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Using Facebook Places

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Location, location, location — it’s big in business, and now it’s big on Facebook, too. Facebook Places lets you “check in,” tell your friends where you are, find your friends, and get special offers through Facebook Deals. It can also threaten your privacy. Bud Smith is author of the upcoming Sams Teach Yourself Facebook for Business in 10 Minutes. In this article, Bud introduces you to Facebook Places, shows you how to protect your privacy, and tells you how to use it — and why you need to, especially if you’re in business.
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Facebook Places is a new tool from Facebook, launched in the middle of 2010. Here’s how to use it – and why it’s a good idea to at least try Facebook Places and get familiar with it. You can then understand it, manage how you and others check you in, and use it when it makes sense for you.

What is Facebook Places?

The core of Facebook Places is simple: it lets you “check in” to any location. Checking in using Facebook simply puts a statement on your Wall and your Facebook profile page that you’re in a given location, as shown in Figure 1. The statement will show up on your friends’ News Feed too, as well as the Place page where you check in.

Figure 1 Checking in via Facebook Places

Facebook check-ins are similar to the existing services Foursquare and Gowalla. These services became pretty popular among some groups of people in the last year or two – mostly younger people with iPhones – but hadn’t yet reached the consciousness of the general public. With Facebook, bringing along more than 500 million users, checking in is likely to become mainstream.

You can not only check in yourself—you can check in friends who are with you as well. (But you should ask them first, as described below.) Facebook does check that you’re actually near the place you’re checking into, but it trusts you to be honest about whether the friend is actually there or not. Once you check a friend in, a “checked in” statement will show up on their Wall, and their friends’ Wall too.

This core checking-in capability is fun. Used this way, Facebook Places is kind of a geo-aware status update. It makes Facebook that much more useful as a kind of scrapbook for your life, shared with friends, and available for review or reminiscing any time.

Once you check in, you can also check the “Here Now” list that appears, to see who else is checked in where you are. It’s not only your friends who appear, though—anyone who’s used Facebook to check in shows up, unless they’ve changed their privacy settings to avoid it. This is a way you can meet new people—or they can meet you, which might seem cool, or a bit creepy, depending on the circumstances.

And then there’s the part where Facebook has the chance to make some money. When you check into a business, the business can offer you a Facebook Deal. This is usually a special offer or discount. It can also be a charitable contribution, pledged if you make a purchase. Once you use a Deal, it’s easy to let your friends know about it too.

You don’t pay anything to take advantage of a Facebook Deal, but businesses pay Facebook to offer them; Facebook Deals are a form of advertising. An early Facebook Deal is shown in Figure 2. This is where the money is for Facebook, so expect Facebook to push Facebook Places and Deals quite hard from here on out.

Figure 2 Starbucks offers a charitable Facebook Deal.

Should you use Facebook Places? I recommend that you at least try it. Check in a few places; with permission, check in friends with you. Consider adding a photo after you check in, to give context – and try using a Deal, if it makes sense. Checking in really extends Facebook’s usefulness as a kind of digital scrapbook today, and is likely to become part of how you find cool places and, yes, deals going forward.

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