Facebook’s on a mission to make mobile Pages more functional. Following a Yelp-ish redesign in April, iOS, Android, and mobile site updates coming later today add an integration with OpenTable to let you book reservations from 20,000 North American restaurants’ Facebook Pages, Rovi is also adding TV guides to Pages. Facebook is looking to grow traffic and make Pages more important to businesses.
[Update: The Facebook for iOS 6.4 update is now rolling out to the App Store. Along with the OpenTable and Rovi integrations, it lets you click through or search for hashtags to see post by friends, Pages, and public updates that include them. These options came to the mobile site in late June.
If Facebook can make its mobile Pages truly useful, it could outcompete more focused local information and discovery sites like Yelp, Foursquare, and Google search results. Giving people one more reason to open their Facebook app increases the chances they’ll end up checking their notifications, sending messages, and browsing the news feed where it sees ads.
By equipping the Pages with information and interactivity that move the needle for businesses, Facebook could also encourage them to advertise for their Pages. Businesses already spend a ton on Google Search, Yelp, and other ad platforms where they can reach people with purchase intent.
Most people don’t browse Facebook business Pages for fun. They’re there to get some crucial information. Facebook spokesperson Tim Rathschmidt tells me ”if you’re looking at a Page on a mobile device, it’s probably because you want to see if they’re open, or to call to make a reservation.” Facebook mobile Page browsers have the intent advertisers are looking for, so the social network is doing whatever it can to get more people visiting.
Useful, Not Just Social
“We want to be where diners are” Jocelyn Mangan, OpenTable’s VP of consumer products, tells me about the integration. Facebook is the latest of over 600 partner sites and services that funnel people looking for dining reservations through OpenTable. These referrals generate 5%-10% of OpenTable’s 12 million seats booked each month. The two companies already worked together on the Places I’ve Eaten app Facebook desktop app OpenTable launched in February.
Similar to Yelp’s OpenTable integration, Facebook mobile Pages for restaurants don’t require you to visit OpenTable’s site, use its apps, or even have an account. Thanks to its API, the process of selecting your party size and preferred time to book a table happen entirely within Facebook.
To book, you just visit restaurant’s Page, and below its address and open hours (highlighted in the April redesign) you’ll see a panel alerting you “Reservations for two people available around 7:00pm”. Facebook automatically pre-fills the reservation form with your name, email, and phone number if you have one on file. Press the “Reserve” button and you get both on-screen and email confirmations, plus an option to cancel inside the Facebook Page.
If you’re looking for “Dinner and a show”, Facebook Pages can help you find some entertainment too. A new integration with digital entertainment information provider Rovi lets adds local networks, airtimes, and episode information to Facebook Pages for television shows and movies. That means you could go to the Breaking Bad Page and see it airs on the west coast at 9pm PST Sundays on AMC, and the next episode is called ;Buried’ and deals with Walt covering his tracks as Jesse deals with guilt.
These kinds of integrations make Facebook Pages more than just a social hub or extra vanity presence on the web. They could actually make businesses, and Facebook, money.
OpenTable charges restaurants $1 for each diner it delivers through its site or its partners, but those patrons spend an average of $43. If restaurants attribute that spending to Facebook, they might be more willing to buy Likes for their Page, Promoted Posts to boost their news feed presence, or other ads that drive people to Facebook Pages where they can make reservations. Meanwhile, if television shows see increased Facebook Page engagement correlating with ratings boosts, they might promote their Pages more during broadcasts.
Don’t expect these to be the last integrations Facebook does to boost the functionality of Pages. It doesn’t have an exclusive deal with OpenTable, so it could also work with services like RestaurantReservations.com to aid diners. Eventually, I’d expect Facebook Pages to provide options for just about anything that requires a reservation or appointment.
Still, Facebook has to figure out to change our behavior pattern when it comes to seeking this kind of information or assistance. Most of us are trained to Google for these kinds of things, or hit up Yelp for dining help. When I think of Facebook Pages, I think of feed posts, news, and photos — content, not functionality. Getting us to go into the app, reveal the search box, an successfully navigate to a Page is a fair amount of work, as is digging up Facebook’s heavily buried “Nearby Places” local discovery feature. All the functionality in the world won’t help if we never get to the Page.
But if my suspicions are correct, these Pages might get a lot easier to find soon. I think the focus on revamping restaurant, TV, and movie mobile Pages may be the buildup to the long-delayed launch of Graph Search for mobile.