For the first time in history, the Internet is focusing in on local business in a major way. And Foursquare is leading the trend.
Instead of competing in a “global marketplace,” local business owners now have access to geotagging, local search, and location-based services. All of which make the Internet more useful to small business than it has ever been before.
Imagine being a hotel owner with several rooms available at 8 o’clock one evening. You know there are a couple of big events happening in town and people are going to be looking for rooms to “sleep it off.” Because of location-based services like Foursquare and Gowalla, you can now advertise a special for those rooms to people who are close enough to take advantage of it.
Would you like to offer a loyalty program to customers without having to print those annoying punch-cards? How about Foursquare for Business… Their free business program keeps track of all the stats for you and even sends you messages to tell you who your most loyal customers are!
New possibilities are being explored every day. But before you jump in and start geotagging, here’s what you need to know.
What Is Geotagging?
It’s a good question because there are really two answers.
First Answer: Geotagging is an added feature for Twitter (and other social media sites) that lets you identify your tweet location by town, neighborhood or precise location.
Second Answer: Geotagging is also an element of mobile applications (Foursquare, Gowalla) that enables real-time sharing of your activities, and promotion of real-time location-based rewards and specials offered by merchants.
Basically, geotagging takes advantage of the GPS technology that’s built into smartphones to build community at the street level instead of just at a global level.
The great thing about a service like Foursquare is that you can’t cheat. It operates based on the physical location of your phone, so you—or at least your phone—has to be where you say it is.
To use any of the location-based services, the first step is to download an application to your smartphone. For example, Facebook is introducing a location-based feature for the approximately 25% of users who post updates using smartphones.
Those people using older cell phones will need to update to an iPhone, Android, Palm or Blackberry before they can join this newest game. But a business owner can join the fun at any time.
For The Business Owner
Yes, even as a business owner, location-based services are going to be easier to use with a smartphone, but you can get started without one. For example, Foursquare is walking business owners through the free signup process and giving them advice for setting up a reward program.
Business owners already using Foursquare can go straight to the venue signup page to get started. All Foursquare is asking right now is that business owners limit themselves to places where people tend to gather; i.e., coffee shops, restaurants, cafés and bars. Other storefronts (hardware stores, salons, etc.) will be able to join and participate as they develop their capacity to handle more traffic.
How it Works for Consumers
Naturally you start by getting a location-based app account. There are lots of apps to choose from:
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- Yelp has added a check-in feature.
- Google has added a location widget to Latitude.
- Apple is developing an app for the iPhone.
- Facebook is ready to make geotagging available to mobile users.
- Twitter has geotagging in place.
- Gowalla is running on the iPhone and Android.
- Foursquare is on all the smartphones and connects to Facebook and Twitter.
Once a geo-based application is downloaded to your smartphone, most of the work is already done. For example, all you do is login to Foursquare and the application tells you what businesses close to you are registered.
Foursquare also tells you what rewards or specials each business offers to Foursquare users who check in. For example, 15th Ave. Coffee & Tea in Seattle offers $1 macchiatos before 4pm and $2 off beer and wine after 4pm. The Mayor gets a free pastry! (“The Mayor” is an automatic designation Foursquare gives to the person who checks in to a specific location the most often each day.)
MSNBC’s Today says Foursquare just might be the new Facebook.
To make it more fun, Foursquare also offers badges based on how often and in how many places you login. For example, you can be a Super Mayor by achieving Mayor status in 10 or more venues at once. You get your first badge—the Noob—for making your first check-in, and there are badges to show your progress all the way up to 50 check-ins.
There are even corporate badges and badges based on conferences (SxSW and CES). You can see a (mostly) complete list of Foursquare badges at IWasAround. It’s a little hard to keep any list like this complete because it’s always being added to. Foursquare is even looking at allowing business owners to develop their own badges.
Why Be Involved?
Let’s start this by pointing at a great article Clement Yeung wrote that’s all about Foursquare. Clement gives a 5-point action plan for using Foursquare and makes some sensible suggestions for ways businesses can partner to be more attractive to customers.
The main reason to get involved is this: The cell phone is the point of convergence for technology.
Things that are happening right now are:
- Websites being optimized for mobile display
- Foursquare and other location-based services becoming popular
- Location and activity-based advertising
- Real-time, local search capacity for consumers
And all these things revolve around smartphones.
AdMob Mobile Metrics is a business dedicated to tracking how people are using their smartphones. Interestingly, their January 2010 metrics report says:
- Almost twice as many iPhone and iPod Touch users regularly download paid apps as Android and webOS users.
- Men are the biggest users of smartphones (but only by 10-15%).
- Smartphone users are evenly split across age groups.
- The vast majority of smartphone users are happy with their toy and iPhone leads the satisfaction pack.
Foursquare and Gowalla connect to Twitter and Facebook. Facebook is also launching a location-based widget! So everything you’re doing with social media is easily applicable to location-based marketing.
In fact, my assertion is that the “big players” have finally woken up to the untapped market of small business owners. This is why location-based services are being developed. Location-based services make it possible for you and me to make meaningful online connections with the audience that lives within 10, 20 or 50 miles of us.
And I have a special assignment for your local business: Watch your customers today, and tell me how many walk in with a smartphone. Even better, tell me how many are using that smartphone while they stand in line! They are your captive audience.
What do you think about Foursquare? Have you put a reward program in place for your loyal, local, online customers? Are you just finding out about this stuff and have questions? Go ahead and share what you know in the comment box below.