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Facebook’s New Features – The Last Mile in Small Business Marketing

by Navin Ganeshan on November 15, 2010

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Last week, Facebook made an announcement that, on the surface, seemed to be about some fairly pedestrian new capabilities.  They will now allow merchants listed in FaceBook Places (which itself was only released a few months ago) to offer coupons to customers.  Yes, FourSquare has been doing this for a while, and this created little  buzz within the techno-social literati but the real implications are far larger than it might seem.

The small business marketing challenge in the online world boils down to three things – getting found, getting prospects to engage with you, and ultimately getting customers.  Facebook has already redefined two of these steps and is now on its way to addressing the third, completing the cycle.

1. Getting found

At 400M users and growing, Facebook has not only achieved but is redefining critical mass.   Businesses may be lagging consumer usage, but they’re getting there.  “Find me on FaceBook” is increasingly displacing www.MyBusiness.Com on signboards and store windows.  While a Facebook page may not have completely replaced a website (separate topic), it’s safe to say it’s just as viable as a marketing presence.

2. Getting engagement

Wall posts are being used by businesses to provide updates on specials, new products.  On the other hand, customers are talking back on wall posts providing everything from testimonials to customer support.  What has made this form of engagement more successful than websites is simply (a) simplicity – you can’t beat two clicks to post and (b) ubiquity – everybody’s on FB and traditional barriers to voicing your opinion in a public forum have been overcome.

The simple elegance of “Like” carries with it immense marketing power and potential.  In one simple click, it provides not just a lead, but an emotional connection and most important a direct channel for ongoing communication.   Much, much simpler than using a “Contact-Me” form on a website to collect information and then using email marketing to contact the lead.

3. Getting customers

Ultimately any value-proposition targeted at businesses has to be centered around this holy grail.  While online retail has thrived for over decade, local retail (hair salons, restaurants) has lagged behind in translating their online presence and marketing activities into actual feet in the door.   Not anymore.  GroupOn and other group-buying and coupon-sites are delivering massive local traffic to your local florist – consumers get great deals, merchants get traffic and and seemingly everyone’s happy.

This is the last mile that FaceBook can expect to close with its new features.  Once merchants claim and harness the power of being listed in Places, they now have a direct connection be able to offer discounts, coupons directly to receptive local consumers.

Finally, the power of doing it all in real-time and on mobile increases the value exponentially.  Facebook already has this down pat.   The introduction of  Places is driving increased adoption of the facebook mobile app.  And it doesn’t seem that far-fetched to envision a scenario where a restaurant-owner can fill empty tables on a Tuesday night by broadcasting a real-time coupon through Places to nearby would-be patrons.

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