Thursday, 28 October 2010

What is Foursquare and why is it important for your business?

When I talk to people about Foursquare, I am somewhat surprised by the amount of otherwise commercially-minded people who don’t ‘get’ it, and ask “but what’s the point?”

So I’m going to position it in the world of B2C SME businesses.

Firstly, a quick summary of what Foursquare is without using the geotagging/microblogging jargon of the digital day:

Foursquare is an application that users download onto their smartphone. It enables the user to ‘check-in’ to locations that they visit, a bit like putting a tick next to the yellow pages listing of the bar they happen to be sitting in (let’s name is X Bar). When they check-in to the X Bar, it can instigate a number of stimuli that have different purposes, including the collection of points for adding new venues, travelling geographically from your last check-in, number of check-ins that day etc.

However, the 2 most significant user experiences are:

1. As gameplay – they can collect badges in response to certain check-in behaviours. For example, if their check-in at X Bar is their 4th check-in at different bars that evening, they earn the questionable accolade of the ‘crunked’ badge. It’s a bit like collecting Boy Scout badges, but they sit on the users Foursquare profile page instead of sewn onto their shirt sleeve.
They can also compete to become the ‘Mayor’ of that bar – if they are the person who checks in to that bar most frequently over a certain period of time, they are crowned the Mayor of that bar until they get toppled by a more frequent foursquare visitor.

2. As a social network – users can link themselves to fellow Foursquare ‘friends’ in the same way as you do on Facebook; as opposed to tracking the mood/comments/status updates of your Friends, Foursquare enables you to track their actual physical location. This means you could be sat in X-bar, and be able to see (via your Foursquare dashboard) that your best mate is there in the bar too, but out of sight; in the beer garden maybe. However, in a nod to privacy, this functionality is also easily cloaked – the user has to select as part of the check-in whether their location is actually published. They have to opt-in to the Foursquare update appearing on their Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare status, so if you can see where they are, it’s because they have specifically chosen to tell you.

So that’s it from a user interaction perspective, but it’s the commercial insight and marketing opportunity that this platform provides that is so incredibly powerful.

Now imagine that you are actually the owner of X Bar.

Foursquare gives you the visibility of:

• Who your customer is; in real life – it even shows you their picture, and in many cases, their real name

• How often they visit your business

• Who they are with when they visit your business

• What time of day they visit your business

• Through the use of the ‘tips’ part of the application, they can even tell you (and every other Foursquare user) specifically what they like (and, crucially DON’T like) about your business

All of the above are valuable, tangible channels for customer insight, interaction, Marketing and loyalty initiative opportunities. A good example of an early adopter of Foursquare as a loyalty platform is Domino’s Pizza – they offered free pizza to the ‘Mayor’ of that branch every Wednesday.

The future possibilities of applications such as foursquare are incredibly exciting for businesses, and SME’s should adopt it as a low-cost, highly targeted tool, and ignore it at their absolute peril; in the world of publishable feedback, they can easily damage your online and offline reputation by posting examples of bad customer service/product or any other B2C fail specifically to your actual listing in the user generated and ever growing directory. If you have several branches, a user can publish that the branch at, for example, Westminster, has a rude Manager, or that the coffee isn’t good.

Equally, people can applaud your service/staff/product and become a champion of your business. This feedback works in a similar way to your website’s Google ‘natural search’ rankings – people trust other people’s opinions/content more than paid-for marketing messages.

Technology enabled social applications such as Foursquare are here to stay – they are portable, as they exist on peoples mobile phones; they are payment and subscription-free, and useful on a personal and social level for the user. They are also, in their nature and relevance to today’s world, highly integrative into the Users lifestyle.

‘Get it?’