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Social media: is Foursquare worth looking at?

July 14, 2010 by  

A while back I decided to give Foursquare a try. It’s a recent addition to the social media world, and I was quite skeptical about its usefulness when I first heard about it. My skepticism is still there, but as I have tried out the service, I can see how it might be useful, particularly from an advertiser’s perspective.

Foursquare is a mobile social media app that gets users to check in to indicate their location. So, if you’re out for coffee at Starbucks, check in with Foursquare. If you check in at this location more than other users, you could become mayor of that location.

As users check in at different places, they can earn badges. Earning badges is a feature of a couple social media platforms I’m aware of, and give users an incentive to take actions to achieve them.

Some of the badges include things like the Barista badge, where you have to check in at five different Starbucks locations (got that one). There’s the Local badge, where you need to check in at a location three times in a week.

There seems to be a wide variety of badges available and once you’ve added a bunch of friends, you can check out their badges to see the ones you might try for.

That’s really about it for Foursquare. I’m using the Blackberry app, and there is an iPhone app. If you check out Foursquare’s app section, you’ll likely find one for your phone if it’s not an iPhone or Blackberry.

How useful is Foursquare?

Ah, the key question. Really, how useful is a lot of social media? I wondered just how useful Foursquare really would be. Fundamentally it’s a game, but it depends on how you use it. The key will be how Foursquare develops.

It’s probably most important to look at it from the perspective of a check-in location, or potential advertiser. I think these organizations are the linchpin in terms of any value derived from Foursquare and this is primarily why I decided to try it out.

I noticed that Starbucks had offers of price reductions on its drinks if you were the mayor of a Starbucks location. It offers people some incentive to try and become mayor and get the price reduction, but if it’s just a dollar off, it’s not much incentive.

If that dollar off were to be offered to each person who checked in, there’d be more incentive for others to come to that location.

I can see a huge amount of potential for some businesses to offer promotions through Foursquare and they could, naturally, promote it through Twitter. There’s definitely some incentive for Foursquare to increase its user base. I’m not sure how many Foursquare users there are in Edmonton, but there seems to be a fair amount.

Advertisers could offer a limited number of larger gift certificates, say ten $25 gift certificates for the first ten people who come in and say they saw it on Foursquare.

Edmonton locations I've checked in at & am mayor of.

Or an advertiser could draw for a much larger item after a month, offering it only to Foursquare users. Imagine the attention an organization like Future Shop could get if it was offering a draw for a new laptop exclusively to Edmonton Foursquare users who had checked in at a Future Shop.

Perhaps they could make it so they actually had to enter the store and get a daily code word from a manager. Foursquare could modify its apps so that visitors could enter the code word and it wouldn’t be visible to other users.

As if Apple needed the help, they could do a couple things: run contests to get people into their stores, or use products like the iPhone 4 or iPad as prizes through other advertisers. Everyone’s so gaga over the iPhone and iPad that I’m sure Foursquare users would be breaking down the door to get one as a prize.

It almost goes without saying that these types of contests would be promoted through other social media such as Twitter and Facebook, but if you’re doing traditional media such as radio, TV or newspaper advertising, why not include it, or make it the primary focus of those ads?

City of Edmonton event & destination marketing

Cities could really use something like Foursquare to their advantage if they worked in conjunction with events, festivals and destination attractions to promote them online.

My son has been bored already this summer and looking for things to do. I found a good list of things to do in Edmonton and a light bulb went off. Why doesn’t the City of Edmonton use Foursquare to promote events such those in the list I mentioned and use Foursquare as a type of online passport? Edmonton could use help in the branding and promotions department apparently.

Once Foursquare users had checked in at the appropriate venues, they could get a special t-shirt and be entered into a draw for some cool prizes. The city has some great events coming up like the Grey Cup, the Honda Indy and Taylor Hall playing for the Oilers. Why not offer some of those tickets as prizes? How about a grand prize of a $5,000 shopping spree at West Edmonton Mall (or a mall willing to sponsor it)? I’ve talked about the inadequacies of an Edmonton mall promotion before.

It doesn’t have to cost the city much to do it either. It can use social media to promote it throughout Alberta and Western Canada. It could even supplement it with a bit of traditional advertising.

I could go on all day about the different kinds of promotions that are possible and I’m sure there are even more creative people out there who’ll come up with better ones.

Foursquare growth & users

There are a variety of badges & incentives for Foursquare users.

You may have heard of some of the downsides of Foursquare, such as giving stalkers a roadmap of your activities, or potential thieves an indication that you’re not at home. This is a decision we each have to make. If you’re not comfortable with publicizing your location, don’t bother using Foursquare.

I can say that it’s fun checking in at places around Edmonton and seeing what other users are doing or have to say about the places they check in at. A good feature of Foursquare is the ability to post tips about the places they visit.

If Foursquare is to grow, they need to “show me the money.” Sorry, I know it’s a worn out phrase, but it fits. Foursquare will benefit by growing its user base and in doing that, its attractiveness to advertisers. With advertisers on board and good offers to users, more users will be drawn in.

The advertiser offers have to be something that doesn’t require a ridiculous amount of work or cost, are fun and are really worth doing a bit of work for. People today are busy and quickly decide whether something’s worth the effort or not.

I don’t know how much of a budget Foursquare has for promotions, but using some older sales techniques probably wouldn’t hurt. Would it make sense for Foursquare to have a marketing and promotions rep on the ground in a place like Edmonton for six months to a year so they can reach out to local businesses and help them get some innovative promotions off the ground? I think so. Perhaps they could use a few cities around North America as a test case to see how that might work.

You can always wait for these things to happen, or you can short circuit the process and make it happen.

It’ll be interesting to see how Foursquare develops over time and whether it goes in some of the directions I’ve speculated about. There’s nothing saying that potential advertisers out there now can’t use Foursquare as I’ve shown. I certainly haven’t cornered the market on the creative possibilities!

Edmonton has a strong social media community that is eager to participate in innovative products and promotions. I suppose it’s really up to innovative Edmonton marketing companies to get out there and show those potential advertisers the possibilities. I’d say that Foursquare is worth a look from the perspective of users and advertisers, but its value comes from how you use it. Seems to be the same for all social media.