social media how to2011 has been hailed as the “year of geolocation.” Alas, so was 2010. As was 2009 and 2008. Yet geolocation services like Foursquare and Gowalla continue to seek mainstream audiences with limited success.

Most smartphone users have never used a geolocation app.  What’s holding them back?  And how should marketers approach these emerging technologies?

The Value of Geolocation

It’s easy to see why marketers would be interested in geolocation: You can effectively target customers at the most important point in the consideration cycle – standing right in front of you. Digital marketing has historically been tasked with either an awareness/brand-building role, or – more frequently – a direct response role, driving customers right into the ecommerce funnel.

But we know that social media breaks down that wall between brand-building and purchase behavior. We’ve seen marketers effectively drive sales through social media engagement – Starbucks is one brand that’s done a great job on that front.

For consumers though, the benefits of geolocation are not clear. A study on consumer geolocation adoption shows when people have smartphones (and know about geolocation services), more than 30% say that privacy concerns prevent them from sharing their location on digital devices. So, how do we effectively use location for marketing purposes?

Build Geolocation Into Your Social Strategy

Sharing location is a high-trust activity.  To overcome consumer concerns about privacy, marketers can use the brand’s authority. In fact, brand trust is the only way geolocation technologies will move into the mainstream.

Nike’s running community, Nike+, is a great example of this. Nike uses geolocation to share successful runs easily across Facebook and Twitter. Runners share their achievements with their friends and build new relationships as part of the Nike+ community. In both cases, the benefit of tracking your athletic performance and achievements provide a clear reason to share personal information with Nike.


There's a way for everyone to get into Nike+, so choose the way that suits you best and start enjoying your membership in the world's largest running club.

Yelp also builds geolocation successfully on top of a social media strategy. By allowing reviewers to check in to restaurants, users can later be reminded to review the restaurant and build their reputation as an authoritative foodie. That reputation is worth giving up some privacy for.

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Yelp is the fun and easy way to find and talk about great (and not so great) local businesses.

Don’t worry about getting your casual customers to check in. Instead, incentivize your most loyal brand advocates – your existing social media followers. Your customers will let you know how much they trust your brand based on their check-in behavior. And you can tell how vocal and influential a customer is when she raises her hand with a check-in. Reward and reinforce that behavior.

How to build geolocation into your social strategy:

  • Tell your social networks that checking in is important to you. Make sure you remind your fans and followers to check in, especially for important or large events.
  • Encourage cross-promotion from location services to social networks. Offer rewards for Foursquare check-ins – but only if the person is also a Facebook fan. Deliver rewards through Facebook to assure compliance.
  • Use geographic information from social networks to drive location-based participation. Social networks like Facebook have city/state data on users – so use that for targeted messaging to drive in-store experiences.

Go Beyond Coupons to Real Rewards for Checking In

The good news is that there are ways to get customers to use geolocation services. The bad news is that the low-hanging fruit is not motivating customers right now.

why consumers use geolocation apps

Why consumers use geolocation apps:

  • Coupons: The most common geolocation marketing approach is a discount for checking in. McDonald’s tested this out last fall, and increased check-ins by 33% in one day. But this is exactly the wrong strategy. Because these are already loyal fans, you don’t need to discount and give away margin. In fact, only 7% of users in the White Horse survey said they use geolocation for coupons.
  • Badges and passport stamps: These are also not a motivating factor – though they can be a nice surprise. 4% indicated that this was a motivation for checking in. Games are fun when they’re well-designed (just look at the staying power of chess and Monopoly, even with advanced videogame consoles) – but when games are badly designed, they’re pretty boring. And right now, achievement badges in geolocation services are just not that interesting or meaningful.
  • Social Engagement: By far, the most important motivation for consumers is the social component of location. 41% said the reason they checked in was to “connect with people I know or could meet” and another 21% said they were trying to “find a place liked by people they trust.”

Foot traffic and check-ins are not the same.

Marketers must create rewards and reinforcements that yield richer social connections with their customers. By putting customers in touch with each other, the brand creates a meaningful and engaged community around a shared idea. That’s a win for everyone.

Taplister does a great job of this by connecting beer aficionados with geolocation information about where their favorite pours are on tap. Taplister successfully builds on the beer lover’s desire to taste, compare and discuss beers with others interested in the topic. Alcohol has helped form new friendships for thousands of years – this just streamlines an activity that’s already important to many people.


Try searching for your favorite beer or browse our extensive database. Cheers!

Coke Zero’s TRON LiveCycle app also uses technology to build new social connections. This real-world game allows users to compete against other players in a live-action version of a TRON competition. The gaming elements provide a compelling experience to challenge existing friends or meet new ones.

How to go beyond coupons to encourage check-ins:

  • Create a branded app or layer: your brand’s fans have something important in common – you! Help them meet each other by having your own geolocation experience.
  • Use badges to drive new behaviors: Giving someone a free coffee after they already bought nine is incentivizing something they would have done anyway. Instead, use achievement badges to push someone to do something they would not have otherwise done – like recommend your business to a friend.

Test Now to Be Ready for the Early Majority

At least 40 million people have checked in using a geolocation service (more than 30 million of those on Facebook Places alone). That’s enough to know the location will be an important component of marketing strategies. But it’s early enough for you to run a small pilot to determine what works without risking any brand equity. The knowledge you accrue now will be invaluable when checking in via Facebook Places becomes just as common as sharing a photo on Facebook.

In the next 18 months, your customers will be checking in to the places they care about. What are you doing now to be ready? Leave your questions and comments in the box below.

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  • Great post Jamie! Thanks for sharing your Geo-location survey. It’s interesting to see that only 7-8% are looking for coupons… and that 21% are using it already as a recommendation engine. Also, great examples of Nike and Taplister… I really like how they’ve built interaction into their systems to keep people engaged and coming back.

    And I couldn’t agree more that businesses should start testing now and just experiment with what works best. The great thing about some of these services is you can give away relatively little but reap a lot in terms of brand awareness, and customer loyalty. I think it’s really important to encourage and reward people so we can reach their social graph and be positioned in the future for that growing 21% who are looking for recommendations.

  • I’m personally helping my offline client get placed locally in the search engine so their audience can find their services..this will be a big boost in clients for them..

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

  • Hellokimberlee

    My location is a small town that does not come up on facebook. As a result, people cannot checkin to my home-based business (as far as I am aware). Is there a way around this? I already have invested a large amount of time into building a facebook business page. This is what I want them to checkin to. Can anyone help?

  • I have a problem with FaceBook places right now. I added a new place for one of our retail stores and built up a nice page, with landing page and custom graphics etc.( Problem is i’ve noticed that the pin is in the wrong spot on the map, although the address is correct. Someone else has created a places page for the same business and the pin shows in the correct spot. This is just a base page though ( We just set up a check in deal, but when people check in at the store, its checking it at the base places page, not the built out version. I’ve reported the base page as duplicate a couple of times, but no action has been take. What needs to happen, is the pin be relocated on the proper page and the dupe places location removed. Any ideas on how to get this done??

  • Have you tried “claiming” the base places page? You can then merge it with the new one or shut it down. (In the lower left you’ll see “Is this your business?)

  • Ross

    Good information. It is very interesting the small percentage is looking for coupons. Also, good point about giving your most loyal customers a deal on something they would have purchased anyway.
    Would like to see more information on creating your own branded app or layer.

  • Jegbert

    Interesting that just yesterday I read this article… Followed by news today of April 16th being named foursquare day in NY.

    We have built an LBS mobile loyalty app that was published over 12 mos. ago. Just now we see brands beginning to understand the space and what can be done with it. The ultimate question is will LBS/Check-ins remain relevant.

  • Why you should use Geolocation in your social media strategy

  • Sophie

    Brad thaks for the tip, as I am experiencing the same problem!

  • The reason I’ve heard for not checking into places is that people then know you’re not at home and the concern is home breakins.

  • Leland

    I think that a key fact that was missing in this article was in regards to the chart on what motivates people to use mobile. It should have been noted strongly that this is how people *currently* are motivated to use their phones. It doesn’t mean that a coupon marketing strategy can’t work, it just means that *so far* on average, coupon’s are not motivating.

    But “coupons” is a very broad term, collectively containing the entire loyalty layer for businesses.

  • I did a blog post today about this very subject. After badges and free appetizers what next? There are so many more great ways to do LBS promotions, check it out

  • fredchannel

    Good post Jamie. I wonder when will mobile check-in stop being just a points and badges game and will provide useful ways to improve simple things in our lives. We came up with a few ideas in a post called: “How would you add simple value to mobile check-in?” would be great to hear your thoughts. Cheers.

  • Heather Watkins

    I would love to see more thoughts on how to use geolocation in b2b marketing initiatives. At Marketo, we’ve dabbled with using Geolocation at tradeshows. Does anyone have other unique geolocation ideas for b2b companies?

  • As a consumer, I am mostly just trying to help out the businesses I frequent. They should all have signs up by now saying, “Please check-in here”. I also like to check in at places that are hip because it build my brand.

  • Basil Kadi

    Maybe a package delivery confirmation between carriers and companies that ship products. If we are to assume that packages are delivered by carries agents then we can assume that a check in is a successful delivery of that package.

  • ivan

    Wonder if B2B businesses could benefit from this…interesting article!

  • I really hope that geolocation marketing continues to grow…there are so many possibilities with it!

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  • I hope that it would be work well with the great support in it. Thanks a lot for given valuable post on here 🙂

  • Duchezzlo

    What would you recommend to a new nonprofit that is still in the beginning stages, looking for startup funds and a building? How do you promote a business that isn’t really “doing business” yet but still exists? Thanks for your help!

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  • Thanks, Brad. Glad you enjoyed it!

  • Yes, that’s a great call – an important step because 10% of searches are done on mobile devices.

  • This is a little bit different than geolocation. It sounds like you want your prospects to Like your Facebook page. There are lots of ways to get people to opt in – one of the most common is to offer a valuable piece of content and then require some action from them to get it. Hope that helps!

  • Hi Ross,

    In order to create your own branded app, there are a number of white label services like DoubleDutch who offer out of the box solutions for just that purpose.

    Layers on existing services require working with the service that you want to focus on, so the first step would be a survey to your customer base about which apps they are using already.

    Hope that helps!

  • I think it’s hard to see a context where check ins do not remain relevant. There may be some question about whether check in functionality has been commodified (I would argue that it has) but that just proves out the important role that location will continue to play.

  • This is definitely a concern that many users have, and I would recommend that anyone carefully consider the privacy implications of sharing location. Some things to think about:

    -Many services offer granular controls over who and when you are sharing location information. If there are people in your network that you are uncomfortable with knowing your location, you may consider using another network for that type of sharing.

    -Lots of people choose to check in when they are leaving the location, instead of when they arrive.

    -Just because you are not at home, doesn’t mean that no one is home.

    -Sites like do a good job of showcasing dangers to consider, but there have not been any proven cases where a burglar used a service like pleaserobme to commit a burglary. There was a case with Facebook and an ex-boyfriend – again, personal connection seems to be the driving force.

  • Yes, Leland, this is true. This study looks at current behavior.

    When considering whether to implement a marketing program, especially with new technology, it’s important to weigh the costs and benefits of trying an experimental program that is designed to change consumer behavior.

    That’s a risky proposition, and if your brand can afford to experiment, then by all means, do it. For the vast majority of marketers, though, predictable ROI on marketing programs are very important – why not set yourself up for success right out of the gate, then continue to evolve as your customers dictate?

  • Cool post. I checked it out and left some thoughts over there.

  • Great thoughts. I love the idea of giving real, tangible value to your loudest advocates. This will only become more important as more people understand these services.

  • Heather,
    Yes, this is increasingly important. Trade show apps are building in more check in functionality. I also think there’s potential in incentivizing other behavioral elements that have to do with your B2B business. If you’re in the construction industry, home improvement retailers and job sites are great places to incentivize behavior.

    Look at all of the locations and outposts that are important to the larger industry. Then you may be able to piggy back on those locations to build awareness.

    Hope that helps,

  • I would suggest that you are not ready for geolocation marketing. This is an advanced tactic, and there are higher payoff activities at this point in your evolution. I would focus more on building an active, engaged social media presence. Hope that helps.

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  • Jessica

    Good point about avoid offering coupons/promos to loyal customers (i.e. the McDonald’s example) I never really thought about it that way before, just thought it would be an incentive to maintain/increase loyalty with that consumer.

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