Facebook tested a Groupon-like Deals program last year for a period of four months, then shuttered it. Now, the social network is at it again, but with a different twist. This time, Facebook is testing an approach that ties ‘likes’ on Facebook Pages to special offers that appear in fan’s newsfeeds.

According to Internet Retailer, an offer might be something like “Get an extra 15-20% off select sale and clearance items for Valentine’s Day.” When the customer clicks through to accept the offer, he or she receives an email containing a discount code that can be redeemed either through the brand’s .com site or in-store.

AllFacebook and Wise Metrics have shared some screenshots of the pilot captured in the wild (below).

What’s remarkable about this is not the ability to offer fans special offers (3rd-party social commerce providers such as Wildfire have been doing that for some time), but that Facebook is now in the driver’s seat as the one providing the functionality. That puts them in competition with such 3rd-party vendors, or so it appears.

There is plenty of precedent for it, too. A new Ad Age/Ipsos Observer survey of digital-media habits found that 41% of consumers surveyed prefer to receive communications from marketers via Facebook. One in the said it was the platform of preference. To be fair, I should add that 48% said they didn’t want to receive such information from any social platform!

And the #1 reason for preferring Facebook over other social networks: discounts. “[N]early two-thirds of consumers in our survey said they want brands to offer them discounts online,” said Ad Age.  The only problem, price promotions erode margins and brand value (your capacity to extract margin).

In one respect, by offering a discount “deals” component to the suite of products it already makes available to merchants, Facebook is playing to the crowd. But, Facebook tries a lot of marketing-related tactics that don’t always work well – Deals being one, Beacon another – so don’t expect this latest effort to be the last we will see coming out of Menlo Park.

Social platform consumers want to receive marketing communications from

Source: Ad Age/Ipsos Observer survey, Feb. 2011