Businesses that offer free Wi-Fi may soon be seeing a new stream of customers through their doors thanks to global social network Facebook.
Users of the Facebook app on iPhones in select countries, including Australia, have started to see a new feature available in the app’s menu, reports VentureBeat. The feature allows users to see businesses or locations nearby where free or public Wi-Fi is available.
Upon opening the new section of the app, users are presented with a map displaying a list of businesses offering free Wi-Fi, along with opening times and walking distance. It also includes details of the network that can be connected to prevent users connecting to the wrong one.
It’s unclear how Facebook has gathered this data. In 2013 the company partnered with Cisco to provide an integrated Wi-Fi experience allowing users to “check in” via the service to receive Wi-Fi credentials.
It is not known if the company is using results from that partnership to populate its new maps. Facebook pages created for businesses such as bars or cafes do not currently include an area for the business to nominate if it offers customers Wi-Fi.
Some users speculate Facebook’s introduction of Wi-Fi seeking features is in order to promote the service’s new live feature, which is data-hungry.
Michael Jankie, chief executive of Wi-Fi marketing agency PoweredLocal, told SmartCompany that Facebook already gathers information about the networks users log onto while using its app, so this feature is an “easy add-on” that can benefit businesses and consumers.
“Consumers will be able to be guided to establishments with free Wi-Fi and the businesses themselves will have an extra source of new business, all without having to apply any effort at all,” Jankie says.
“What we are learning is that free Wi-Fi now makes up part of the customer service suite that a business needs to offer. Along with nice business cards, prompt service time and polite staff, free Wi-Fi is deemed part of the suite. If you don’t have it, you slip in consumer happiness.”
Jankie believes this change is a “huge wake-up call” for businesses not already offering free Wi-Fi services, but it’s win for those already on board.
“This is great news for savvy business owners:, it’s a huge, free, win,” he says.
It is unknown when the feature will roll out to more countries and to phones other than iPhones.