Facebook Upgrades 'Nearby' Feature In Mobile

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Further cultivating small business support, Facebook has updated the “Nearby” tab in its iOS and Android apps to enable users to find local spots based on their friends' recommendations and likes. Previously, it was only possible to see places that friends had gone to the trouble of checking in to through the app.

Recognizing that the novelty of “checking in” to venues has worn off, Facebook has broadened the functionality of the Nearby tab to offer a more compelling local feature in its app. The expanded Nearby tab also allows people to post their own recommendations and ratings on a five-star basis.

“Your own suggestions become more personalized the more you and your friends rate, recommend, and check into places,” stated a company blog post about Nearby tab today by Josh Williams, product manager, location and events at Facebook. Users can also search for different business categories such as hair salons, gas stations and restaurants.

In connection with the step, Facebook recommended that small businesses update all their basic information including address, store hours, and phone number in the “About” section of their listing. They should also update their category listing to make sure their business appears when people are looking for a specific type of venue.

Jed Williams, analyst and program director at local media research firm BIA/Kelsey, said the changes should benefit local businesses. “It takes Facebook's unparalleled trove of data -- much of which is now mobile-generated and location-based -- and puts it to actionable use for SMBs, and in an automatic way,” he said.

And by generating more check-ins, likes, ratings and recommendations, businesses will be rewarded with increased visibility to nearby shoppers, Williams noted. Facebook says nearly half the 150 million daily visits to Facebook pages now come from mobile users in the U.S.

Speaking at an industry conference earlier this month, Dan Levy -- who leads the small business team at Facebook -- discussed the company’s efforts to increase services for local businesses, whose presence on the site has doubled this year to 13 million pages. In that vein, Facebook last week introduced a simplified way for small businesses to create “Page Like” ads directly from their own Facebook pages.

The enhanced Nearby tab also helps Facebook better compete with location and recommendation services like Foursquare, Yelp and Google+ Local. Williams pointed out that the new Nearby tab in particular resembles the Explore tab Foursquare added to its app earlier this year. If it leads people to spend more time with the Facebook app, then all the better for the company’s efforts to ramp up mobile monetization.

In a new report Monday raising its 2012 forecast for U.S. mobile advertising to $4 billion from $2.6 billion, eMarketer expects the social network to account for $339 million of that total -- second only to Google. Facebook is also projected to finish ahead of Google in mobile display, with 18.4% share of the category. 

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