Gini Dietrich

Five Ways Marketers Should Use Foursquare

By: Gini Dietrich | July 18, 2012 | 

A few weeks ago, after I rode 63 miles, I was craving eggs like nobody’s business. So Mr. D and I set out to have brunch at Schuba’s, a little restaurant down the street.

It was 1:45 p.m. and, after sitting there for 10 minutes without service, the waitress finally came by and said they were turning the kitchen over so they couldn’t serve anything until 2:30.

Never mind the fact that the table next to us had just ordered lunch and were happily eating away while Pete the Tapeworm was eating my stomach. I get maybe the breakfast part of brunch would be over, but really? They couldn’t serve the lunch portion of their brunch menu?

So we walked across the street to Flat Top Grill, where I did not get eggs, but I did get their super delicious flat bread with my stir-fry.

Fast forward to this past Saturday when we decided to have Flat Top again. I pulled out my phone to check in to the location on Foursquare (I’m obsessed with becoming the Mayor at all of our local businesses) and lo and behold there was a notice that, if we ate at Schuba’s (and checked in), we’d get 15 percent off our food order.

This time it was 1:15 and we were sure to ask if we could get brunch before sitting down.

Foursquare is Changing

The point is, the use of Foursquare is changing.

A couple of years ago, when Foursquare launched, they were the king of location-based services. Started as a way to connect with friends while you were out and about, it’s had it’s share of problems.

A site (which has since been shut down by the government) called, posted a running tally of people who were checking in on Foursquare and tweeting their location. It showed a running tally of these tweets with the phrase, “Please rob me. I’m not at home.”

And, while the only real benefits you had to using the service were badges and beating your friends in points (I’m looking at you Mark Robins) or telling burglars you weren’t at home, Foursquare began to gain notoriety and use.

Until the New York Times recently indicated their reign is over. Not to be undone by one silly article, they announced an overhaul of the service by turning it into a recommendation platform.

Which is what I experienced on Saturday when I checked in to Flat Top Grill and got an alert from Schuba’s that I should go there instead.

Foursquare Uses for Marketers

Now, with their 180 degree change in direction, we have an opportunity to use the service to recommend people drop by our locations or our client’s businesses.

Here’s how:

  1. Ask for check-ins. A client of ours has a check-in sign at his cubicle. Not only does he want you checking in, you have to do so with a photo. Clearly you’re not getting anything by doing that (except his love), but it goes to show how you can suggest people check-in to your location. Put the sign in your windows or at the register. Ask them to check in.
  2. Tie check-ins to rewards. Just like Schuba’s did by offering us a 15 percent discount, you can do the same. Offer a free drink, a free app, a discount, or a free product. Our local dog store gives doggie bakery treats for checking in to their location.
  3. Encourage tips. When I checked in to the Detroit airport last week, a tip from my friend Bryan Willmert came up (it said to stand to the right on the moving walkways if you weren’t going to walk – amen, Bryan, amen). When you encourage people to leave tips and their friends see that, they’re more inclined to visit the same place.
  4. Use time of day to your advantage. If you know the bank across the street is particularly busy at lunchtime and after work, use that to encourage people to drop by your location while they’re running their errands. That’s what Schuba’s did when Foursquare saw I was across the street. They offered me 15 percent off to change my restaurant choice (otherwise I’d never have gone back because of my initial experience).
  5. Work with other local businesses. Instead of stealing business from your competition, why not work with the other companies surrounding your location? If I check in to Julius Meinl (the best coffee shop on earth), they could recommend I walk across the street and get a cupcake at Southport Grocery.

Clearly location-based recommendations are not for everyone. But if you have a location – no matter what you sell – it’s something worth exploring.

How do you recommend businesses use the changing Foursquare?

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • Great points. Foursquare is also a great people search and research tool for businesses. Who is checking in  in my neighborhood, what do they like, what do they say, who are they? If they have their Twitter account connected you can see who they are and start interacting with them there. Lots of benefits in paying attention to Foursquare. 

    •  @manamica  I really use it for the free stuff. Let’s be real. 🙂

  • Great tips. When I saw the title of this post, I was ticked since I’m working on a check-in post for later in the week, but instead, you’ll get a nice mention and link-back.
    I’m working with quite a few of my clients on some strategy on how to use both Foursquare and Facebook check-ins, and your first point is key: ask for the check-in. Until people get in the habit, they aren’t going to do it on their own. My one salon client has 10 chairs, as well as rooms for massage, mani/pedi, facials, etc. They already know that their clients are playing around on their iPhones while they are being pampered, so we’re going to make sure that every station in the place has something asking them to check in. 
    And if you reward, make sure you are rewarding not only the first time visitors, but reward loyalty. Your existing customers are your word of mouth vehicles, so give them something for being loyal.

    •  @KenMueller LOL!! I keep beating you to the punch. This is great! 
      For your salon client, if I’m sitting there getting my hair cut and it pops up that I get a discount on a massage, I’m going to stay and do that, too. 

      •  @ginidietrich IF you can get an appointment that fast….But they also have their own product line, so they are going to use some of that as rewards as well, since the margin for them is really low. And it’s a great way to promote some of the services and products you have that might not be as well known, or are underutilized. 
        Oh, and when you go to this salon, you get a complimentary glass of wine. So it’s right up your alley.

        •  @KenMueller Oh I get wine at my salon. Or champagne. Or mimosas. They also installed free WiFi for me because I always take my iPad and work.

        •  @ginidietrich Yeah, free WiFi was one of the first things I told them to get. I think most businesses need to do that, especially if there is any sitting and waiting involved. 
          Oh, and this Salon has other perks…owned by that individual I told you about…

    •  @KenMueller this is why I like SCVNGR more…

    • John_Trader1

       @KenMueller That’s a good point Ken. Putting up a sign to remind people to check-in and the special you are offering sure can’t hurt. 

  • I love their new interface and have used it to scope out places because friends have said good things or liked it… digital WOM at its best, real question here is does the tapeworm have his (are they sexual or asexual) 4sq account?One cool partnership for non-location joints was Redbox-Walgreens and is definitely worth looking at.  

    •  @jeffespo He does not…but he has Facebook and Twitter. If he had his own Foursquare account, we’d be in big trouble. He’d be eating all over town.
      I’ll check out Redbox/Walgreens. I haven’t seen that!

      •  @ginidietrich let the record also be shown that I infiltrated Arment Dietrich with a check in #justsayin

        •  @jeffespo You did… LOL!!

        •  @ginidietrich All through the places you might like… there was a comment from someone on dogs being allowed in the office as a tip so I said hey what the hell… can’t be all bad

        •  @jeffespo Some people see that as a negative, however.

        •  @ginidietrich and those people are Twits or privacy freaks… I would argue that some have tinfoil hats to avoid alien and government control waves, but hey it takes all types.People just need to be smart with their privacy settings and who the allow to follow them… In all honesty it is people who never tried a LBS that cry foul every step of the way or people who are on #teamfollowback (whatever that is)…I do like that foursquare has evolved and incorporated some of the better features of the failed Gowalla and ever-pivoting SCVNGR for a dominating experience. It is like a virtual guide book and recommendations from friends.  

        •  @jeffespo It’s always the people who don’t use the tools who cry the loudest. Always.

  • I think that Foursquare hasn’t fully demonstrated its utility to the users, and as such, a lot of people are suffering from check-in fatigue. Mayorships and badges aren’t enough to keep continually using the app and making their location data available to both Foursquare and businesses who are watching the click-stream data. 
    The key to location data like this is knowing how long a customer is spending at any one location – and that is missing from Foursquare, i.e. it only captures a check-in and not a check-out.  A recent thebeancast episode with benkunz , mitchjoel  and jasonfalls discussed this very point – that any checkin service needs to demonstrate utility to its users else they won’t come back. 
    For me, the future of checkin services is integrating with mobile payments and loyalty programs. Have you checked out LevelUp? Seth is on to something really awesome. 

    •  @jasonkonopinski  That’s the point…they’re just now doing a 180 to create something new (and to keep themselves viable). Using my Schuba’s experience, they now know I checked in, what I bought, and that I used the discount. And, because I used a credit card, they can attach my name to it.

      •  @ginidietrich Absolutely. By incorporating other aspects of LBS, they have an opportunity to re-engage users who have otherwise lost interest.  I tend to check-in using Path’s Foursquare tie-in, but that often means that I’m not seeing the recommendations and tips from others in my network.  You can only take the gaming/competition aspect of Foursquare to a certain point before users clamor for more.  This new version is definitely a step in the right direction. 

        •  @jasonkonopinski Please, please, please help me with Path. I’m on there a couple of times a day to see if I can get interested, but I see the same things I see on Facebook so I struggle with why I need to do both.

      •  @ginidietrich I like the credit card apps that are moving that route as both checkin device and discount generator… EVERYONE has those, not everyone has a great smart phone (despite what they tell you)

        •  @faybiz Except in Greensboro, N.C., where they only take checks or cash. When I had no cash and he asked me if I had my checkbook, I just raised my eyebrow at him. Really?

  • Very interesting use case. Foursquare’s focus on location is a challenge for online businesses. I suspect this use was allowed by competing business because of the geo-location – that you in fact checked in to a business that was very nearby another physical business.
    I tried to use Foursquare in a nearly identical way for my last position – I wanted to offer a discount to law students who checked in at law schools for our online bar exam preparation program. This use was not allowed because we did not have a physical space to tie the check-ins into.
    A shame, because it would have been a perfect way to identify prospective customers – I mean who would check into a law school who wasn’t a potential prospect…

    •  @Sean McGinnis This is all new. They just changed it so you can do this. It wouldn’t have worked in your last position, but it will now!

      •  @ginidietrich I’m not sure that’s true – the part about what I was trying to do being allowed now. I just checked it out and don’t see a way to do what I wanted to do. Lemme explain….
        The reason your restaurant was allowed to offer you a special was because you checked into a location that was nearby a venue they actually owned and operated.
        As a virtual business w no location Foursquare did not allow us to piggy back on 220 existing venues that we did not control, because we did not have 220 (or even one) physical location or venue that was nearby one of those existing venues.
        The entire system is built on geo-location – and because completely virtual businesses have no such location, they are really left out of the system, unless they can partner with a venue owner who is willing to create a special in partnership with them.
        It was frustrating because I saw Amex, for example creating these types of partnerships on the back of the Foursquare infrastructure, but the small virtual business is sort of left out in the cold.
        Unless I’m misreading what I see on their pages, I don’t think I would be successful in trying to use the system for the Bar Exam Prep business today either.

        •  @Sean McGinnis Ah got it. Yeah…I think it’s only for actual locations. I don’t see an application yet, if you don’t have brick and mortar.

        •  @ginidietrich  @Sean McGinnis Again the problem that is SOLVED via Facebook and others…

  • bryanwillmert

    I couldn’t agree more with this post. So many small businesses are losing not because the other guy is bigger but because they are not leveraging this connection point. (and maybe some other pieces, but there is so much you can do about customer connection). I won’t consume your comments section, but I think that foursquare is DRASTICALLY under utilized. If it added a ranking system in, that could really blow up Yelp and the consumer experience. 

    •  @bryanwillmert A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that it’s now feeding me tips from people I’m connected with on other networks (even though I don’t have the service connected to my other social media). I find that very, very interesting. Give me tips from friends and discounts to try and you have a win.

  • Checkins are dead. I view foursquare more as a yelo competitor now. Who also offers free deals for checkins for business.owners. maybe if the deals get better more people.will checkin. I laughed when someone checked into coney island last weekend. It said ‘with 20 other people’ but 10000 were there if not more.

    My point is becoming mayor or telling people where you are for plain vanity reasons is over except for some people who need the ego boost.

    So your tips.could be workabke if behavior changes. Foursquare blew it on a few fronts because they had people going crazy with check ins but deals.never materialized.

    Lastly lbs has a hard time indoors. I have been unabl to check in on nyc streets, in malls, stores etc so i dont see satellite as the future but more manual call to actions on stores via some sort of qr code or similar that personalizes the experencr like a digital club card.

    • Btw i check in places but rarely post to twitter. It removes a big social aspect and i would require it to get a deal. Otherwise just have your employees do their job to sell you more.

    •  @HowieSPM Jeez Louise. Did you read the entire post? It’s no longer about check-ins. It’s about providing things to customers to encourage trial and repeat use. I never would have gone back to Schuba’s if not for the 15 percent discount that they offered me when I checked in across the street. They got me to try them again…after my terrible experience. Foursquare is changing this and we have a huge opportunity – as marketers – to do something with is.

  • Great post Gini. One thing though you will never , ever, ever Catch me!

    See you in Toronto next week.

    •  @MarkCRobins Oh I beat you last week when I was all over the country! But it’s rare, indeed.

  • You know Gertie, the only problem with 4sq even as it makes this pivot is the same one it has more or less had- users. It is sporadic at best as @HowieSPM  illustrates with Coney Island- ewww….
    I’m sure it is AWESOME in the Windy City with 40,000 users, but in the fringes of the world… eh.
    PLUS you can do this on FB and Google with significantly more users who actually use it…

    •  @faybiz  The funny thing is, I haven’t seen FB checkins in ages. But I see Foursquare all the time. I’m not, by any means, saying Foursquare is going to win at this game, but I do think it’s something marketers need to add to their toolboxes for brick and mortar locations.

      •  @ginidietrich you see 4sq cuz you use it and know people who use it, but if they are not pushing to facebook and/or twitter… where is the value to marketing it for businesses? They can just as easily do the offers on FB (which I see plenty of) or run some sort of Twitter specific campaign…
        I don’t deny the value of 4sq or yelp or any of the others… but for many, they have to REALLY know where their customers are first before killing themselves on a niche that they can’t fill

  • LOL, I am obsessed with being the mayor of the places I spend a fortune at, as well as far too much of my time sitting & waiting (ie my kids activity places, dance studio, hockey rinks, etc).  I dont share it via twitter.  Its for my own silly gratification.  I tell my daughter its my reward for being one of the few parents who watches all her lessons! 🙂
    We have a local business, Nick’s Pizza nickspizza . They have been offering free “munchies” with every foursquare checkin for some time now. They do a lot via social media (one of the few McHenry County firms that does).  I like the idea of nearby offers enticing me to  make a different decision and/or a new business discovery! 

    •  @sydcon_mktg  I’m trying to get our local Mexican restaurant (where I’m the Mayor) to offer some things…you know, like free margaritas. 

      •  @ginidietrich Any place that offered me a free margarita would get my attention! 😉

      • DonovanGroupInc

         @ginidietrich If anyone can persuade an establishment to offer delicious “freebies” it’s you BFF.  🙂

    •  @sydcon_mktg You can be the mayor but until I can figure out a way to become emperor I simply refuse to use it.

  • patrickreyes

    I definitely think geo location has changed since the days of just telling people where you are.  I find it even more relevant when I see that friends have checked in and left tips.  Now that Foursquare has updated itself, I find myself going there more and “liking” and leaving comments on people’s check ins (ahem…like yours).
    Great post!  Small businesses should definitely try to leverage this more!

    •  @patrickreyes I love commenting on your checkins. It’s funny to me.

  • yvettepistorio

    I’m just going to comment on the food part of this post…clearly I”m craving eggs now that I’ve read about your craving. Have you tried Bakin & Eggs? Yes, they have a bacon flight for those bacon lovers out there!

    •  @yvettepistorio I haven’t been there in a long time. I loooooove eggs. We should meet for breakfast!

      • yvettepistorio

         @ginidietrich Yes, let’s do breakfast! I looooooove eggs too! 

        •  @yvettepistorio YAY! Breakfast and cupcakes!

  • John_Trader1

    I always lament at retail businesses that put themselves on Foursquare and then just kind of sit on their hands and do nothing. It seems like the new cool is to put yourself on there and actually offer an incentive to visit. Imagine that, incentive based marketing psychology to reach the super engaged consumer of today. 
    Although it seems like a great B2C tool, wonder how B2B can leverage it?

    •  @John_Trader1 I’m not sure there is a B2B application for it. Yet. 

      •  @ginidietrich  @John_Trader1 I can’t envision a B2B application either. Thinking. 

        • John_Trader1

           @jasonkonopinski  @ginidietrich As soon as we figure out what it is, let’s call it EightTriangle.

        •  @John_Trader1  @jasonkonopinski HAHAHAHAHA!

        •  @jasonkonopinski B2B application: Build a 4sq list page on 4sq featuring businesses that use your product.

  • Great tips Gini. I’m curious to see whether this new Foursquare takes a bite out of Yelp. What do you think, will one of them become obsolete or do they have different markets?
    I’m curious to see if Foursquare will integrate some type of OpenTable reservation service as well. And/or a way to see what the wait time is at a neighboring restaurant…that would be nice! 

    •  @rachaelseda I think they’re different markets, right now. But the integration of what Yelp and OpenTable do would be awesome!

  • raghuthemonk

    I really enjoy with this article. i am too foursquare user that allows so many points and awards and coming to others competition in points. I enjoy with foursquare gps application. 
    <a href=””> live chat software</a> 

  • raghuthemonk

    I really enjoy with this article. i am too foursquare user that allows so many points and awards and coming to others competition in points. I enjoy with foursquare gps application.

  • I’m pretty lame when it comes to 4sq, namely because no one cares that I took my kis to Chuck E Cheese’s. However, I have liked the tweaks so far and will use it more for the reasons you listed. Nice post G-Money

    •  @SociallyGenius I LOVE Chuck E. Cheese’s!!

  • I did some research for a hospital as to great ways to use foursquare – I think working w/other businesses was one of my favorites. Here’s what I wrote about it  foursquare and The Miracle on 34th Street Project | Imelda Dulcich PR & Social Media

  • So true, Gini. I use Foursquare mainly when I’m traveling or go someplace “special” like a nice restaurant (I actually had a bad experience with a very nice restaurant in San Francisco after I checked in there once — they bombarded me on Twitter to follow them, mention them, etc., etc for several days). That means I’m usually checking into airports, but I really like tracking how many miles I’ve flown since my last check-in! It’s a little bit addictive. 
    Whenever I see a business offers a perk for a check-in, you can believe I’m on it. I remember American Eagle was running something like 15-20% off an item if you checked in at the store. I did it right at the counter and it was a breeze. I’d definitely do it if more businesses ran something like this! 
    In other news, there’s usually a check-in war running at the Livefyre office, mainly between jennalanger and jjbert . Fun to watch! 

    •  @annedreshfield  LOL!! Of course there is.

    •  @annedreshfield Oh Anne probably knows by now that I’m a 4sq addict. That said, I think their recent changes are decent, at best. They’ve clearly tailored the experience to include and retain new users (i.e. explore and all the social pressure to connect with friends, adding a bio to your profile, etc.). But, deep down the best tool for marketers hasn’t changed at all. A check-in is a targeted ad placement. It is and it always will be. With every check-in your are broadcasting a place, and sometimes vouching for it. With the addition of list and to-dos, it’s easier than ever to see a friend’s ad (check-in) and save it as a to-do for later on. Discounts and perks are cool, but until staff at these places are trained on what to do the point is kinda moot. I’ve tried to redeem a 4sq special at a few places and have been met with blank stares. Not cool. 

      •  @joebertino  @annedreshfield I’ve had really good luck with the specials that have been targeted to me. Now if I could just get our local Mexican restaurant to give perks…

        •  @ginidietrich  @joebertino  @annedreshfield I want Foursquare to be something that I think of more regularly to get the full benefit of it. I’ve had numerous times that I’ve checked out the venue after the fact, and missed a special! That being said, I really like Foursquare as a discovery mechanism, more so than Yelp or others, I just need to remember to use it 🙂

  • And, let me just say I can’t ever be mayor of my health club because an employee checks in every day. And, there’s free tennis lessons if I’m the mayor. That ticks me off, but I’ve not said anything yet, but I’m thinking on it. 
    Employees should not be able to check into their place of employment; after all, who is Foursquare for, anyway?

    •  @Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing That’s one of the first things I tell my clients, especially when I see an employee is the Mayor. But there is a value in having employees check in, from a promotional standpoint online. I’d love to see Foursquare create a separate category for employees, etc where they can check in, but don’t become mayor, etc. 

      •  @KenMueller OMGosh; AGREE! That’s perfect.

      •  @KenMueller Foursquare does offer a setting for site managers to identify employees. It allows employees to check in, leave tips, etc., but keeps them from claiming the mayor’s status. The trick is that a site manager needs to constantly keep up with the email addresses of his/her employees. In industries such as retail, restaurants and hospitality with high turnover, that can be something of a challenge. But, the feature does exist.

    •  @Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing Oh I would say something! That defeats the purpose. If they’re giving free tennis lessons to the Mayor, they don’t want employees to have the title.

  • DEFINITELY move to the right if you’re not walking on the moving walkway. 🙂 

  • I spoke at our local chamber a few years ago and urged everyone to get on there (including Yelp, Google Places, etc.) Locals don’t use it much but our tourists certainly do. That’s the obstacle here – they think no one uses it because no one in their circles do. 
    But what a fantastic way to bring in visitors who don’t know about you vs the locals who already do anyway! 

    •  @Lisa Gerber I remember! They all looked at you like you had four heads.

  • That’s a great suggestion about having a tip from one business leading you to another local business. I use Foursquare a lot when I’m exploring a new area, and I tend to gravitate towards places that have specials. But once I’ve hit one venue, if they had a tip telling me to check out a place down the street, I’d probably be inclined to check it out too.

    •  @AdamBritten I want to see more of that! Lots of tips and specials. It creates loyalty!

  • Great article!  I love foursquare, but it tends to sit on my 2nd tier of social networks.
    I follow the same patter as @AdamBritten  I check the specials first to see if anything compels me.  It also helps if I’ve heard even a little buzz about a place. That usually would put me over the edge.  On the flip-side it’s a huge turn off if the special is overly complicated.  “Get one drink free after checking in 3 times between 3-4:23pm Mon, Thr, Sun”  It sounds like an intern held a gun to the owners head and forced him to do it.

    •  @JoshPGreenberg  @AdamBritten I love the ones that give you something after your fifth time of checking in, but if you don’t use it, you lose it. Oy.

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  • lasvegaswinner

    @ShellyKramer David Cooper “retweets” and “Follows” you. Could you “Follow” me @lasvegaswinner #LasVegas #RealEstate #Foreclosures

  • Haven’t use foursquare yet.  I should check it out after reading this article. thanks.

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