Checking In or Out? – Facebook Places for Business

By now we all know that social media is much more than a fad, it’s proven to be one of the most effective ROI generators of our time. There are multiple social services that clearly have staying power, and new niche networks are sprouting up each week. Everything we do seems to have a social aspect baked in, and these features are great when connecting with friends and family, or trying to reach an untapped demographic for your business.

One social feature that has caught on quickly is location based check-in. This was the inevitable next step in mobile networking since our smartphones – built with GPS tools – are never out of reach. Services like Foursquare have been the pioneers of this functionality, and now other networks like Google and Facebook have stepped into the mobile check-in arena.

If you’re not familiar with the term ‘checking in’, it’s the way to tell your Facebook friends, Tweeps, etc. where you are actually located at any given moment, right from your phone.

With multiple competitors in the location-based race, I feel Facebook, with Facebook Places, may have an advantage over the others due to the amount of users already on the network. If you’re on Facebook, you may have already noticed your friends checking into specific locations. Now, you don’t have to wonder, “Hey, how’d they do that?”

The whole concept of “checking in” is interesting because you are essentially disclosing your physical location to your virtual social community. This sounds like it could be a recipe for disaster (and it could be), but luckily, Facebook Places gives you the ability to restrict which friends will get the notification of your check-ins. So, you won’t have to worry so much about being stalked or meeting unwanted acquaintances at the same place you are currently.

And location based check-in isn’t just for your friends. Businesses and brands have noticed the trend in the mobile social scene and have implemented some really creative strategies for building community and sales. Certain places in which you can check-in will offer discounts on their products or services – as long as you show the cashier/staff member that you’ve actually checked into their location on your smartphone.

In our own recent experiments, we found that certain retail stores will offer 10-20% off of your purchase when checked-in, and restaurants and bars will offer free shots, discounts on meals, or no-cover at the door. Think about the real-time aspect of inviting other friends to a business location to take advantage of an exclusive offer like that. Now, imagine you’re the business owner.

As we can clearly see, Facebook Places is still on the rise and certain locations are implementing new and out-of-the-box incentives for users to check into their location. The trend will only continue and get better as businesses find new ways to give perks to those who use the service (and promote their brand to hundreds of friends at the same time since the check-in appears on their walls as well). That’s just another example of viral media and the future of how we’ll do business in 2011 and beyond.

So the question is, are you ‘checking-in’ or checking out?