Foursquare – the game that has everyone all a twitter
If you are at an industry party filled with digital gurus, but not sure how to break the ice, try this one liner: "Will you be my stalker? I mean foursquare friend!"
A recent Mindshare report exploring the foursquare phenomenon, predicted that if 2009 was the year of Twitter, 2010 may be the year of foursquare.
In January this year, foursquare went global, introducing the ability to add places and check in from anywhere in the world.
Tech blogger Scobleizer, says foursquare has some 300,000 users, while its rival Gowalla has more than 100,000 and MyTown at more than 600,000. So do marketers need to start taking notice of this new web fad? The answer, says Mindshare, is a definite maybe.
Its report states foursquare itself may not end up being a world beater on the scale of Twitter, let alone Facebook or Google, but the cultural and behavioural trends it showcases could have a lasting impact on how we interact with each other and with brands.
What's worth noting is foursquare has announced a number of partnership deals with major players in a wide range of sectors, including Bravo TV, restaurant-rating service, Zagat, film producers Warner Brothers, TV channel HBO and The New York Times. In the UK, it has partnered with Debenhams and Domino's Pizza.
The partnership will see the pizza chain offer free pizza to the "mayor" of its branches every week. Those who check in at Debenham on its Oxford Street store on Fridays will get free coffee.
Three digitally savvy agency professionals using foursquare in Hong Kong argue the "stickiness" or foursquare is hard to ignore, but the benefits to marketers is still emerging.
Brandon Cheung, strategic planning director for wwwins Counsulting, describes the tool as a location-based game that introduces the concept of "check-ins" to real- life locations. It uses the GPS in your phone to locate you and the people and places around you. The key difference here is that location tagging is controlled by the users as opposed to auto-tagging such as Google Latitude.
"The user opt-in approach is preferred to the follow-me-everywhere-like-a-stalker method of location tagging," Cheung says.
By inviting players to check in to their favourite locations, Cheung says a crowd-sourced list of businesses is created in each city where foursquare is played. The location-based list creates a new opportunity for local businesses to reach out and seek consumers actively.
Nic Tinworth, digital director at Fluid, which is implementing the tool to its sister company Graze Cafe, adds that foursquare is a "sticky" mobile social network as it gives you bragging rights to become "mayor" at a venue and gets you invested after the initial "fun" aspect of gaining points.
But what are the benefits? Yeelim Lee, account supervisor at Weber Shandwick, says the location-based service allows you to monitor where people are visiting. If you're the marketing director for a chain of restaurants, bars or tourist attractions, you can monitor the footfall and who your customers are.
He says it is very useful intelligence as it allows you to offer promotions directly to users or reward loyal customers. With foursquare, the action of internet search has moved beyond the local search engine. Cheung explains that as consumers roam the streets with mobile phones, foursquare can deliver a relevant list of friends and places in their location.
Given the nature of local businesses, he says foursquare provides more benefit as a sales driver. Listing yourself in foursquare is similar to placing a promoter in front of your store or restaurant to capture nearby foot traffic. Besides, the success metrics is measured by how many people have checked in or recommended your location on foursquare - a direct link between digital interaction and physical action.
Other benefits as Tinworth points out include the ability to gather behaviourial data such as who is going where, when and for how long. Some third-party developers are creating new sites to introduce behaviour-based offers and this holds expansion promises for foursquare as developers will increase buzz via their APIs.
Another key benefit is to enable hyper target messaging and offers. For example, Starbucks can send you a special offer-notice for a free drink if you check into a bookstore nearby, via the "special nearby" alerts.
Cheung says getting listed takes a few seconds, but what needs to be planned out is your business approach to creating incentives around the game.
"Some marketers may not be ready for this yet, but those that move first will gain an advantage from the passionate first-mover audience," he says.
Tinworth is more concerned that people might not be ready for a location-based application as a lot of people are private and those on Twitter and Facebook might get annoyed by the constant "I am here, doing this" status check-in messages.
He says if foursquare is to succeed, it will need an explosion of users to make it worthwhile for the average internet user to feel compelled to register and see what the fuss is about. He adds that foursquare must address safety concerns raised after a Dutch website provided minute-by-minute updates on people who had left their house.
In Hong Kong, Starstreet has listed all of its tenant locations in foursquare, but the promotional angle is still being co-ordinated.
At Graze Cafe located in Sheung Wan, it hopes to convert the virtual community into real customers by incorporating foursquare in its marketing initiatives.
While the mobile marketing potential is obvious, whether or not marketers see value in another fad in the fast-moving online world is yet to be seen.