Social Media with Real Business Consequences: Foursquare

By Kieran


There has been a lot of talk of social media for a while now, as the web has moved from a one-to-many model, in which those who know how to develop sites or can afford to have them made for them broadcast their message to the world, to a many-to-many model, in which anyone can start up a blog or post anything they desire to services such as Twitter or Facebook.  Literally hundreds of social media sites have spawned up around the web giving the world a voice, but the consequence is that it can be hard to find social media applications that are genuinely original and bringing something new to the table.

One application, however, has brought many different aspects of social media together into one new, creative, original, and fun application – one that businesses, I believe, should be quick to embrace: Foursquare.  Foursquare is doing for social media what the Wii did for video games; it is getting people up, moving around, and interacting with the medium in a new and creative way.  If you’ve not heard of Foursquare before, or can’t understand how it can help your business, read on.

Before we continue, yes, I am aware that there are other similar applications.  The reason I’ve singled out Foursquare is due to the fact that it is available for not just the iPhone, but also for Android, BlackBerry, and Palm based phones.  For an application to be widely accepted, regardless of how good it is, it needs to be available to as many people as possible.  Application developers who target just one operating system, in my opinion, are shooting themselves in the foot.

Fun for the User

Foursquare is a location based service, meaning the application is aware of where on Earth you are located and the business around you.  As you poke around town, you are able to “check in” to the places you go.  Check in at the library.  Check in at the supermarket.  Check in at the movie theater.  Everywhere you check in, you get to see who else is around, and if you choose, you can send a shout out to friends.  You can even have Foursquare hooked up to your Twitter and/or Facebook accounts and post status updates to those services as you go about your adventures.

So far, there isn’t anything too exciting, neither for the business nor the application’s user.  But here is where things get interesting and everyone starts to have fun.  Each time you check in, you are awarded little trinkets, be it a couple points towards a bigger goody, or a badge for having been to that location a certain number of times.  If you check in at a location more times anyone else, for example, you become “Mayor” of that place.  While within Foursquare this brings with it little more than a badge and a cool little picture of you with a crown on your head associated with that location, some businesses are turning the benefits of being mayor of their business into very real rewards.  Here in Grand Rapids, several businesses are already jumping on board.  Wealthy Theatre announced they were hip to Foursquare in a recent Facebook note, where they tell folks,  “to redeem your special Wealthy Theatre giveaway, simply check in at Wealthy Theatre and show your phone to whomever is working the concession booth.”  It is up to each venue if and how they choose to participate, but I can assure you that folks are talking.  There is a battle on right now at a local restaurant that is offering whoever is the mayor fifty-percent off their meal as long as they are mayor.  Undoubtedly mayorship will change hands back and forth as people visit more frequently in hopes of grabbing, or holding on to, the title.

This mix of competition, social networking, and geo-location service is the perfect mix.  Folks enjoy sharing their activities, are actively building the database of what’s around town, and can have fun with a little competition.  Another concept of Foursquare are “tips” and “to dos” – Someone added a “to do” for Yesterdog, for example, of “shoot for the tip basket.”  Go to Yesterdog, shoot for the tip basket, and earn points when you check it off the list in Foursquare as something you’ve now done.

“Tips” are where folks get to have a voice, leaving little juicy tidbits of information for future visitors.  One business had a tip of “avoid the waitstaff!  They’re rude!”  while another had “try the tacos… delicious!”  This little added bit of functionality brings Foursquare squarely (sorry) in line to compete with some of the best location-based review sites out there.  While other applications let you simply review local businesses, Foursquare makes it fun.

Beneficial for the Business

Much of what makes Foursquare popular and fun has been driven by the community and businesses making use of the application not originally intended by Foursquare.  Foursquare has been watching and listening though, and has made it beneficial to businesses as well.  Foursquare now lets businesses offer “Foursquare specials” that will be promoted from within the application.  When someone checks in at your location, or a location near your business, special offers will be pushed to the user, further promoting your business.  Businesses are also able to use Foursquare to tell them how many times a customer has been to their venue or the frequency of their visits. Many venues are now using this data to reward their most loyal customers with freebies or discounts.  Beyond the spirit of a fun competition, many customers are given a sense of ownership in the businesses with which they are interacting.

Foursquare screen grab.

You too can become mayor of the mini-mart!

Tommy Allen recently said in an article about Foursquare for Rapids Growth, “I realized how Foursquare could build a new and spot-on urban map of a city, based on the strength and integrity of many contributors.”

Be you a believer in social media or not, folks are using these applications.  Be them a fad or the future of the Internet, folks are now handing out kudos and complaints – broadcast to to the world instantly – right at your doorstep, before they even get in their cars to go home.  Take part in the shenanigans if you can.  Offering a free drink or a discount on your service every once in a while to folks who are supporting you not just off-line, but on-line as well, may go a long way to keep people coming back time and time again – and ensuring more kudos than complaints.  You may even have fun in the process!

Me?  I’m the mayor of my local mini-mart.  They don’t offer any rewards for that status (yet), but I don’t plan on giving up the title too easily nonetheless.  I figure as long as I keep using them for my daily caffeine fix, I am set to be mayor for quite some time.

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3 Responses to “Social Media with Real Business Consequences: Foursquare”

  1. I love it, but I’ve got to ask — how does this help the solo-op business owner that does work from their home? My clients meet me at Starbucks or other venues — places I don’t own. Again, I love the concept, but this seems to work for retail or nightclubs, not so much professional services.

    • Kieran says:

      That’s the funny thing about location-based services – if your business wants to make use of them, they generally require a location. Not the answer you were looking for?

      I can see where there could be advantages to using Foursquare, but as an end-user and not as a “location provider.” One can create a Foursquare account for their business and use that account everywhere they go to leave kind of a ‘calling card’ that they were there. Consider it advertising that is not only free, but also in which one gets to control, at least in this context, which venues are associated with their brand.

      • Interesting. I could see that as a more useful method of using it from a business standpoint. Perhaps I will take a closer look at Foursquare (I was never a big fan) to see what else it might be able to do for me.

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