Facebook's New Mobile App: Can It Help Your Business?

Facebook wants to change the way local businesses and their customers interact. A look at the new-and-improved Facebook mobile app, which includes more location-based features.

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Local celebrity: Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg is going after the local market with a new mobile app.Small-business owners will now have more ways to reach and reward their local customers through Facebook, thanks to the new-and-improved Facebook app for iPhone and Android, including enhancements to Facebook Places.

The new features were unveiled on Nov. 3 by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his team at the Facebook Mobile Event, held at the company's headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif. Two components of the new app -- "Deals" and a "Single Sign-On" aspect -- aims to transform the way tech-savvy customers shop at their local businesses.

Zuckerberg hopes the new Places features fix some of the problems with other popular location-based services. For example, with Gowalla, users can't see who is checked in using Places or other location-based services unless they are actively in the Facebook mobile application. Places will now allow Facebookers to see their friends' check-ins on services like Foursquare, Gowalla and Loopt, so they can communicate with each other online and have better access to information about the businesses they are visiting.

Meanwhile, Deals is "a way of unlocking new social experiences that have never existed before," Zuckerberg said at the event -- and it will provide new free marketing tools for business owners. Until now, Facebook Places has been relatively limited compared to other location-based services, offering users the ability to broadcast check-ins at local businesses and announce their whereabouts through their Facebook pages. Deals allows small-business owners to deliver information about discounts and special services to customers and reward them for checking in at a business. It also allows customers to announce promotions and their own savings to their online friends. Customers walk around their town, open the Facebook app on their mobile phones and get information about a few companies nearby that are offering mobile "coupons" for Facebookers. Once they check in at each business partnering with Facebook, they unlock the discount.

This new discount/rewards feature helps business owners turn their best customers into an extended sales force more efficiently than with previous Facebook features. Mobile users post their visits to businesses on their Facebook pages through Places and provide free advertising for these companies to all their online friends. As Zuckerberg pointed out, businesses can offer even deeper discounts to customers who bring friends with them when they check in, rewarding them for socializing. For example, a local restaurant could offer a free appetizer or free dessert for customers who check in with three of their friends.

Deals is relatively easy for small-business owners to implement. To set up a deal, there is one page with clear descriptions of each type of deal along with important parameters such as how many deals are being offered and when the deal starts and ends. Deals also provides different types of rewards businesses can use based on three key components to customize discounts: "loyalty," "friends" and "charity." Deals tracks each time a specific person visits a store and takes advantage of a deal and offers deeper discounts the more loyal a customer is. Those who bring friends with them when they check into a restaurant or store can get different deals from those who come solo. The app also offers a check-in for charity option that allows customers to donate money to a charity as a reward for visiting the business.

The new "Single Sign-On" piece of the Facebook app also brings benefits to users and business owners, providing more connectivity between different apps. This feature will allow Facebook users to log into Facebook on their phones once, then access other location-based apps like Groupon and Yelp without having to enter in a separate user name or password. The feature will roll out initially with partners including Zynga, Groupon, Loopt, Svngr, Yelp, Flixter and Booyah.

Through the latest app announcements, Facebook is upping its social-networking game yet again to get up to speed with important location-based technology services. At the mobile conference, Emily White, a senior director at Facebook, noted that location-based technology is essential for local businesses that want to build solid, lasting relationships with customers. "For local businesses, it hasn't been very clear why they need to be online," she said. "Now it's clear: to turn people into real customers."

Tags: Business Trends, Facebook, Facebook Deals, Facebook Mobile Event, Facebook Places, Facebook Single Sign-On, Foursquare, location-based apps, Mobile

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