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6 marketing opportunities on Foursquare

6 marketing opportunities on Foursquare Tony Felice

Foursquare is social network billed as part social city guide, part friend finder, and part nightlife game. The NYC-based startup is being hailed as the next-generation social network, calling on gregarious technophiles to broadcast their locations via geo-aware mobile devices. What sets Foursquare apart from many competitors in the "local social" space is its undeniably sticky platform. Users are awarded points for their check-ins, and they scramble to earn badges and vie for bragging rights as the most frequent visitor of popular places. In short, Foursquare is fun.

Many observers are quick to draw parallels between Foursquare and Twitter. Both services made their public debuts at South by Southwest (during different years), where both were hailed as breakout hits. One of the reasons behind Foursquare's current momentum can be found in the type of user it has continued to attract: early adopters and social media mavens -- vocal segments that others look to for trends in the space.

Foursquare seems to be very keen to its marketing potential, and its founders certainly have their heads in the game. They are embracing ways to allow businesses to leverage the platform, ranging from integrated promotions and branded badges to fully customized campaign landing pages. Third-party application development has exploded, and we can expect to see marketers using the service in new and unique ways.

Foursquare connects social media to the real world. Finally, marketers have the opportunity to connect online campaigns to the "last 50 feet." This is undoubtedly the brass ring in many social media ROI formulas.

Read on for six steps that will enable you, as a marketer, to begin leveraging the service.

Take ownership of your location
Although Foursquare has a very large number of businesses listed, a good first step is to make sure your company's locations are listed properly on Foursquare. The easiest way to verify single locations is to log in and search for an establishment using the form in the top right corner of the page. One word of caution: The search will be limited to the area listed below the search field, so make sure that's properly set.

Once the locations are properly set up, you may highlight items of interest by using "Tips" and "Tags" -- but refrain from overt or blatant promotion. Among the lessons marketers have learned from other social networks, such as Digg and Twitter, is that these networks are communities first and foremost. Each has its own engagement model, and it takes time to experience and understand those paradigms. Don't crash the party.

Spread the word
Foursquare is rapidly gaining mainstream visibility and is growing at a heated pace. Over the past month, registration has grown more than 50 percent, to approximately 300,000 at the time of this writing. Despite this kind of growth, the service still has a relatively limited reach, and it's safe to say that most businesses' customers have either not been exposed to (or not become engaged with) Foursquare. For companies that want to start using the service to offer special deals to customers and entice them to come back, it's important to let people know about the availability of such deals.

Of course, the logical place to start is through the company website. This can be done effectively through a callout available from PlaceWidget. This Foursquare-branded widget quickly displays the name of the location, its address and phone number, and the number of people who have checked in there. It also shows suggestions from Foursquare users about what to try, buy, or do at that particular location. In the center of the widget, a photo of the Foursquare "mayor" is shown. "Mayor" is the title given to the Foursquare user who has checked in to that location the most, and these designations are one of the key reasons behind the service's popularity.

Identify your loyalists
When bringing Foursquare into the marketing mix, there is also an opportunity to gather valuable consumer research. A key part of the service's interface showcases which users have checked in at given locations. A programmer familiar with the Foursquare API can also demonstrate how many times each user has visited, the duration of each visit, locations each user has visited before and after coming to a particular venue, the number of other visitors that user is friends with, and the reach each visitor has. When evaluating Foursquare in this way, the potential of the platform is limited only by one's imagination.

Create specials
Given the availability of behavioral data, simple loyalty programs obviously spring to mind. The most obvious approach is to reward a location's mayor, as that user is the most frequent visitor and likely a heavy user of the service. Early on in Foursquare's evolution, a handful of venues that recognized this marketing potential created "chalkboard" specials. Following the appearance of grassroots incentives such as these, Foursquare announced formal support of such initiatives. Companies can now visit Foursquare for Businesses to get more information on the program and browse ideas that other venues have implemented.

Possible applications:

  • Focus on new or repeat customers

  • Target customers with heavy influence and reach

  • Reward users who bring X number of other users with them

  • "Easter egg" specials (e.g., a reward to the first person to create X number of Tips)

Consider these examples:

Custom badges
The gaming component of Foursquare is one of the key reasons for its appeal. As part of the game, users have the ability to "unlock" badges along the way. There are at least 32 standard badges, with varying degrees of difficulty. The sequence required to unlock several early badges is made apparent, while others are more obscure. Once a badge is earned, it remains on the user's profile indefinitely.

Although not discussed as overtly as the specials, Foursquare has demonstrated a willingness to work with marketers in creating branded badges. The most obvious of these is the Intel Insider, presumably earned by checking in or around the Intel booth at CES 2010. Another very interesting badge is sponsored by the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system. Regular commuters visiting BART stations can unlock the badge and are eligible to win $25 ticket giveaways through January. The official announcement from BART indicates that there is more engagement to come.

Here are just a few examples of branded Foursquare badges:

From left to right:

Enhanced loyalty programs
Loyalty marketing hasn't changed much since moms started clipping Betty Crocker points from the sides of boxes, but it has changed the way consumers interact with the companies. Is it possible to build a better mousetrap? Perhaps.

Recently, Tasti D-Lite announced the rollout of TastiRewards, a rewards program that incentivizes customers to associate their social media accounts with membership cards. Customers earn extra points by broadcasting the program through social media. As Mashable points out, "This marks the first time that a restaurant chain has tacked on social media rewards for social media exposure to their customer loyalty programs, and it's been a long time coming. Finally, the connection between customers' social media behavior and their in-store behavior is coming full circle."

It's quite a remarkable evolution. Customers that redeem TastiRewards do so in front of a very wide and very public audience. Brand mentions spike, mindshare grows, and conversions increase in a virtuous cycle. Customers are innately bound to their online selves, leading the way to some very powerful and informative analytics.

Tony Felice is senior strategist at Red Door Interactive.

On Twitter? Follow Tony at @TonyFelice. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Tony is the Senior Digital Strategist at Vladimir Jones, and has worked with such brands as Centura Health, Xcel Energy, Charles Schwab, Molson Coors,Univision, Eagle Creek and Shea Homes.  His areas of expertise include consumer insights, data...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: J Hi

2010, February 26

I think its great that you can leverage this in a fun way to find local businesses, I do wonder if this can work with businesses that are brick&mortar/ecommerce. Of course curious to see how it can work on the ecommerce side, especially in the paint industry.

Commenter: Lori Lorusso

2010, January 27

Great article! Living/working in a mid size town it's hard to get businesses on board with social media marketing. Thanks for making the benefits of Foursquare easy to comprehend and share!