Plink was designed to be user-friendly, and 100% free and easy to join; new members simply create an account through Facebook Connect, then safely and securely register the credit or debit card of their choice. Plink members then earn Facebook Credits by using their registered card when dining-out or shopping at participating restaurants and offline retailers. There are no coupons to print out, no discounts that need to be awkwardly requested or extra loyalty cards to carry; for both consumers and retailers Plink is a seamless process, with no interruption from the regular transaction process.
Facebook Credits, for those who may not be familiar with them, are a virtual currency that can be redeemed for online gaming credits (e.g., CityVille). In the Plink scenario, users register a credit card online and then must present the registered credit card participating locations — the company says there are “more than 25,000 restaurants and retail locations nationwide.” Plink then gets a cut of the transaction that it supposedly helped motivate.
For some percentage of Facebook users who normally go to these participating locations (e.g., Quiznos) and play games online this program may prove to be popular. I’m not one of them. Yet I recognize that among the 800 million Facebook users there will be many people who do fall into these two categories.
This could be a much bigger deal, however, if Facebook were to connect credits with real-world value (e.g., gift cards, products) and not just online games.
Wrapp is a company (in Sweden only right now) enabling people to send gift cards through Facebook. It’s not necessarily that far from where Facebook Credits is today to something like Wrapp. Offline behavior would then accumulate Facebook Credits that would in turn translate into real-world value.
Another idea: what if there were an online “Facebook Store,” for example, where users could buy real things (electronics, travel, services) with Facebook Credits, not unlike the airline or credit card shopping portals? That would be a radical and much more compelling scenario with far-reaching implications for Facebook, brands and the various third parties participating in the ecosystem.
ShopKick operates a Plink-like Facebook Credits program as well.
Plink’s and ShopKick’s programs are part of a relatively new movement to connect online ads or promotions to the real world. One way to describe this is: “real world analytics.” Although, that’s only a partial description because loyalty is involved in some of these cases and not just attribution.
CheckPoints, ShopKick, Bloomspot, Euclid Elements, MomentFeed, Foursquare, LocalResponse and the deal vendors, among others, can be seen in this context. NFC marketing and payments (e.g., Google Wallet) would also fall into this discussion.
Although coupons and deals (and calls to a lesser degree) have always been available to track the influence of online on local sales, these companies are doing something new and different, in very directly linking specific online promotions to offline sales and vice versa in the case of Plink.
It’s a profound development, largely enabled by smartphones, that will change both online and traditional marketing.
Related: Peter Vogel, co-founder of Plink, does believe that Facebook Credits will evolve into a real-world currency. In an article for Inside Facebook he cites some interesting examples where it’s starting to happen (e.g., movie rentals) and says the Open Graph will help drive further evolution and adoption of Facebook Credits by third parties.