Foursquare Forgoes Check-ins for Mobile Marketing Relevance
Slowly but surely, foursquare is checking out of the check-in business. The location-based mobile social networking startup initially rose to prominence by asking users to check in at area restaurants, bars, and retailers to share their whereabouts with friends, collect achievement badges, and access merchant deals. But the concept never really caught on with mainstream consumers, and in June, foursquare overhauled its applications for Apple iPhone and Google Android smartphones to de-emphasize the check-in process, focusing its efforts on personalized recommendations and user interactions. The streamlined foursquare user interface now boasts just three tabs:
- Explore: highlighting nearby points of interest based on the user’s check-in history and their friends’ foursquare activity, complete with consumer reviews and merchant offers
- Friends: enabling users to identify their contacts’ whereabouts
- Me: assembling tips, badges, to-do lists, personal contacts, and photos
Foursquare has continued to refine its focus in the weeks since. In mid-July, the startup launched Local Updates, a tool enabling businesses to keep loyal customers in the loop on all their latest news and developments—for example, restaurants can alert customers to daily specials, retailers can push photos of new products, or food trucks can transmit their current or forthcoming parking spot. Consumers only see Local Updates from businesses added to their Friends tab, based on previous ‘likes’ and check-ins, eliminating spam concerns, and alerts are limited to nearby destinations. Foursquare adds that when consumers look for places in Explore or check in at a location, the app displays relevant Local Updates on the smartphone screen, drawing parallels with “the chalkboard where a restaurant writes its daily specials.”
Foursquare isn’t stopping there. Days after rolling out Local Updates, the startup introduced Promoted Updates, a new mobile advertising trial program that heralds a major step toward monetizing its platform.
Like Local Updates, Promoted Updates spotlight deals from area merchants via the Explore recommendation engine; unlike Local Updates, each notification delivers a paid promotion—for example, foursquare users in Chicago who click the Explore tab might receive deals and discounts from the nearest Walgreens (one of 20 national brands participating in the test).
“It works similar to ads on Google,” foursquare explains. “There, if you search for ‘laptops,’ you’ll see an ad for an electronics website next to the results. In foursquare, if you do the same search in Explore, you might see a promoted special about a weekend deal at a nearby computer store.”
Foursquare adds that the algorithms powering Promoted Updates are the same as those behind its other personalized user recommendations, and leverage access to user data like places on to-do lists and destinations endorsed by friends. Promoted Updates also rely on contextual relevance—e.g., happy hour deals are limited to target consumers in professional districts and distributed only in the late afternoon/early evening hours.
What separates foursquare from other location-based mobile marketing platforms is the extraordinary wealth of customer information at its fingertips. The New York Times reported in June that foursquare has collected more than 2 billion data points since 2009—that’s a staggering amount of consumer insight to help shape and finesse personalized deals and discounts.
For now, Promoted Updates campaigns are limited to handpicked foursquare partners, but Local Updates tools are available to businesses of all shapes and sizes—even better, they’re free to all companies who’ve claimed and verified their foursquare venue. More than a million businesses have staked their claim on the platform to date—and there’s no time like the present to check into what foursquare can offer your company.
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