Moving Targets: Checking in to Location-based Social Networking
It seems like everyone is buzzing about location-based mobile social networking services like foursquare, Gowalla and Loopt, but there’s one catch: Almost no one is actually using them. From a conceptual standpoint, geo-social networking heralds the logical evolution of wireless communications. It leverages the platform’s signature combination of mobility, connectivity and location-specific accessibility. Consumers virtually “check in” via GPS-enabled mobile devices at real-world destinations like bars, concerts or sporting events, sharing their whereabouts with friends and identifying nearby contacts. Hype around these services extends from the blogosphere to the mainstream media, and venture capital interest is strong: In June 2010, foursquare closed a Series B financing round valued at $20 million. But, according to a recent Pew Research Center report, only 4 percent of online adults in the U.S. are using these services – and just 1 percent are using them every day.
That’s about to change, however, and small businesses stand to reap the rewards. Three months after unveiling its location-based Places solution, in early November social networking kingpin Facebook introduced Deals, enabling merchant partners to offer bargains and coupons to consumers who check in at their stores and restaurants. Facebook will offer participating retailers four different types of promotional options: Individual Deals (discounts and free gifts for customers who check in), Friend Deals (rewards for groups who check in together), Loyalty Deals (a variation on the classic punch card, offering rewards for multiple purchases) and Charity Deals (a pledge to give money to worthy nonprofits whenever customers check in). National brands like McDonald’s, Starbucks and the Gap make up the majority of Deals partners for now, but small- to medium-sized businesses are maximizing the opportunity as well – the hip, independently owned theater chain Alamo Drafthouse Cinema will offer promotions across all of its nine Texas locations, giving away free souvenir pint glasses to moviegoers who check in and even holding a free screening at the location with the most check-ins.
While foursquare and Gowalla have offered merchant promotions in connection with their services as well, neither matches Facebook’s scope – as of November 2010, foursquare boasts about 4 million users, while about 200 million consumers worldwide are now actively using Facebook’s mobile services. In fact, Facebook is the most popular application across most smartphone operating systems: Fifty percent of iPhone users have accessed the app within the last 30 days, compared to 45 percent of BlackBerry users and 32 percent of Windows Mobile users. Facebook is also the second most popular application among Android users at 45 percent – only Google Maps ranks higher, and just barely (46 percent). In effect, Deals simply extends the Facebook mobile experience into the check-in sphere, rewarding users for behaviors they’re already exhibiting. It’s a can’t-miss proposition.
If you’re a small business looking to drive new traffic and reward existing consumers, don’t wait for Facebook Deals to blow up – jump onboard now. Setup is a snap (check out this instructional video), and the array of Deals options makes it easy to roll out promotions that fit your business and your customers. Follow Alamo Drafthouse’s lead: Be creative, and offer rewards your target audience will find irresistible. The possibilities are endless. It’s Facebook – it’s all about the art of expression.
In Part 4 of Moving Targets, small businesses can discover how mobile has changed the rules of holiday retail.
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