Posted by: fastforward on Apr 20, 2011
Let’s face it: for many people, most of their lives are on Facebook. A quick meander over to your profile page would show any of your friends which events you’ve attended recently, what links you’ve been clicking on, what TV shows you watch and exactly how you looked at your most recent one-armed self-portrait photo shoot. As if that wasn’t enough, Facebook can now track your location and has plans to creep your spending habits too.
Facebook places has been around since August last year, but finally launched in South Africa last month (if you’ve ever wondered what that little pink map marker pin in the far right corner of your BlackBerry facebook app is, now you know). Facebook places is a check-in service similar to FourSquare, which enables users to tell their facebook friends where they are at any given time and tag friends who are at the same venue. You can also view which friends have already arrived or are in the area – so if you’re lurking on campus with some free time to kill, you can check your facebook app and see which of your friends are around.
Or you could just BBM or SMS them and ask. But maybe I’m missing the point. Of course you need to broadcast your every move to their news feed.
Geographical location is becoming more and more important in new media technologies and it seems like the trend will continue in the future. Location is especially important to advertisers, who would like to reach customers in their vicinity and not someone in Antarctica (and advertisers are, after all, the suits who fund all cool things like location-based augmented reality projects).
The next big thing in facebook’s location-driven repertoire is facebook deals. It’s an elaboration on facebook places which involves listings of discounts and specials at retailers and restaurants in your area (yes, it’s Groupon for facebook). So, imagine you’re in your local shopping centre. You decide you would like some lunch. Now you don’t have to walk to the food court and see who has a two for one deal or a student discount – you can whip out your phone and check your facebook app for businesses near you, and find out what specials they’re offering. You scroll through the available businesses and see that Steers has a special on veggie burgers – 10% off if you check in within the next 20 minutes. You buy your burger and the news hits your facebook wall before you’ve even taken a bite. Now your few hundred facebook friends can see where you are, what you’re buying and what discounts are available for them to take advantage of. Steers just scored a sale and some nice advertising space on your profile page, and facebook earned some (more) money.
Facebook deals is currently being tested in five cities in the United States as well as Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK. It’s an interesting concept which could work very well for advertisers and facebook users alike – users get discounts and advertisers are offered another way to connect with the millions on facebook besides traditional ads on the website.
If (more likely, ‘when’) facebook deals reaches South Africa, I think it may actually work. Location integration in social networking is something which could become more widely used, especially when aspects like facebook places come standard in applications like those for the BlackBerry, and smart phone penetration is predicted to rise to 80% by 2014. There are already over a million BlackBerry phones and more than 150 000 iPhones in the country, and more and more cell phone companies are embracing Android systems for their hand sets. So the mobile-based applications required for facebook deals to work effectively could be relatively widespread and easy to use, although mainly owned by those in the middle to upper classes who can afford the phones.
The most likely limitation to this technology in South Africa in the future is the businesses themselves. Sure, larger businesses in major cities with social media strategists and smart marketers may register with facebook deals, but for smaller businesses in remote locations with limited advertising budgets, this opportunity may pass them by. I doubt the large range of options illustrated in facebook’s pretty little video will be available in many locations – especially when even South Africa’s largest cell phone network provider doesn’t offer the EDGE and 3G connections these phones require to run in large portions of the country.
But, in the future, as the network coverage increases and the cost price of smart phones decreases, facebook deals may become just another common post on your facebook wall.