After the initial buzz dies down, most of the chatter surrounding Facebook Places -- the just-now-released location-based check-in tool -- will likely focus on how it might affect similar social networking tools like Foursquare, LooptGowalla and Whrrl. Oh, there will be some discussion of privacy concerns to be sure, but what will be left out of the equation is any serious talk about how you can use Facebook Places to grow your business.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. A Facebook Place page -- once you've staked your claim on it -- enables your customers to see a map from their iPhone or other mobile device that includes your business (the Place) and a list of their Facebook friends and associates who are currently checked in at your business. It also includes a Friend Activity stream comprised of other friends who have stopped in at the Place at one time or another.



In addition, your Place page can feature information about your business, and you can put up a story about your Place page on your Facebook profile simply by hitting the "Share" button on the page. Place pages differ from Facebook pages and Community pages in that they are only added if your customers decide to "Like" those pages. According to my Facebook contact, Page admins will be able to merge their Place page with their official Page on Facebook.

The bottom line is this: If your goal is to attract attention to your business, Facebook Places is a tool you definitely need in your social networking arsenal. Use the following to make the task of setting up a Place page easier:

 

  1. The first thing you must do as an owner, manager or representative of your business is to verify to Facebook that you are who you say you are. Find the Place on Facebook that you want to claim for your particular business and then click the link that reads, "Is this your business?"
     
  2. You will then be asked to complete a simple verification procedure that will enable you to "claim" your Place as your own. Following this step, Facebook will provide some additional steps in order to create a new Place. You'll be asked to access the application on your iPhone using the new Facebook app, or another web-enabled mobile device. Once you "Check In," you'll be asked to click the "Add" button and then enter a name for the new Place. You'll also be offered the option of providing a description of your business.
     
  3. After that, you can describe what it is you're doing at the new Place and begin tagging Facebook fans and friends. Click "Check In" and you're ready to share your visit. And now that you've got your newly created Place of your own, your friends, customers and the general public can find your Place while perusing Facebook or the Places application.

What you don't want to do is read the above and tell yourself you've got to get around to doing what I suggest someday soon. It's critical, I feel, that you claim your Facebook Place now! It's a lot like claim jumping in the Old West. By staking your Place now, you and only you can control its physical address, hours of operation, detailed contact information, profile image, administrators and more.

At this stage of the game, it's way too early to determine the ultimate value that using Facebook Places can have on your business. What I do know is that this latest offering from Facebook gives your customers and potential customers a means to promote your business by checking in and then telling their friends about you.

Now that you've established your "claim" and you own your Facebook Place, it's time to start promoting your business through advertising on your Page. Again, the process is simple: Just click on the ad creation flow and pick your Place from the menu.

While it's the local businesses that stand to gain the most from Facebook Places, every business should determine how best to leverage the new tool to their benefit.  For instance, you can reward your customers who say nice things about your business. Customers who are willing to post pictures or kind or constructive comments about your enterprise might receive discounts on your products or services, as an example. The same goes for those who share their experiences with your business on Facebook or Twitter.

You can reward those who visit your Facebook Places account the minute they open the page with colorful coupons, specials or discounts. And to make the experience more challenging and fun for your customers, you can host contests, offering gifts or discounts to those who "check in" with your Place the most often, or those who bring potential customers to your Place page by word of mouth.

Promotion is not limited to the internet. You can get the word out inside your business by posting signs on the windows or providing flyers or cards that encourage customers to check in at your Facebook Place to receive special offers. If retail isn't your game, promote your Places-related offering in company eNewsletters and other email marketing pieces, at trade shows, on your businesses Facebook page, and of course via a badge on your website or company blog.