Facebook is merging its Places and Pages features, enabling users to check in with brands - a good way for local social marketers to get social referrals and user-generated content.

Facebook will be bringing its Facebook Places function to business Pages that represent local destinations. For local social marketers, this means Facebook check-ins may soon serve as social referrals and help produce user-generated content for their sites.

The social giant confirmed to Inside Facebook that its merge of Pages and Places aims to “make things easier for Page administrators.” Additionally, the company is expanding the number of companies that can offer “Checkin Deals,” which could create incentives for users to let their friends (and Page fans) know they have visited a business.

Facebook had launched a Deal service to accompany Places back in November, and it more recently updated its broader Deal service, emphasizing the local aspect of its promotions and bringing a more social aspect to daily deals offered by Groupon and other market leaders. These developments all point to the fact that the company wants to encourage firmer partnerships with local marketers (much like Google has been working to gain local partners, specifically with its launch of Google Offers).

Local businesses might want to take advantage of these new Facebook platforms, as Brafton recently reported that a CityGrid study shows Facebook data serves as a leading referral for local businesses.

Nonetheless, local marketers shouldn't let Facebook marketing detract from their search engine marketing – particularly SEO – campaigns. The City Grid study proved that Google search is the top channel for local business discovery, and similar data suggests Google Places and Google organic results drive the majority of traffic to local sites.

Katherine Griwert is Brafton's Marketing Director. She's practiced content marketing, SEO and social marketing for over five years, and her enthusiasm for new media has even deeper roots. Katherine holds a degree in American Studies from Boston College, and her writing is featured in a number of web publications.