Facebook launches deals program, rivals Groupon

PALO ALTO, Calif.

Emily White, director of local at Facebook, says what differentiates Deals is the way a user's online friends can "like" or recommend a discount or even share in a deal if it's designed for a group of people.

Deals launched at 6 a.m. today, and less than six hours later, Christine Tran said she had 823 "likes" for her discount deal on wine tastings. She owns Artisan Wine Depot on Villa St. in Mountain View, one of 18 deals Facebook is featuring today. Tran is offering a wine tasting for $15. The regular price is $20.

"I think people value their friends' recommendation more so nowadays than like critics, and I noticed that even with wine purchases<" said Tran who is convinced social media sites like Facebook play a big role in influencing what people like, recommend and buy.

Other deals included a discount for standing up paddleboard lessons in Santa Cruz to a private dinner party for 20 at a Bolivian restaurant in San Francisco.

The San Jose Earthquakes are also in. Jed Mettee, vice president of marketing and communications, is offering a deal for one premium seat (in the first 15 rows) at Stanford Stadium for the July 2 match between the Earthquakes and the New York Red Bulls. Also included is a pre-game meet-and-greet with Earthquakes General Manager John Doyle and members of the 1994 U.S. National Team. Fireworks follow the game. The price is $50 while the value is $75.

Mettee says Facebook Deals is a great way to publicize the team, whether they buy the deal or not.

"Every time people talk about it or share it or like it, it's additional mentions of that game, of our team, and all of that stuff is positive for us," said Mettee.

Through Facebook, wine merchant Tran says she hopes to expose younger people to the wide range of wines available at her two-year-old shop. Most of her customers are baby boomers, which would put them in their 50s and 60s.

White says Facebook started work on Deals five months ago with a team of 20.

"It's all about discovering deals through friends, organizing yourself to go with friends on Facebook using your existing infrastructure, and then going through the events products, and then after you've gone to the event, sharing those experiences back online," said White.

What Facebook is doing is turning its users into word-of-mouth sales promoters.

"If you see that deal, then you like it or you buy it, then it goes on to your wall and your friends see it, and then they share it with their friends," said CNET.com editor-at-large Rafe Needleman. "So it grows, to use the word, 'virally,' and that's what it's all about."

Deals is rolling out in only five cities as it launches -- San Francisco, Atlanta, Austin, Dallas and San Diego. Others will be added later.

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