Foursquare was ahead of its time.
I remember a time when many of my friends were busy checking in at various locations around the city. They would cross post those check-ins to Facebook and Twitter, and it was kind of cool to see where they all were on a given day, and follow them as they moved around. And when I eventually got on Foursquare, it was fun to check-in and unlock various badges.
And then…nothing. It got boring. And if my experience, and that of my friends, is any indication, many of us stopped using Foursquare, or at least became a bit more intentional about where and when we checked-in to some locations. We checked-in less frequently. And slowly, we forgot about Foursquare. Or we disconnected it from the other services, so we became less aware of it.
Out of site, out of mind.
But what happened?
I think Foursquare peaked too early. I think users got on and used it, then got bored with it because businesses didn’t hop on fast enough. Local businesses didn’t get on board and offer incentives to checking in, or the incentives weren’t great enough. Perhaps it was too much work for businesses at a time when they were still getting their feet wet with social media, particularly on Facebook and Twitter.
You see, while many users might complain, or be complacent, about businesses being on Facebook and Twitter (“Why do marketers have to ruing everything?”), Foursquare is one platform that is almost completely reliant on businesses. It is a platform built on checking in to places. What places? Businesses. Locations where people gather. Venues. So while you could create an account for businesses by checking in, if the business didn’t really do anything with it, it got boring.
Oh, sure, many still check-in regardless. I just checked my Foursquare feed, and nine of my friends have checked in to places in the past hour (I’m writing this on Sunday morning, so folks might be a bit less active. When I check Saturday, there is a lot more activity). So some folks are still active. But even with 45-million users, there seem to be fewer check-ins than two years ago when there were far fewer users. And that 45-million pales in comparison to Facebook, Twitter, Google +, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. Growth of the platform has been rather slow.
But location based marketing isn’t just about check-ins. It’s about finding local businesses and interacting with them in meaningful ways on the users own terms. This is why Foursquare has just announced it’s taking the two core functions of its interface (local discovery and check-ins) and splitting them up into two separate apps. The main Foursquare app will focus on discovering local businesses (however you choose to define “local”), while its new Swarm app will focus on check-ins. The two will work together seamlessly, but Foursquare will be much more about customized local search.
After all, with the rapid adoption of smartphone technologies, the internet knows where we are. While some might find this a bit creepy, this is what Google is already doing with its Google Now product.
Location based marketing has been around for quite a few years (Foursquare began in 2009, which in social media terms makes it rather old), but we are just starting to see it get on its feet and get its bearings. Businesses that have ignored platforms like Foursquare, or have given up on them, need to take note and reassess how they are using location based marketing. Now is the time to start thinking about how much you are willing to invest in terms of resources.
In fact, location based marketing might even be the purest form of inbound marketing: getting found when your customers are interested in what you have to offer. And Foursquare isn’t the only player in this niche:
- Facebook Places, integrated into the Business Page product, as well as it’s apps, and perhaps even Instagram, will be a key element of most location based strategies.
- Google + and Google + Local (integrated with Google Maps) are also important for local businesses in terms of not only a presence, but also check-ins and reviews.
- Yelp, while primarily a review site, has continued to add more location based features in order to compete.
In fact, most major social platforms have some form of local/location based element, which you can bet will become more important over the next year, and move more toward the forefront of each network.
The features of local search, reviews, and check-ins, all tied together with the social and mobile elements, will be/should be at the core of your local marketing efforts.
If you’ve never explored the possibilities of Foursquare and other location based marketing platforms, now is the time to check them out.
If you got on board early, and then gave up, it’s time to take another look and beef up your efforts. The SoLoMo imperative is here. It’s time for small businesses and nonprofits to take another look at their local marketing strategy, both in its online and offline incarnations, and figure out how they will get found by the right audience.
In fact, when I work with clients who have a brick and mortar location, this is one of the first things we examine as we plan and build out a strong, fully integrated marketing strategy.
How are you approaching location based marketing in 2014? What do you see as the important platforms and elements of a strong SoLoMo strategy?