Foursquare Local Updates: Checking In for Checking Out

Businesses find it more challenging than ever these days to get the attention of customers. And, if they are able to get their attention, they are further challenged to create relevant content that is valuable and maintains people’s interest. Location-based social networking site Foursquare has developed an innovation to its service that helps businesses in this regard. It is simple, but the simplicity of the feature is the characteristic that makes it so appealing.

Foursquare has introduced local updates, a feature that lets businesses on Foursquare communicate information to people checking in at stores, restaurants, and other locations on Foursquare. Tips and other information posted by users that have been the core of Foursquare’s concept are being complemented with marketer-delivered information. Examples of how local updates might be used include a restaurant that has new menu items or specials can list them as an update. Or, a minor league baseball team running a discounted ticket promotion for Tuesday night games can communicate it using local updates.

The value of local updates on Foursquare for businesses and users is simplicity. Information is not being communicated through costly advertising – no loud music, celebrity endorsers, or other trappings of media advertising messages are needed. A restaurant analogy used to describe the local updates feature is that it can be used like a sandwich board displaying daily specials. If engaging customers has become the holy grail of marketing, Foursquare’s local updates is a small step toward achieving that quest.

Even if a business is not using Foursquare, it can apply the idea behind local updates, considering whether other channels exist to communicate with customers in a simple, low cost way. Consumers value information; it helps them make more informed decisions. Meet customers where they are, whether it is on Foursquare, other online channels, or offline, by being an information resource for them.

The Facebook Flaw

A year ago, the future of the location-based social network Foursquare was uncertain. It was not due to any missteps on its part. Rather, it was the announcement that Facebook was launching a location-based feature known as Facebook Places. The dominant player in social networking was moving into the check-in space? With a miniscule number of users compared to Facebook, the question that loomed was how could Foursquare possibly compete?

Fast forward one year- Foursquare appears to have survived the Facebook threat. Facebook announced this week that Places will no longer be a stand-alone feature on mobile devices. Places never got traction among users. My personal experience was that it rarely worked on my smartphone. Technical glitches notwithstanding, my inclination to check-in is to use Foursquare instead of Facebook. Although my network is significantly larger on Facebook, in my mind Foursquare is the brand for location-based social networking.

Why did Facebook Places not crush Foursquare? And, why is Facebook Deals, a social coupon service, not causing executives at Groupon to lose sleep? The answer to both questions is that while Facebook is ubiquitous and a valuable tool for keeping us connected with other people it cannot be all things to all people. It is another example of a classic branding mistake that experts like Al Ries often lament. As a brand grows, it is natural to seek growth opportunities. But, as brand extensions inch further away from the core offering consumers are not as accepting of the brand’s capabilities. Google has experienced a similar fate as many of its brand extensions have met with less than resounding success.

The Facebook Flaw is not unique; it is same song, another verse of the perils of brand extension. Define what is great about your brand and be the absolute best- differentiate and dominate. But, avoid the temptation to think that your greatness will transfer to products that may be beyond the core of what attracts customers to you in the first place.

Have a great weekend! I’m off to a full day of meetings, but first I am going to check-in… on Foursquare, of course.

MoBlog – “Facebook Kills Places – Is Deals Next?”