In a world now dominated by tiered (or sometimes referred to as capped) data plans, free WiFi has become more popular than ever. What used to be reserved for coffee shops is now available everywhere from Targets to airports. However, there are still plenty of WiFi hotspots that charge for usage, and it’s a booming business despite consumers having to give up online luxuries like Facebook for the sake of enough bandwidth to check their email.
And that’s not something Facebook wants to hear. So instead of pouting about it, they’re taking action to ensure you’re accessing their servers – and the ads they serve to you on them – without having to pay a penny. The company has teamed up with Cisco to provide free WiFi hotspots across the country after a successful trial run with about 1,000 merchants.
But there’s a catch (isn’t there always a catch?). In order to use the free WiFi hotspots, users will be required to check in to that location on Facebook. The push isn’t so much to fill Facebook’s pockets directly, but rather offer a compelling reason for local merchants to offer the service. Facebook is trying to compete on the local level like rivals Google and Foursquare. Merchants that offer free Facebook WiFi will receive a small monetary distribution for each check-in, but more importantly these businesses will receive anonymous demographic information about the customers who check in at their location (age, gender, and interests from Facebook profiles).
The goal is that these local merchants set up Facebook Pages and free WiFi check-ins will inspire more “likes” for the merchant. That merchant will then in turn purchase targeted advertising via Facebook ads (ah ha! There’s what’s in it for Facebook.)
The real question is whether this model will work. Not in the availability of free WiFi, but in whether local businesses will see an increase in “likes” by offering free WiFi, and will these businesses then in turn actually buy Facebook ads? Would the availability of free WiFi at a local business make you more inclined to like their page on Facebook, or be a repeat customer? Let us know in the comments below.