I have been humming and hawing about FourSquare for the best part of a year now. Why so much hype? I originally tried it under some assumed identity wayback after SXSW but quickly realized no one else was using it in Ireland so the experience was severely limited. Have things changed? Is it any use for Irish businesses?
A fortnight ago, I decided to revisit FourSquare but with a specific goal. How long would it take me to break the Top 10 users in Dublin in one week period? The answer is nine days to be No. 5 in the whole of Dublin. What does this mean? Well, as it turns out, not very much but the experience was not without learning and I will share some of the general opportunities (and challenges) of using FourSquare in Ireland in this blog. I will keep some of the better business ideas to myself though!
In life, you come in to the world with families. FourSquare is a bit more brutal. You start off with no family and more importantly, no “friends”! Yes, like Facebook, FourSquare abuse the f-word liberally. So what is it? I am still not entirely sure. It is like a cross between a social network, a SatNav system and a game (if you were fond of Panini Sticker books as a child then you love this!). Using your mobile phone, FourSquare pinpoints your position and enables you to share your location with your friends and share messages and tips with them, earning you points per logging location-based activities. For transparency, I used the free FourSquare App for the iPhone 4 and I found it both intuitive and, dare I say it, addictive.
Basically, users can do a number of things on FourSquare:
- Add friends: FourSquare searches through your contacts and allows you search FourSquare and other social networks to inivite “friends”
- Check-in: FourSquare locates you on a map and provides a list of nearby venues or places that users have geo-tagged (added to FourSquare). You can check-in to these places thereby notifying FourSquare and your friends of your location.
- Shout: A “Shout” is the FourSquare equivalent of a tweet or update – the unfortunate use of the word “Shout” is offputting for Shouters and Shoutees.
- Earn Points: You earn points for your check-in behaviour. These are city-specific and you can compare yourself to your friends and other users in your city. The top scores reset every Sunday night at midnight.
- Be Crowned Mayor: If you check in to a place more than anyone else, you can be crowned Mayor but you can lose your mayorship too.
- Earn Badges: your usage behaviour can also earn you badges (remember those Panini Stickers) which you collect e.g. Newbie (first check-in), Photogenic (checking in to three locations with photo booths) or Supermayor (holding ten mayorships at once). There is even a site for those interested in collecting FourSquare Badges – www.4squarebadges.com
- Add Places: you can add and geotag venues or locations not on FourSquare (and get extra points).
- Leave Tips: you can leave tips associated with locations for other users to see.
- Add To Do Items: You can add To-Do items recommended by others to your To-Do List which is permanently available to you.
It takes awhile to get used to FourSquare and working out what works and what doesn’t. For example, you can accumulate a lot of points using “drive by checking” – i.e. checking in as you drive-by rather than enter a venue. This works better on public transport and is not recommended for those driving!!!! If you think that planning in advance will help you on your drive-by attempt, it might but you need to make sure you refresh your location as close as possible to the venue otherwise FourSquare will look at the disparity between the last refresh and the location and if too great, will check you in but refuse to give you points. If your phone, thinks your 250 metres down the road (where you refreshed) and you are actually in front of the venue, FourSquare assumes your phone is correct. Similarly, FourSquare will look at the frequency of your check-ins and may disallow rapid fire check-ins too.
How did I get to being No. 5 in Dublin? Well, firstly and I am not competitive (well maybe a bit), I would have been higher but didn’t realize that my points had been reset when I went to Cork last Friday losing me a whole day of check-ins. The trick is adding new places and checking in frequently – what is known as “oversharing”. Do this and you will be top of the pile. Your significant other will hate you and possibly leave you but you will be the top dawg! The exercise was not without merit; in one week, I:
- Made 35 “friends” (only 5 could be classified really as conventional friends)
- Checked in 200 times
- Became Mayor 11 times including Mayor of my house, garden, the boat in my neighbour’s garden but also Bewleys Hotel (Drive By – well, I stopped outside it), and DCU Business School (where I work! This may be a surprise to the Dean)
- Earned 10 badges including SuperMayor, Crunked, OverShare and I’m on a Boat
- Left 7 tips (5 of which are genuinely useful)
- Found 1 restaurant for dinner (Cafe Mexicana, Cork – recommended)
I know, impressive.
What can Irish businesses learn from my FourSquare experience?
1. Be patient, it’s free
FourSquare is still at an early stage of adoption in Ireland. Not a lot of people using it and not a lot of businesses but proximity based social networks and marketing are here and will develop. FourSquare will be in the mix and it’s free so if anything, it is worthwhile trialling things on. Even in my small experiment, I know others started using it because of my invites, to see what I was doing but also to compete with me!
2. Add your place
It takes no time at all to add your place. If you do nothing else, this may attract one customer for less than 3 minutes work. Again it costs nothing. Add a description and as much information as possible. If you have multiple sites, remember to do all sites. It may also be a good idea to register any sales agents or partners who sell your products or represent you throughout the country/world.
3. Add a Tip
Add some tips about your business or a related sector. Make sure it is valuable in some way to the user population. Tips can swing both ways – people leave positive tips and warn users of possible negative experiences. For example, during my experiment my wife and our youngest child (aged 9 months) visited the Marks and Spencers Rooftop Terrace for a coffee and dessert. We had a largely negative experience – they brought M&S Cola instead of Diet Coke (a huge crime in Theoworld) and didn’t bring over a babychair despite one being clearly available for over 15 minutes. Now M&S tried to correct my situation and gave use a freebie but nonetheless I tweeted this but also placed a FourSquare Tip which will be there for some time, one would imagine.
Can you get rid of a Tip? Don’t despair M&S. Yes, you can. Two ways come to mind. Befriend the tipster and ask them to remove it or email FourSquare with a Tip Removal Request and they will consider it.
4. Decide whether you want/need to be King of the Castle
You need to decide whether you are comfortable with someone else being the Mayor of your business or venue. I can understand how this could be uncomfortable is someone is Mayor of your home and your business is no different, even employees being Mayor over managers may be uncomfortable. On the other hand, allowing employees or regular customers to be Mayor may be a nice way to recognize them in a small way.
The good news is that you have options. If you would like to have control of the Mayorship of your venue, you can Claim your Venue by registering with FourSquare as a business at http://foursquare.com/businesses/. It’s free and gives you control of your venue but also additional features like Specials (see 7 below), Statistics (See 10 below) and marketing collateral (see 7 below).
5. Reward your Mayor
You can reward regular customers (or more correctly visitors) by giving them some special discount or prize if they provide evidence that they are the current Mayor. They need only show you their FourSquare profile (and you can check this by looking up your venue on FourSquare). This can be done easily using conventional marketing (e.g. a poster) or creating a Special (see 7 below). If you are a registered business with FourSquare, they will provide you with marketing collateral support.
Shouting is the FourSquare equivalent of tweeting. You can Shout via your phone, the FourSquare website or other social networking tools with FourSquare API integration. I use Hootsuite and integrating FourSquare was literally 3-4 clicks and I could monitor friends but also broadcast messages in a single instance to all my social networks including FourSquare.
7. Add a Special
Business users on FourSquare can access additional tools to attract, engage, reward and track customers. These include:
- Mayor Specials: unlocked only by the Mayor of your venue.
- Check-in Specials: unlocked when a user checks in to your venue a certain number of times.
- Frequency-based Specials: are unlocked every X check-ins.
- Wildcard Specials: always unlocked, but your staff has to verify some extra conditions before awarding the Special.
Again, these are free. But what I really like is that they combine relevancy, immediacy and location and in that way they are somewhat similar to Groupon. The consumer has control – it is pretty much permission-based.
8. Add an “Add to my FourSquare” button
The “Add to my FourSquare” button is an image that you put on your website etc which adds a Place or Tip to a reader’s FourSquare To-Do List. Again, it’s easy and free. I think this could be used to great effect in PR activities by asking reviewers or journalists to embed the code in to their online articles or references. It’s simple, free and effective. You can find details on how to add the button at http://support.foursquare.com/entries/265950-how-do-i-embed-the-add-to-my-foursquare-button-on-my-site.
9. Create a Custom Badge
There are loads of different badges. Increasingly, FourSquare addicts are focusing more and more on specialist or elite badges. You should not underestimate how addictive collecting badges can become! I did.
How do you go about creating a custom badge? I have identified three ways. The first is to suggest a badge to FourSquare at Suggest a Badge! Success is rare. You need to be quirky, relatively commercially obtuse and generous with your idea i.e. it needs to benefit FourSquare users generally and not you specifically.
Second, FourSquare seems to create custom badges for “Strategic Partners” or “Strategic Events”. Examples of strategic partners include Wall Street Journal, Bravo, Michelin Guides etc. SXSW would be a good example of a Strategic Event. In both instances, the partner and event needs to align clearly with the FourSquare user community and brand identity. Who are they? Look at the profile of smartphone/GPS-enbled phone users.
Finally, I have identified at least one company, Osnapz, who claim to offer custom badges for not only FourSquare but Twitter, Facebook and other social networks. I have never used them. Engage with caution.
10. Monitor your “friends” and statistics
A question I always ask about social networks is – What can I learn about consumer behaviour from the user behaviour on the social network? Well, looking at my own FourSquare data, I can tell a lot about my travel history and the different places that I stopped and in some instances visited commercial outlets. However, I have the advantage of first hand experience – I know what was a drive-by check-in and what was an actual commercial opportunity. Notwithstanding this, one could also analyse the timestamps and derive rules from these. Nonetheless, the travel data could be used for informing conventional marketing e.g. billboard advertising etc. It is also easy to see the types of brands and retail outlets I visit. Where I spend a lot of time etc.
- most recent visitors
- most frequent visitors
- the time of day people check in
- total number of unique visitors
- histogram of check-ins per day
- gender breakdown of customers
- portion of FourSquare check-ins broadcast to Twitter and Facebook
Note: FourSquare Analytics doesn’t support multiple venues but it’s not bad for a free tool.
11. Act Ethically, Act Transparently
I bring this up with reluctance but I do think there are some important ethical considerations. On my short experiment, I used FourSquare to locate a restaurant in Cork, in this case, Café Mexicana (I have no hesitation recommending them). We refreshed FourSquare and saw it there and decided to see whether any tables were free. As we entered the threshold of the restaurant, a Tip popped up from one of my “friends”, a well known digital marketing professional and prolific social networkers, asking us to consider going to another restaurant in the same area. For me, this was the FourSquare equivalent of having a Maitre D or waiter from one restaurant waiting at the door of Café Mexicana to steal me away or poach me and bring me to another restaurant. Why? Either:
(a) It was a genuine Tip. Mobile phone GPS is not the accurate and the Tipster was offering a useful tip which inadvertently is displayed when checking in anywhere in that area.
(b) It was a masked message. The Tipster is being paid, in cash or kind, to promote the restaurant.
In the first instance, while the Tipster is not at fault, what I call the “good neighbour” rule might apply. Would a good neighbour encourage such a thing? In the second instance, not only does the “good neighbour” rule apply but the Tipster may be entering a blurry area too. Should they, for example, indicate that it is a promotional tip like an informercial? Effectively a paid placement. The first is permission-based marketing, to some extent. The second is stealth-based.
On a related note, if you are using FourSquare as a business – tell people that you are using it to promote your business and for marketing purposes. Then it is up to them.
12. Please Rob Me
This is not a request but a warning. When FourSquare first came out, one wag set up a site called Please Rob Me so that people would engage with FourSquare and other location-based services responsibly. By broadcasting your location, you are also broadcasting your absence.
Take care. Buy a good alarm.