Location-Based Marketing Is More Than a Foursquare Game

The next time your boss insists you create a Foursquare scavenger hunt to make your brand “fun,” ask yourself who your audience is and what they’ll get out of the experience. Using location-based services such as Foursquare to build your brand is all about providing useful content like deals and offers, not games and status points, according to Geoff Ramsey, CEO and founder of eMarketer, who hosted a September 19 breakfast, “Location-Based Marketing: Driving Sales in a ‘What’s Around Me?’ World.”

According to Ramsey, eMarketer data show that Foursquare usage is leveling off and that gaming experiences on Foursquare “are getting old for consumers.” In fact, local check-in “is not the huge opportunity that the media was making it out to be.” His discussion suggests marketers need to first understand the audience for location-based services and provide valuable content they’ll care about. The hot areas of opportunity are geo-fencing (e.g., a clothing retailer on Michigan Avenue in Chicago offers you a deal on your smart phone as you stroll past the store on your way to lunch) and in-store (marketing to consumers as they use their mobile devices to browse the inventory in your physical store — and catching their attention with value-added services and deals that encourage immediate purchase).

On the iCrossing Great Finds blog, I provide a lengthier report on Ramsey’s points. Check it out, and I invite your feedback.

Social media immaturity

Social media platforms like Facebook are like the American healthcare system: useful so long as you remain perfectly healthy for your entire life. But if you sneeze, you might be royally screwed.

Doing business with Facebook is like getting service at a public clinic. At best, the company provides indifferent service if you have a problem (assuming you can even get a human being at Facebook to respond to you). And the company is notorious for making seemingly random changes that frustrate its fast growing user base.

As a software executive once told me, “The problem with Facebook is that it’s run by a bunch of kids who have too much power to make important changes without thinking through the impact on its business partners. They lack the experience to manage some of the fundamentals of doing business, like communicating clearly how its technology developments and changes to setting will affect others.”

I don’t know how much youth is the factor at Facebook as much as a lack of maturity and sensitivity. In a recent blog post, Steve Furman made a similar comment: “just when you think things are getting there, Facebook makes a major change to the design, or code, or interface and suddenly much of what you have made is now broken, or will no longer be useful to you. It’s frustrating, and should cause all brands to take a step back and re-evaluate the role external social networks should play in their company strategy.”

But Facebook isn’t the only social media titan lacking a grasp of service.

Since mid-February, my Foursquare posts have stopped appearing on my Facebook wall. Finding any help from Foursquare has been just about impossible. It’s so-called support page is nothing more than a DYI ghetto without any path to really getting a reply from anyone at Foursquare. Recently I resorted to complaining on Twitter. At least I got a reply:

My first reaction was, “Hey – don’t whine about how hard it is for you to keep up with your 7.5 million users.” And then I did try @4SqSupport. I received a few suggestions for tips, but they did not work. I have since started to use Gowilla.

Even worse is the way social media publishing site Issuu deals with customer service problems. I recently encountered a problem and was directed to an FAQ page that was even less helpful than Foursquare’s.

To address a question not covered on the FAQ, I was routed to Getsatisfaction.com/issuu, where I was required to create my own user profile just to ask a question:

Several weeks later, I’ve not found an answer to my question. And I’m not satisfied.

So what’s the answer here? Just accept the fact that poor responsiveness is the price we pay for free sites like Facebook? I don’t think so. Facebook, Twitter, and its social media cousins have been around too long, and their brands have become too visible, for consumers to accept poor service. To paraphrase this post by Nicole Ferraro about Twitter’s own problems, the time has come for social media to grow up.

A square on Foursquare


I finally did it: after resisting peer pressure to complicate my life with another social media application, I joined Foursquare. (Is that what you do?  “Join” Foursquare? “Fan” Foursquare?)  After all, I work for Razorfish, a company that took pride in earning a “Swarm” badge on Foursquare Day.  If you don’t tinker around with social media applications where I work, people look at you funny.  Now that this 47-year-old fairly ordinary dad has been onboard with Foursquare for about a month, I have a few observations:

  • Checking into places with Foursquare when I am in the company of others feels socially awkward and geeky — like checking work email or smoking a cigarette.  (“Just a sec — hold that thought while I whip out my iPhone and check in to acknowledge you and I are really having a conversation here.”)  I find myself ducking into the powder room to check in.  Odd as it may seem to a generation raised on mobile devices, there are people who expect my undivided attention. They are known as my family and friends.
  • My de facto Foursquare strategy is to become mayor by checking into places that are too uncool for others to acknowledge.  I visited a local Walgreens for cough syrup one night, took a moment to check in, and suddenly found myself a mayor in an apparent landslide.  However, I didn’t have time for a victory speech, and Walgreens didn’t seem interested in giving me the keys to Aisle 4.  Recently I even checked into church. You can’t get much more unhip than that. Yesterday when I received an Explorer badge, I felt like I won a batting title with a bunch of infield singles.
  • While dining at Corner Bakery recently I received an offer from Go Roma for a 10-percent discount next time I check in there on Foursquare.  Which was fine, except that I had already paid for my meal at Corner Bakery.  So far no one else seems to be interested in giving me any offers that I can actually use when Foursquare has my attention.  (It would have been interesting to see what kind an offer I could have gotten at church.)
  • Apparently I partied like a rock star in Los Angeles April 23 when I checked into X Bar at the Hyatt Century Plaza at 1:22 a.m.  How off-brand for a boring old dad.  Actually I checked in at about 11:22 p.m. Los Angeles time to sip a club soda and have a perfectly fine anti-social moment in a bar where it was too loud to talk to anyone.  To my Facebook friends seeing my information reported by Fousquare in Central Time Zone, there I was just getting warmed up at 1:22 a.m. It sure was fun to create the illusion.  Which is to say you can cultivate the Foursquare image you want the world to see.
  • I do worry about security on Foursquare.  At some point you have to ask yourself how many people should know you are miles away from home holding court at the X Bar. Or planting your butt in a theater seat for a few hours. In the time it takes for you to watch those puzzling ads for Fathom in a dark movie theater, a savvy thief could clean out your apartment or house.  Yeah, you can block others from seeing your Foursquare updates, but then what’s the point of checking in?  Just to receive badges and offers?
  • I’m intrigued by the customized content you can create on Foursquare.  While dining at said Corner Bakery, I noticed someone had created a location called “Hell aka Work.”  (Hopefully that wasn’t another Razorfish employee.)  Oh the possibilities, perhaps some even useful.

In coming days and weeks, I’ll continue to have some fun with Foursquare.   I suppose as a marketing executive I should be telling you I have created a thoughtful Foursquare strategy that integrates tightly with all the ways I share my own brand (whatever that might be).   If anything, my strategy is informed by something profound George Colony, CEO of Forrester Research, said at the Forrester Marketing Forum April 22.  George questioned the popular notion that the only way to benefit from social is to go “all in.”  Instead, he proposed “social light,” or focusing on quality of social interactions, not quantity.  Or worrying more about the experience you can have on social, not how many Twitter followers you can accumulate.

Makes perfect sense.  For now, I’m just going to tinker around with Foursquare for the pure enjoyment of discovering a tool that hasn’t been figured out yet (at least by me). Profound? No.  Right for me?  Absolutely.