December 2, 2010

Check-in and You Can Become a Mayor

What it means to be the “mayor” has an entirely new meaning thanks to the geosocial networking site Foursquare.

First introduced at the 2009 South By Southwest Interactive conference in Austin, Texas, this fast-growing mobile application and web site provides consumers with a continually-evolving, online game and social networking experience.  Foursquare works by utilizing the GPS feature on most smartphones (i.e. iPhone, Blackberry, Android, Palm, ovi, etc.), where users “check-in” at restaurants, stores and other establishments they frequent or come in close proximity to.

Not only can users identify and announce their location, they can also comment or “shout” their opinions, and link that information to their Twitter page and/or Facebook feed.

So what is all this mayor business anyway you may be asking yourself? Well, within the Foursquare application, the title of “mayor” to a particular location is earned when a user accumulates the most “check-ins” during the preceding 60 days. And now being the mayor provides more than just a feeling of self-accomplishment or any other Foursquare recognition, businesses are catching on about how to make this competitive mayoral landscape work for them.

In a recent Wall Street Journal article about Foursquare and geosocial networking, it listed a few examples of the benefits mayors are receiving nationally. For instance, Arby’s offers its mayors special seating and 50% off their meal at 37 restaurant locations across the country. Additionally, a mall in Princeton, NJ, reserves a prime parking spot for its mayor.

It’s easy to see when a special is available to a Foursquare user, because they’re noted in a colored icon adjacent to the establishment’s name in the mobile application. For any business, establishing your location and creating your own offers is free to set-up. In the very near future, the Foursquare web site will be offering free analytics for business owners where they can track every check-in a user makes within their establishment. This type of information at their fingertips will allow for greater intelligence and marketing toward Foursquare’s customer demographics.

Here in Chicago when I’m using Foursquare, I frequently come across messages when I check-in to places or come within close proximity: free dozen bagels at NYC Bagel Deli for its mayor, free soup for every third check-in at J.P. Graziano Grocery Co and recently one of these deals came in extremely handy as I got 10% off my entire order when dining at Tilted Kilt Pub & Eatery!

With geosocial advertising still in its neophyte stages of development, businesses are beginning to comprehend the value Foursquare and similar applications (Loopt, GoWalla, BrightKite and Facebook Places) provide.  What needs to be understood is that the offers to the consumer are issued on a reactive, opportunistic basis. Once the consumer checks-in or searches for the location in which they’re going to, the special offers will then appear.  It’s an entirely different paradigm then the upfront, in-your-face, email blasts delivered by coupon powerhouses such as Groupon, LivingSocial, ScoopSt and BuyWithMe; the customer purchases the coupon and then goes to use it on a later date at that particular establishment.

Long ago are the days of companies, products and services naturally finding their markets and consumer base. Social networking and mobile connectivity allows for consumers to shape their purchase strategy and influence brands and trends in a way we couldn’t have imagined even as recent as five years ago.

In the forthcoming months and years, marketers can have fun working with new type of geosocial marketing just as the consumers will have fun with “checking-in” to locations and acquiring badges for rewards. As the technology matures there will be a unique strategy involved with how to create attention to your business as consumers thumb through their mobile device at any given time, but until then I would encourage some ‘test and learn’ strategies.