When I first became aware of Foursquare in 2009 I remember talking to my then CTO about it. I thought it would be worth looking into integrating Foursquare with our online marketing tool Horizon - he wasn't so sure, as he didn’t believe that anybody would willingly tell the world where they were at any given time. And although I wasn't 100% sure either, I knew that if I was happy to check-in there was a good chance that others would too. And with Foursquare surpassing 10 billion check-ins at the beginning of September 2011, I guess that good chance has now become a reality.
So, what can we do with this enormous amount of check-in data? Well for a start, we can see what people most like to do but what impact can this have on business?
For businesses prepared to interact with a location service platform such as Foursquare or Facebook places this information can greatly benefit their marketing activities. In August 2010 for example, Gap offered a 25% discount in all its stores to those who checked in with Foursquare whilst in store (the offer was extended to Facebook and Twitter users but these platforms couldn't provide the instant experience that Foursquare could) and then in the November of the same year integrated an 'Add to Foursquare' button in their online ads which entitled all those who clicked to a 30% in store discount. Naturally this was location aware so the user was guided to their local Gap store. Gap had grasped the fact that location based marketing’s true utility lies in its ability to help promote specific locations, create new engagement layers for their visitors and provide valuable information in the form of offers, recommendations, reviews and tips for others.
I've discussed location based services over the last couple of years with several marketers who are beginning to understand the value of knowing their customers whereabouts and using geographic segmentation. One in particular at Play.com said to me that he would love to be able to target people who have checked in at high street multi-media outlets and ping them offers to buy from Play instead. At the time I wasn't sure how this would be possible, certainly within the Horizon platform for which I was busy thinking of location service integrations. However, with the recent release of Foursquare’s Real-Time APIs, this kind of targeting will become much easier. ;Using the Foursquare API, businesses will be able to track when their customers check into their locations and as a result, ping them an automatic message e.g. recommending a deal, something which has the potential to become a very powerful marketing tool.
Another feature added by Foursquare recently to coincide with the release of Apple's iOS 5) is Foursquare Radar. Radar detects where you are and tells you if you are near somewhere that you have checked-in to previously. More usefully for business though is the ability for Foursquare users to subscribe to location lists created by anyone. For example, if you subscribe to the Time Out New York list of Best Dishes and Drinks 2011 you will be notified whenever you are near to a venue on the list. Businesses would do well to create or get on such lists and enable customers to find them just by being where they are - another powerful use of location based services for business.
Over the last couple of years location services have been building in popularity, particularly in terms of personal usage, but now we're starting to see real business uses for these services and I can't see it stopping there. With businesses beginning to recognise and more importantly, understand the benefits associated with this kind of technology, it will be very interesting to see how its usage develops over the coming months.
HTK Operations Manager