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Opinions from Rich Clark one of the UK's leading Marketing Professionals

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What Happened to Foursquare?

Whilst considering approaches for our clients Social Media strategies, I was doing the usual thing of wondering what platforms would suit their customer base and of course the objectives of their activity.  At one point last year people were heralding the dawn on a new era.  Social Media was finally finding its feet and earning its commercial water wings. Not in a traditional digital marketing sense, but in a multi-channel sense.  What was driving this, the advent of Foursquare.

Foursquare Logo

Foursquare was the new thing we all needed to get excited about.  Taking people’s passions and love for social media and melding itwith their new found love with smartphones and a pinch of real-world and the ingredients were there for a winning combo.  Or so we thought.  This view was backed up by the decision in August 2010, at Facebook to launch their Foursquare killer, Facebook Places.

Easy to say it now, but I remember sitting in the offices at Best Buy and being quite cynical about the whole thing, while others were raving.  Whilst I didn’t doubt the concept of blurring social with real world, my belief was that this would have to be simplified to the extent the user wouldn’t have to do a thing and there was a sufficent reward for them doing so.

For a while I did doubt my own wisdom.  I signed up to Foursquare, after all, if you’re in the industry thats whay you do.  I had Google Wave, Google Buzz, Bebo, MySpace etc etc log-ins but no idea what they are now.  More and more contacts started popping up.  Note I used the word contacts.  It seemed to get quite noisy and then ther integration with Twitter came about and my timeline got loaded with people checking in to shops, sports grounds and fast food outlets.  Frankly it got a little annoying.  The point of the word contact was, most of the interactions were by people I knew in digital or technology, with a few friends who were early adopters.  None of my proper friends could be bothered.

The rewards on offer at the likes of Foursquare just aren’t interesting. Pretty juvenile really becoming the mayor of HMV in Oxford Street.  Apologies to all the various Foursquare mayors I have just offended.  I read with interest the fact that Facebook was closing its Places service, whilst it isn’t completely backing out of geo services it does show that its not the Xanadu some thought it would be.

Maybe Facebook just got it wrong and Foursquare demolished Facebook places.  Ironically the biggest boost Foursquare got to its numbers was when Facebook announced its Places service.  In terms of people looking for Foursquare on Google it would appear that the search volume has already peaked.  The August 2010 Facebook announcement got it mainstream and created the big boost, the numbers levelled but still at a higher than pre-announcement.  Foursquare also had a second boost around April this year when Amazon announced its servers had taken out both Foursquare and Reddit.

Google Trends view on Foursquare search volume

Google Trends view on Foursquare search volume

The light for Foursquare is that although things haven’t really sparked for them in the UK or Europe in general, they are big on technology advanced Asia and the population of Indonesia seem to be searching in their droves.  Some would say we need to treat Google data such as this with some scepticism.  Whilst I wouldn’t pass comment on that, even if you don’t believe the core numbers, the trend is still there.  Backed further by a quick search on Alexa.com where a similar story can be found.

Alexa ranking of Foursquare

The same pattern is true in terms of reach according to Alexa.  The April spike exists in April, but after that, the traffic drops back.  For me this demonstrates a lack of engagement with Foursquare.  Not complete lack of engagement, but low engagement on a relative base to the likes of Twitter and Facebook, its not to say it can’t happen.

My view is that there could still be a place for Foursquare or an equivalent service.  However they need to offer real value to users, something that makes users want to engage or embrace mobile technology to its fullest and minimise the engagement and actions needed in the physical world.  Foursquare and other services such as Gowalla still have a long way to go.  Once somebody has cracked it, the sector could ignite and present great currency for users and no-brainer commercial options for multichannel brands.

Remember the key to all of these platforms is mobile.  With this in mind we need to keep a watching eye on Google, with the rise of G+ and obviously the Android operating system gaining momentum, they could be in a good place to crack it.  If the minds at Google can work out what “it” is.

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Location, Location, Location

This isn’t a post as a homage to Phil Spencer and Kirstie Allsopp’s property show but more a view on one of the latest developments in online, location based Marketing.

From the rise of geo-targetting on Google. To the regional Tweets on Twitter to probably the fastest emerging elements, Facebook Places and of course FourSquare.  So some commentators question the long-term validity of these mediums as marketing channels. Others distrust the security. Some  however see these emerging channels as unique methods to undertake targetted activity of a stellar level.

In terms of geographical targeted advertising some channels are better than others.  The likes of Google has constantly refined and improved its offer in its core PPC offer but also with the introduction of LBC and within their display (content) network.  Facebook has placed substantial emphasis on developing its advertising platform and using the API there are numerous sophisticated targeting opportunities, not least geo-targetting.  Others, at present, are a lot less sophisticated. Twitter’s advertising platform(currently in its infancy)  is currently only open to a global audience, ensuring no matter how great your promotional message is, at present if your business is domiciled within a particular country, you will suffer unavoidable waste.  If Twitter’s ad platform is in its infancy then, others such as Foursquare, are at best babies or even yet to be conceived.

However, the paid for advertising component is only one thread we need to investigate.  The beauty of social media and the emerging opportunities are the organic methods of targetting.  These organic components are released by the channel owners and brands are actively encouraged to develop or promote on them, as long as it add value to the user base.  Twitter has a great site for developers and like Facebook they understand the benefit the developer community provides to their offer.  So enough of my ramble, what geo-targeting, geo-tagging, location based tools are out there at the moment?

Google Places

Formerly known as Google LBC (Local Business Centre) takes advantage of Googles open API on its map solution.  As a business owner you can simply upload your business with its address and pin it up to Google maps.  This is great, if like most people, your customers search for your locations on Google Maps.  It can also integrate with your PPC.  Great hygeine factor to include, but reliant on people knowing you already.

Google Geo-Targeted PPC

Google has moved a great distance in terms of its geo-targeting for PPC. Its relatively sophisticated PPC engine now allows you to target people in postcodes, towns or areas.  The best part of the latest enhancements is the fact that you can define a bespoke area by placing points on a map.

Facebook Places

Facebook Places is still at the beginning of its journey in the UK.  Whilst no advertising opportunities exist, plenty of organic opportunities are available to companies.  However your brand is much more likely to get referenced if you have a loyal following on Facebook.

FourSquare

This is one of the latest most talked about social applications. Very bascially it is a tool to ping people where you are at the moment, started out as used for places to eat but has quickly spread.  Not really sure it offers much differentiation from Facebook places, but it already has a decent level of uptake.

Twitter

Its only a matter of time before the sponsored elements of Twitter go regionalised.  The fact you can add a location to your tweets means it will go that way.  Then it is obvious targeting will become easier on the platform. At the moment, it is lagging a little behind the others.

What can you do?

So the question for marketeers has to be what can we use these tools for? Aside from the obvious distributing very regional messages, which is obviously of benefit there are other options.  You could make the use of these tools by your customers feel a little viral, offering incentives to them for becoming Mayor or first to mark your location a given number of times. 

You can also mark local events or openings via these mediums and minimise wastage on your promotions.

If you can operate social commerce, these mechanisms in the long-run could provide great opportunities for regional promotions, special events or even the selling of display or open-box items.  You could limit who the messages and promotions are distributed to.  This will not only minimise wastage and provide efficiencies on your effort, but it will reduce the likelihood of poor customer experience, when users from out of district see your promotion.

You should also reaserch the areas properly, there could be simple areas to target within established social media presences.  Think local student unions, Chamber of Commerce and Sports Clubs. These are users bought in to social and their particular interest. If you can get coverage with these communities, you are likely to succeed.

Remember these mediums allow you to provide ultra targeted (based on location) communications. However, remember you have to have a reason to be present. This can be slightly different if you are using the newer advertising based modules.