Premium and luxury brand owners had their interest piqued by a new social media phenomenon last week when Jimmy Choo announced it was using Foursquare to promote their new trainer range.
Foursquare, best described as a location-based social game, combines a social utility element, allowing ‘players’ to share their location with their friends, contacts and other players, and a social gaming element as players battle for points, badges and titles.
Using the GPS on a player’s phone, Foursquare knows where that ‘player’ is but will only publish that player’s location when he ‘checks into’ a venue – be that a bar, restaurant or shop. At that point his contacts are ‘pinged’ with his location, so they can come and join him if they choose. Also, players can see where their contacts are, depending on where they’ve most recently ‘checked into’ and who else playing the game is in the same venue as them. By looking at that venue’s tips (best food, drinks etc) players can look up suggestions for what to do there, and leave tips of their own for other players. They can also broadcast comments from that venue that can be shared with their contacts on Foursquare, as well as Twitter and Facebook. Players can also find other venues in the same vicinity that they can check into.
As for the gaming element, players receive points for checking in to places and these ‘check ins’ are also the way to unlock certain status ‘badges’. Neither points nor badges lead to any tangible rewards within the game other than status, with players being able to compare their points and badges with their friends and other players. Frequent visitors to a location are also named ‘mayor’ of that venue – a status that is competitively vied for amongst players.
Soon after its launch in March 2009, local ‘bricks and mortar’ businesses realised the potential of Foursquare to drive advocacy and footfall and started offering players incentives for check ins and rewards for becoming the mayor of their venue. These tangible rewards for participation, alongside the status rewards offered by the service, have fuelled its growth. A little over a year after its launch, Foursquare is reported to be approaching the 1m user mark and is now available in almost 100 cities worldwide, including London, Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol.
Larger brands are just starting to experiment with the service. For example, the FT.com is offering free access to premium content for players who checked in at certain venues around business schools, primarily as a sampling exercise to attract the younger, educated and tech savvy crowd that Foursquare attracts. Marc Jacobs allowed any player who checked into one of their ‘Marc by Marc Jacobs’ stores to unlock a badge which gave them entry to a prize draw to win tickets to the Marc Jacob’s show at the recent New York Fashion Week. And of course, Jimmy Choo has just piloted the service in London to promote its new trainers – as the trainers check into various locations around London, players have the chance to rush to that venue to win a pair before the trainers move on.
Foursquare has unlocked a simple and effective way to understand both a user’s location and their context when they’re in that location – i.e. having a coffee, shopping for clothes etc. This is powerful information for advertisers which becomes ever more valuable as the Foursquare community grows both geographically and in size. As users are ‘checking in’, it is believed that advertising will be seen as beneficial rather than obtrusive. Although no such service has yet been launched, companies such as Yahoo have seen the potential which is why they were prepared to offer $100m to buy the service.
So should premium and luxury brands be experimenting with the service? If you’re audience is metropolitan, male biased, under 34 and of the ‘early adopter’ mentality, then perhaps. On a purely commercial level, the service can drive footfall by increasing awareness of ‘bricks and mortar’ locations, bringing friends together to socialise and shop and increasing word of mouth. The platform allows brands to understand who their advocates are, how they behave and what they think – these are great insights for building closer relationships, priming advocates to become more vocal on your behalf and for a little market research. And it’s easy to take part, Foursquare now offers an easy (and free) dashboard to allow businesses to sign up.
However, don’t expect a flood of response. The take up in the UK as yet is unknown although Hitwise has indicated user growth is rapid.
But bear in mind, Foursquare isn’t the only location-based game out there and may lose out in the long term to one of its rivals such as Gowalla or Booyah. However, many of these competitive services are similar to Foursquare – emulating some of its most successful attributes – so any experience of getting Foursquare to work for you isn’t going to be wasted if a competitor proves to be the long term winner in this field.
Whoever wins, it’s unlikely that location based services are just going to be a flash in the pan as Google, Twitter and Facebook are all enhancing their services with location based data. So understanding how to make location based social media work for you is going to be an excellent learning for the future. Just don’t sink too much time and resource into it initially, however, as the return on investment is unlikely to be there.