Facebook continues coupon test with larger News Feed stories

Facebook has partnered with another national restaurant chain to test a feature that lets pages post coupons and promote them with Sponsored Stories. This time around, claiming coupons generates a more prominent story in users News Feeds, which could lead more users to discover offers. The feature has several implications for page engagement and advertising both on the site and on mobile devices.
Sandwich chain Which Wich has been making “offer” posts similar to the “coupon” post we saw BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse advertising in early December. Which Wich first shared a coupon for a free 22-oz. soft drink with purchase of any sandwich on Dec. 27. As of this writing, 4,354 people have claimed the offer — a small percentage of the restaurant’s more than 104,000 fans. The company has also begun using Facebook homepage ads to promote the deal.

For now, coupon posts are only available to select companies working directly with Facebook. If these tests show promise, it is likely the social network will make offers self-serve for page owners, as it did with check-in deals in November 2010. Providing an organized way for pages to give out coupons is a good move for Facebook. Studies have found many people come to Facebook pages for exclusive offers and discounts. A number of third-party app developers offer coupon tabs for pages, but the process of receiving a coupon often takes multiple steps and these apps cannot provide the same viral reach as a native Facebook feature would. Nor have these apps made coupons available for download from mobile pages.

As we suggested last month, coupons could be huge for Facebook when it begins showing Sponsored Stories in the mobile News Feed. The company hasn’t announced plans to do so yet, but it is easy to imagine how coupon ads could function just as well on mobile devices. As on the website, one click sends an offer directly to your email inbox.

For Facebook, maintaining quality offers and ensuring businesses honor them could be a challenge as the feature scales. Check-in deals are approved by Facebook before going live, but few merchants seem to be taking advantage of this service. The social network should consider why that is as it experiments with another coupon program. The company also tried to build a daily deals service on top of its platform last year, but ended the effort after four months.

The new coupon feature has promise because unlike check-in deals, these coupons can be claimed without visiting a location, making them more likely to be shared across the network. Plus, the ability to post an offer to a page and promote it with Sponsored Stories could lead more businesses to try it out. Check-in deals never had these these additional means of discovery.