example, bars have long offered specials to customers that show up with groups of friends. Such businesses could now advertise happy hour specials through Facebook Places to generate a similar result.

4. Like, Content and More

One feature we’d like to see combines the existing Like functionality with Places, as follows: Businesses who create product pages that people can Like could now tie-in Places for targeted, location-based advertising.

Nike, for example, could advertise a special for all users that Like their new Air Jordan sneaker, sending them to the nearest retailer based on their location. We suspect that this functionality isn’t far off, given the enormous potential.

We would also like to see companies attaching content to the check-in location. For now, the only activity the Place page shows is check-ins and Likes. Allowing users to upload photos or videos would enhance the experience, and provide businesses with more unique ways to connect with their consumers.

Allowing users to write posts would foster reviews in a Yelp-like fashion. Sure, this would open the gate to both positive and negative feedback, but a comprehensive listening and conversation mining strategy would allow businesses to interact and take advantage of this flow of information.

The Road Ahead

Facebook’s scale will change the market for location-based services and check-ins for businesses — from something niche and cutting-edge, to a very real and powerful marketing channel. When a 500-million-person network enters a vertical, it’s hard not to notice — even when it launches with a bare feature set and only a vague sense of a roadmap. But this will certainly evolve as consumers and business owners embrace the platform and begin to tap the potential of hundreds of millions of accounts.

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