Pay Attention to Foursquare and Other “Trendy” Social Networking Apps

By Wednesday March 31st, 2010

Foursquare is a relatively new social networking "game" based on exploring your city. More importantly, it's now a marketing avenue for businesses.

You probably know a few people who are always on their phones texting, Facebooking or Googling (yep, verbs). They’re on top of technology, tweeting about new Internet trends before the beta version is released and tracking each other’s whereabouts via GPS. At Brolik, that guy is me (purely for research…). I’ll download any new application or service, free or not, if I think it’s even remotely possible that I need to know about it. Sometimes I give an app a fair shot and then dismiss it as a failure, and sometimes an app is an instant hit. Other times, an app is in between. It’s promising, but takes a minute for everyone to realize its benefits. For an example of that… Foursquare.

Foursquare is a relatively new social networking “game” based on exploring your city. It’s an application on the web, but it’s also available for cellphones, with apps for smartphones and touchphones. When you go somewhere, you “check-in” to that location, whether it’s a park, a restaurant, a bar, your office or a store in the mall. Checking in gets you points, and checking in to new locations or adding locations to Foursquare’s database gets you even more points. You compete with your friends to see who gets the most points weekly. In addition, users earn “badges” for achieving different goals and can add location-based “tips” and “to-dos” that others can see. Other users can complete a “to-do” and check it off as “done” for their account.

All of that is fun, and the rewards-based premise of the game is really smart, but that’s all meaningless to a business owner or even a busy person. It seems like it’s all a game and you could just write it off as such. But when Foursquare’s user base grows as quickly as it has, and when so many people all over the world are using it, you need to pay attention. Remember back when you first heard about Twitter but didn’t know if you should pay attention or not? Consider Twitter hindsight and look forward to Foursquare. The reason you need to pay attention to Foursquare is the newest part of the game, a feature that will most likely get developed out even more: Locations, specifically restaurants and stores, can register specials and sales with Foursquare. When a user is at a location, she can view the specials there. When a user is at another location that’s near a location with specials, Foursquare will suggest to stop by the location with the specials. This way, restaurants and stores can market themselves through the game. Everyone playing wants to get points, so they’re already in an ideal mindset to come and spend money at your establishment. There’s also the intangible brand loyalty when you prove that you know and respect their game, or more importantly, their way of life.

So you do need to pay attention to trendy social networking services, especially if you’re a business owner. There’s a marketing sweet spot somewhere in a service’s development where we see a growing user base and a small amount of businesses that understand the best ways to leverage the service. Exploit that sweet spot before a service is mandatory for marketing. It takes some paying attention to what’s out there. And most of what you pay attention to won’t help you one bit. But when you find one that pays off, invest your time.

In a few months, when there are more businesses taking advantage of Foursquare specials, or even when Foursquare pulls from some sort of database to automatically get specials and sales info, you won’t have the opportunity you have now. Take advantage of the early knowledge, and continue to give new services a fair assessment when it comes to marketing your business. After all, these social networking companies have to make money somehow, and that somehow will almost always have something to do with other businesses paying to capitalize on their userbase and their data. It’s the social part of these services that’s important, not what you actually do while you use them.

Foursquare Screenshot

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About the Author

Drew Thomas is the CTO and co-founder of Brolik. He oversees Brolik's technology projects, including Leverage, Brolik’s proprietary technology platform. Drew spends most of his free time on side projects and prefers to blend work and life into a balanced, enjoyable experience. He lives in Austin, TX.
Twitter: @drewbrolik
LinkedIn: Drew Thomas
Google+: Drew Thomas