Those familiar with Foursquare, Yelp, Gowalla and other location-based social networking sites will not be surprised that Facebook has jumped into the fray and recently launched several geolocation-related services. This article includes recommendations on how brand owners can protect their brands in connection with these new services.

1. Facebook Places
Facebook Places launched in August 2010 and provides a place for users to “check-in” at a physical location from their iPhone (similar functionality for Android and Blackberry devices is in the works). They can also check-in their friends (if their friends do not opt out) at a physical location. Thus, by checking-in at your business, one of your customers or employees can indicate that they visited your company and their “friends” will be alerted to their visit. Presumably, the ability to review or comment on a company will be included in the future, as it is in Foursquare, Yelp, and other services.

Key issues for brand owners to consider include:

  • Once it is created, the title of a Facebook Places Page about your company cannot be edited, so if you want to make sure it is correct, it is best to set up the Facebook Places Page yourself now (we can assist you with the process if you need help).
  • If someone else has already set up a Facebook Places Page for your company, you can claim it. If you claim the Page, you can edit the address, business hours, profile picture, and contact information and can designate administrators who will control the Page on behalf of your company. We recommend that you consider claiming any existing Pages so they will reflect accurate information about your company and its brands.
  • If your company has a Facebook Places Page, it exists independently from your company’s main Facebook Page. You can now merge your main Facebook Page with your Facebook Places Page. However, Facebook currently does not have functionality that will work for businesses with multiple locations (and thus, multiple Facebook Places Pages). The Facebook Places Guide for Businesses states that a solution to this problem will become available in the future.
  • It would be difficult for another company or individual to claim your Facebook Places Page because of the fairly rigorous requirements for claiming a Page (including submitting your company’s Federal Employee Identification Number (EIN) and faxing in corporate documents), but we advise monitoring for this type of activity.
  • If you have concerns about your employees checking-in during the course of their workday at places that might give away a company trade secret, you may want to update your social networking policy accordingly.

2. Integration with Foursquare, Gowalla, Yelp, Booyah, and Citysearch
Based on a recent integration, check-in updates and customer reviews of your business from these five other location-based sites now also appear in Facebook. Thus, we recommend that you search your company’s key brands on these other sites as well. From the search results, you can determine whether you want to claim any profiles or whether any infringement or other unfavorable activity is occurring on them. The increased visibility of the content of these sites to Facebook’s over 500 million users will likely increase both the benefit and the harm your business might experience from that content.

3. Content for Multiple Locations on Main Company Facebook Page
If your company has multiple locations, you have probably struggled with how to maintain a coherent presence on Facebook and allow your locations to include local information as well. In May, the McDonald’s Page on Facebook became the first corporate Page to include geolocation functionality and now includes a “Local” tab which allows individual McDonald’s locations to post content and special offers within the main company Facebook Page. It is unclear how or whether this functionality will be integrated with Facebook Places.

We expect the geolocation social networking space to remain competitive and to continue to change rapidly. Please feel free to contact us if you have questions or need assistance in protecting your brands in this area.