Facebook prompts users to Like pages they check into; could it foreshadow a new location-based ad type?

Facebook appears to be testing a new mobile module that prompts users to Like a page moments after they check into a location.

The module, which appears on Timeline and in News Feed, suggests the page that users just checked into. For now these seem to be organic results, but this could be an early test for a new location-based mobile advertising product.

[Update 7/6/12 2:22 p.m. PT – A Facebook spokesperson tells us, “We launched a feature that allows people to Like a Page after they check in. This is currently not sponsored.”]

We previously heard from sources that Facebook was working on a type of real-time location-based advertising, but did not get details on how it might work. Based on this latest test, we wonder if businesses will soon be able to show ads to users who make posts at or near their location. Because they are served within seconds of a user indicating that they are at a place, the ads could be highly relevant. This would also be useful to local businesses and retailers who currently can’t send messages to users who check into their location. However, if businesses can get users to Like their pages, they can remarket to them with posts in News Feed.

At the end of June we saw Facebook testing a “Pages You May Like” module in the mobile feed. The unit originally included organic page recommendations, but last week began showing Sponsored Stories. This could be a similar situation, with Facebook running tests to see how users react to having page recommendations based on their check-in activity. The company is also likely testing users’ reactions to having this type of module in News Feed and on their personal Timelines, as seen to the right. If the test shows that users click the units and do not complain about the placement, then Facebook could begin working with a few partners to test the module with paid results.

While growing its mobile revenues, the company must be careful not to interrupt the user experience, which is why it seems to favor new ad types that some users might not even recognize as advertising. For example, Sponsored Stories promote the organic actions of a user’s friends. Facebook has been slowly rolling out Sponsored Stories to mobile devices since the end of FebruaryLast week was the first time we saw Facebook showing more than one mobile Sponsored Story at a time.

We have reached out to Facebook for more information about the latest test that recommends pages that users have checked into.

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