Friday, November 19, 2010

What's the point of foursquare, anyway?

Occasionally, I am asked what the point of foursquare is. OK, more than occasionally—a lot. I think people see a lot of potential in the app generally, but aren't quite sure how to use it. That's an easy question for me. From my standpoint, it's just a game—a game with some interesting social features.
I'll leave out describing how foursquare works, since there are already iconic descriptions of foursquare functionality. As an avid foursquare propeller-head, I can tell you why I think foursquare is great:
  • I can track friends, and use my knowledge to facilitate serendipity. If I'm nearby and a friend checks in to my local lunch spot, I can drop in to say hi.
  • I can predict my friend's receptivity to ideas. The friend who checked in from the bar at 3 am isn't going to join me for the trail hike at dawn today.
  • I can be the mayor, which gives me a tiny sliver of a sense of ownership for a place. Not that I'd help take out the trash, but I will bring a friend over unannounced. Also, given a choice between two places, I'll go to the one at which I'm mayor. I've heard from other mayors that they feel a similar sentiment.
  • I can find out about new and unheard of fun places from my friends who are there, and I can avoid places they don't recommend as well.
  • I can annoy my husband with unprecedented acuity. No longer can he check in at the market without me calling to remind him to get stuff from the list. (Love you, dear. If he didn't want me to know he was there, he just wouldn't check in.)
  • I win the game. I'm part of a nomad comedy troupe, I work at multiple locations, and I eat out a lot. I like a game I can win!
For those with fears of Orwellian level monitoring--or those who find geolocation presence announcements creepy, first off, if you're carrying a cell phone, then your location can be found. It takes more than ordinary telephony skills and some cash, but it can be done and done legally. (Tracking someone by cell phone is a very real option.) Most people think that only their telephone service provider and perhaps authorized government personnel could know this info. It is reasonable to assume, however, that the general public doesn't have access to this data, and choosing to publish it via foursquare or other services, such as Google Latitude, will make the data more available to the world (and available to market with.)
Let's consider what a marketer might do with that public location data:
  • A business can market to prospects based on check ins. The person who checks in to camera shops from an ordinary cell phone might be receptive to upgrade to a smart phone with camera, for example.
  • Foursquare is getting smarter about being business friendly. Venue owners can now
    control who is the mayor or their location. Thus, they can run promotions for a location with a reasonable expectation that they can avoid being fleeced. Also, foursquare is now using the GPS data received with a check-in to note whether the user is actually anywhere near where they say they are. This crack down on cheating means that a business can have a reasonable expectation that people are where they say they are. "And where there are rules, there can be commerce, participation and meaningful investment," (from Read Write Web).
So, do you want to run specials at Al-Anon or the laser hair removal clinic? Doubtful that this would work. If your business relies on discretion, foursquare isn't going to help you at this point. But if you're a business where people go to see and be seen, or a business with a strong local presence, or one with an existing fan base, then you can make a stronger connection with your regulars and perhaps draw in their connections with strategic promotions. For case studies, check out Scotty's Brewhouse (for a local biz success) and Starbucks (a national play).

Image representing Foursquare Solutions as dep...
Image via CrunchBase
A marketer should consider how to measure the impact of any foursquare campaign carefully. For example, measuring foot traffic isn't really valuable unless that's really what you want. (I suppose if you're running a 5K race that would be a good measure.) But for most of us, determining how to measure a social marketing campaign is essential. Picking your metric--be it sales, leads, or registrations--is essential. Then, as you vary your offer and target audience, you can measure your results to see what works for your specific situation.

by Eva Lyford , first posted at Biznology Blog.

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