“Nearby” – Facebook Mobile Strategy Comes Into Focus

By: David Koroghlian

Earlier this week, Facebook hit the reset button on their failed “Places” venture with a complete overhaul to the Facebook “Nearby” feature in their mobile apps.  The updates to Nearby position Facebook as a serious competitor in the check-in and local discovery engine space.  The move is not only a direct and powerful strike at Foursquare, Yelp and Google Local, it is also a potential boon to local businesses, as well as Facebook users.  The move comes at an important time for Facebook, as they continue to be challenged on how they can use mobile as a revenue-driving channel and ultimately further monetize their massive 600+ million-user base.

What is Nearby?

 

Nearby is a feature within the Facebook for iOS and Android apps that is intended to help users find and discover local businesses and signals a major push forward from Facebook into the local search space.  With this newly released update, in addition to showing which friends have checked in at a particular establishment, Nearby will help people discover places near them based on their interest graph, as well as their friends’ recommendations. People can search for local businesses by category as well as provide star ratings and recommendations for places they have checked into.

Once a user has clicked through to a specific business page, they will be shown basic information about that business, including location, phone number, their timeline, recommendations, and friends that like the place.  While Nearby will help users to find new places, the true power of the discovery engine comes in the form of personalized recommendations which will become refined the more users and their friends rate, recommend and check into places.

Brand Implications – Things to Keep an Eye On

For brands with physical locations, this will be an important channel of focus, but one that will take attention to leverage most effectively.  Facebook has pointed to an almost EdgeRank like algorithmic approach to surfacing local establishments based on check-ins, star ratings, and friends recommendations.  To that end, businesses should consider updating their pages to be fully optimized for discovery with Nearby.

Facebook has offered the following tips on their blog for local businesses looking to benefit from its new functionality:

  • Include basic information such as your address, store hours, phone number, and details about your business in the about section.
  • Update your category. For example, if you are a sushi restaurant, you will not appear if you do not have the correct category listed.
  • Encourage connections from customers: likes, check-ins, ratings, and recommendations.

In addition to the tips Facebook has offered up, it will be important for brands to drive Facebook activity via in-store promotion in order to prompt and encourage users to Like, check-in, make recommendations and provide ratings of their establishments.  Another area of continued focus for brands should be moderation of comments and activity on their pages.  While this should always be a critical part of any social program, the potential for heightened visibility and eyeballs to brand pages through Nearby, only further underscores the need for prompt and diligent dialogue with fans of brands.  In addition to social moderation, as the platform grows and becomes monetized, brands should keep an eye on the potential for paid media opportunities via promoted places, sponsored results, click-to-call advertising or other mobile-location based ads.

According to Facebook, this is an early release and there will be more to come with Nearby, including the addition of data from third party services.  It stands to reason that Facebook will (and should) provide brands the ability to offer specials, discounts and coupons to users who check-in.  Currently, offers are not part of any visible functionality within the Nearby experience.

One other question that will continue to proliferate is user adoption and why would a user utilize this service over another similar check-in like service?  That is a valid question, which will be answered over time.  At present Facebook has nested the Nearby feature within the left navigation menu, rather than in a prominent location in the header – which could limit user adoption.  While we don’t have stats from Facebook on usage patterns, it stands to reason that most users (outside of power users or community managers) are strictly focused on their news feed and thus might not be exploring outside of this user experience.

The potential for Facebook and brands with the launch of a revamped Nearby is obvious and clear.  The question now becomes, is there room for another horse in the social, local, mobile race and who will ultimately be the last one standing? My chips are on Facebook.

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