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Unboxing the Facebook Bluetooth Beacon

Being in the restaurant marketing space, I happen to be an Administrator for a handful of my clients’ Facebook pages. In March of 2015, I began receiving occasional notifications in my news feed asking me to apply for a Facebook Bluetooth® Beacon. As someone who has been curious about the possibilities of beacon technology in the retail space, I immediately jumped on board and filled-out the request form. It seemed as though Facebook was downplaying this quite a bit; nothing in the news and very little info on the form itself.

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What is Beacon Technology?

I’m no expert (and very few people are) but from what I understand, Beacon Technology offers the ability to message or communicate with the mobile devices of people inside or near your store via short-range Bluetooth signals. There is a lot of potential here for sure, although, privacy will be a sensitive factor.

A Scary Concept

People are inherently offended by receiving any sort of mobile correspondence they didn’t opt-in for, and rightfully so. We can’t just unleash a new technology that assaults passersby with advertisements, coupons and information they never asked for and expect people to ever leave their houses again. Can you imagine walking through the streets of New York on a sunny afternoon? Your home screen would look like a digital Valpak by the end of the day!

Luckily, this will hardly ever be a reality. No self-respecting phone manufacturer is going to subject its users to that kind of vulnerability. Instead, a user must have a particular application that connects to a certain brand of beacon hardware. Even then, you still have to be actively subscribed for notifications. In my opinion, there is no application in the world that has the critical mass to make this work besides Facebook.

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My Beacon

Over a month went by without a peep from Facebook so I feared we didn’t make the cut for this first round of beta testing. However, on May 2nd, an unassuming padded envelope landed on my doorstep (well, in my mailbox). The package was dirty and looked like it had been through the journey to Mordor to get here. I opened it like a kid on Christmas (or Chanukah).

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The cardboard display envelope inside was in much better shape than its carrier; beautifully branded in that familiar Facebook blue, securely cradling the shiny, white plastic beacon within. I was expecting the device itself to be larger, like a rock or baseball but it was about the size of a stick-on air freshener, if not smaller. The base shape is hexagonal merging into a square bevel, about a quarter inch thick at most. It’s well-made but extremely lightweight.

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Installation

We arranged to test this at Faces & Names, one of our bar/lounge clients in Midtown, Manhattan. There were minimal installation instructions provided. Only a small red tab that indicated once the beacon is removed from the packaging, it is activated. You can place it wherever you wish but a central location is recommended for maximum coverage. We peeled off the sticky backing and stuck the device right next to their smoke detector in the front/center area of the ceiling. I bounced to every corner of the restaurant to ensure the Bluetooth signal’s strength and it exceeded my expectations. The entire process from walking-in to fully-installed was less than two minutes. That’s it!

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Worth noting, however, there is no way to change the battery. I’m not sure if Facebook plans to send new beacons on-demand or how exactly that process will work as batteries start to kick-it.

The User Experience

We had three of us on-site for initial testing at Faces & Names. Once the beacon was installed, I opened Facebook and was presented with a subtle message box after about 10 seconds. The message box is not sticky (if you scroll down, it will not follow you). It also takes a bit longer to load than I expected, which leads me to believe many people will miss the messaging. I feel Facebook is trying to be very minimally invasive at this stage, which is commendable but easy to overlook.

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My two lackeys didn’t receive the message box upon opening their Facebook applications (one has an iPhone and the other an Andorid). It took us a good 20 minutes to figure out the necessary privacy, location and messaging settings for both Facebook and the phone itself before finally seeing the beacon’s message in their newsfeed. How many people have their phones setup the way I do versus the way my trusty helpers do? No idea but it was a barrier to entry no average customer would subject themselves to. That is for sure.

Once you tap the newsfeed message box, you’re taken to an overlay which states some very basic information about the business. It encourages the customer to follow Faces & Names and check-in as well, in addition to displaying the last few of the page’s public posts. Eventually, when more people are accustomed to using beacon technology, this screen will also integrate Facebook’s “Place Tips” which provides a nice social, multimedia experience involving your friends and that particular location.

The Admin Experience

For now, there are no specific Insights or usage data to be viewed, nor does Facebook allow page Administrators to customize the app experience besides changing your cover photo. I imagine such features will be available in the future, though. Remember, this is a preliminary market test and they have to be extra cautious.

Wrap-Up

Mobile technology is going in really exciting directions but don’t expect the Facebook Bluetooth Beacon to skyrocket your business into another stratosphere. Chalk it up as yet another way to engage with your customers, order your free beacon and call it a day.

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