Have you created your Facebook Places page yet?

Facebook has recently enabled UK users to use the new “Places” functionality. Places is Facebook’s answer to Foursquare, which for a while was looking like the latest dotcom darling. So, what is Places, and should your business be on it?

Facebook Places is essentially a location-based marketing tool. It allows users to ‘check-in’ to a destination via their smartphones, which is then updated on their Facebook status.

It is designed for companies that want to create a buzz about their location – so cafés, bars, festivals and even retail sites are ideal. It has certainly got more B2C potential than B2B. But there’s no reason why you can’t add your offices or HQ in either case.

It doesn’t take much to see where Facebook is going with this – location based advertising. Still, it’s good for companies too as Facebook Places allows them to create deals, which come in different flavours, offering the ability to reward check-ins, tagging and so on.

Places

Adding your Place
Adding your company to Facebook Places is relatively straightforward, although you’ll need to register a work email address to your Facebook account before you start. You will also need to have a scanned version of utility bill or phone bill to hand to prove you’re affiliated to the company you add.

Top tip: make sure you have more than one person in your company as a page admin. If there’s one admin and they leave, then it’ll be tricky getting the page switched over to a new user.

Tidying your Place up
Once you’ve set your Place up, you can amend the basic information, such as address, website etc. It’s also important to take a look at some of the defaults. For example, do you want a Wall? Lots of companies get into trouble with Walls on their regular Page as they become magnets for disgruntled customers.

Facebook also allows you to add photos, discussion pages and so on to your Places page and you can add a ‘Like’ button on your website to encourage them to visit your Place.

Again, like Walls, the same thought needs to go in to whether these features are necessary and how they will be managed. Also think about employees using it and how this fits with your social media guidelines (for example, are employees encouraged/discouraged to associate their Facebook profile with their employer?)

Top tip: Use an RSS reader app (such as Social RSS) to pull in news automatically from your blog or news pages.

Looking after your Place
Like any other social media channel Places need to be tended to and looked after, so it’s best to have someone in your company who’s designated to manage it.

PlacesThird party agencies can help with content creation and management, but someone needs to ensure that it fits in with the wider strategy and isn’t just a stand-alone page.

The future of Places?
It remains to be seen if Facebook Places becomes as popular as Foursquare – certainly Facebook’s ongoing issues on privacy could hold it back. Foursquare differs in that you don’t have to be an employee to create a destination, so it’s up to organisations to decide if they can be bothered to create – and then manage – their Place.

With Places stacked alongside Pages, Groups and Community Pages, Facebook risks confusing users with too many options, but it has the marketing muscle and community base that the other location based services like Foursquare, Gowalla, Qype and Brightkite lack. So, who knows?

My advice is for companies to consider trying it out for a couple of sites/offices and see whether there’s any interest. It is worth doing to ‘own the space’ and prevent others from registering it. It is early days for Facebook Places, but with its own voucher system it could be a useful channel, particularly for consumer-facing companies.

Here’s a promo video from Facebook, showing off Places in the US.