Going Mobile: Foursquare

Kelly “Rags” Ragland is owner and operator of Rags to Stitches Productions, a holistic advertising-specialty company providing a range of services from web design and development to customized apparel.

Having covered the common elements of marketing for mobile in the last couple of issues, we’ve reached the final stage: approaching the user’s full mobile experience. We’ve studied the habits of mobile users and discovered ways to get exposure through local listings, website tweaks and search engine optimization. By learning that mobile devices see our websites in a different manner than a desktop browser, we’ve uncovered the importance of addressing the online mobile community.

What we have yet to explore are the ways that mobile users interact with the Internet in addition to the common tasks of searching, social networking, exploring and discovering. This is where we dive into the world of apps (mobile applications) and social networks specifically designed for mobile users.

Four’s company

Some interesting social networks are designed specifically for the mobile world, and the excitement and popularity for them are growing as rapidly as other online networks, such as Facebook and Twitter. The leader among them is called Foursquare.

Foursquare is a location-based service that allows people to use an application on their smartphones to “check-in” to locations as they visit them. As of press time, there were 500,000 registered merchants taking advantage of this opportunity, and more than 35,000 users joining every month.

Foursquare currently has more than10 million users and, as smartphone use and purchases continue to rise, be assured that the number of Foursquare users will go up as well. Foursquare already interacts with Facebook and Twitter, blending into the popular networks by sharing user check-ins, tips, activity and comments. So, once again, there is a beneficial viral aspect.

Foursquare takes advantage of three smart areas in Internet marketing: social media, mobile technology and location-based services. With these features wrapped up into such an attractive, user-friendly package, Foursquare has a lot to offer the businesses that jump on board.

Consider customer loyalty as the meat and potatoes of the offering. Foursquare wants to be the digital version of a punch card offered at restaurants and coffee shops, where the “_nth” visit results in a freebie or discount of some sort. On Foursquare this is where check-in specials apply. As a Foursquare user, here’s how this works:

I am the “Mayor” of a few places in my area. Users earn such a status after making a certain number of check-ins at a specific participating location. Once users reach that status, a coupon is sent to their mobile device which offers a discount on one or more products upon check-in.

In addition, I am given a list of check-in specials offered at nearby locations. So, after leaving the store with my discounted candy bar, I am encouraged by McDonalds to cross the street and collect a free vanilla shake by visiting and checking in there, too. Every check-in at an establishment is rewarded with an incentive, such as a discount or freebie from that location or others nearby. Plus, each check-in action posts to my Facebook wall, directing any nearby friends to stop by and join me, perhaps revealing a new business to potential customers.

Foursquare has also partnered with a number of daily deal sites to provide real-time location-based deals and discounts. The app also offers an “Explore” feature that allows users to search neighborhoods and view recommendations for nearby businesses.

This is a clear challenge to local review sites such as Yelp and Google, and also an attempt to increase user engagement. Upon check-in, users can opt to include a picture taken from their mobile device and leave a tip or comment about the establishment they are visiting.

The app also offers a “Follow Us On Foursquare” button to add to other social networking buttons you should be using on your website. Although Foursquare is primarily mobile, it is its own social network and does reach outside the mobile realm.

Getting your business on Foursquare is easy, and maintaining your presence there is even easier. First, simply visit Foursquare (www.foursquare.com) and create an account. Next, claim your business by performing a search for it and following the “claim this business” link, or visit www.foursquare.com/business/merchants/claiming for an easy step-by-step guide. Once the business has been claimed, Foursquare will send a welcome package with a confirmation number to activate the business page and merchant dashboard, along with a sticker for your storefront.

Once activated, the merchant dashboard can be used to create incentives, offer specials and post announcements across the Foursquare network. Specials are what really drive the Foursquare community. Discounts can be a great way to increase sales, while certain freebies can be a low-cost incentive to bring in new customers.

Foursquare users not only see offered specials when checking out your specific page, but when checking in nearby and browsing your neighborhood for deals, too. The merchant dashboard also provides real-time statistics and analytics, social reach information and more.

Finally, consider the search engine benefits. Having your business location on Foursquare is one more place Google and other search engines will find to verify your business, rank you in the search results and provide that information to both mobile and desktop users.

Clearly, Foursquare offers a unique way to reach the mobile audience and, in particular, provides a way to take aim at your local target audience. Consider taking the time to join and get your business presence tuned in on this mobile platform. As we’ve discovered, mobile will be a vital part of the future in Internet marketing. Check it out and start getting customers to check in!