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Facebook Rolls Out ‘Place Tips’ Beacon Service To SMBs

The test phase is over, as the social net is inviting brick-and-mortar businesses of all sizes to try its Bluetooth technology — free of charge.

Facebook has rolled out its indoor marketing program Place Tips to the public, so that now any small-to-medium-sized business can use the Bluetooth beacon device that fellow local shops like the Strand Book Store and Dominique Ansel Bakery have been testing since the technology was unveiled last January.

In today’s announcement, Facebook welcomed brick-and-mortar retailers to try the technology for free. Essentially, all a business has to do is register to use the service and Facebook will provide it a free beacon device. No software is required with Place Tips, and essentially all one needs to operate the equipment is a Facebook account and a business page.

Customers can opt-in to use the feature when in or near the shop to receive information directly from the business — like store hours or special events, and to check-in and connect with friends who have also checked in.

Facebook began approaching local New York City businesses late last year about participating in a pilot program to improve their promotions  vis-a-vis their social networking customers.

For Facebook, the goal is to show the marketing value of its “Place Pages” individual franchises and independent mom-and-pop shops, as the local digital advertising space heats up. Mobile and social media marketing are driving that attention, as major brands and retailers shift their budgets to reflect the ways customers are accessing and sharing information about where they spend their money. Both Facebook and Google, in particular, have zeroed in on developing closer ties with local businesses.

It’s not yet clear where Facebook will concentrate its efforts to market its Place Tips program.

Both Brianne Sperber, The Strand’s marking manger, and Dominique Ansel, head chef at his eponymous bakery, were quoted in the announcement hailing the benefits of Place Tips. In GeoMarketing’s interviews with Sperber and Ansel, both spoke to the bonus Place Tips offers. While neither was really could attest to the value of the technology insofar as driving in-store sales were concerned, both found it a way to potentially communicate with shoppers who are glued to their smartphones.Facebook beacon

The concept has been less of “this technology transformed my business” than “this is a cool, fun way to possibly engage with consumers; why not?”

It’s likely that other businesses will feel the same way, particularly since the technology is free. Though it isn’t made explicitly clear in the statement, it sounds like Facebook will send interested businesses the beacon, likely with some instructions on how to install and suggestions of best practices to keep the beacon safe and discrete. In the case of the businesses that have been piloting Place Tips, as the Strand’s Sperber explained, Facebook representatives visited the location and installed the devices themselves.

The DIY aspect could be a deterrent to some retailers, especially if they’ve never heard of the technology before or aren’t keen on beacons, but otherwise, if you’re a business with a Facebook page and a brick-and-mortar presence, that “Why not?” attitude is probably the best intuition.

Facebook could not yet be reached for comment.