Early Check In – with foursquare

In July 2009, I wrote an entry called “Who’s Tweeting Now” that chronicled various observations about a new rage called “Twitter.” Yes, that was less than a year ago. Twitter was hitting public awareness with a bang, and I was being asked by social media skeptics how this new obsession could possibly be useful. So, I decided to string together short Twitter observations into “macro” blog entry.

Now, eight months later, and one year after its launch, foursquare is beginning to penetrate public consciousness. The first week in February, I was asked by a client to pull together some social media elements to be incorporated into a proposal for a B2B financial services client seeking to improve the impact, effectiveness and engagement of its trade show marketing. I did some research into whether this marketer’s clients have smart phones and use digital media and whether other major B2B players use Twitter (and Facebook). My initial finding was that this audience was not the iPhone carrying Gowalla using audience that those in NYC might think are the American norm. Some trade show organizers were experimenting with hash tags, and a number of B2B companies had huge numbers of Twitter followers – and even Facebook fans, but my sense was that the social media aspects of this campaign needed to be relatively simple.

I recommended therefore, a number of ways for the marketer to use Twitter – before, during and after each show. And I gave them overall guidance as to how to develop, maintain and optimize their Twitter presence. That done, my client and I decided to go for it, to be crazy, and to incorporate location-based social media into the equation. I looked into developing a mobile application either independently or in conjunction with the trade shows, themselves. But this was really too aggressive. It meant developing an application and then getting trade show participants to adopt it. In other words, it required creating a market. Not easy.

So, why not foursquare? An existing application, with a growing adoption rate and functionality that allowed us to incorporate our promotions and marketing into the existing framework. See, for example, what Intel did at the Consumer Electronics Show. See also what your local retailers are doing. And look at the pop up recommendations that Bill Sobel has left for those who use foursquare in and around New York’s upper west side.

I developed the plan and incorporated it into the deck. After finalizing the deck, I called my client to discuss next steps. One of the things he asked for was a more in depth conversation about foursquare so that he could better understand and represent the concept to his customer. Joe, I said (I call all my clients Joe…), keep your eye on this thing – this foursquare. Your client may think it’s niche or obscure now, but six months from now, they’ll note how ahead of the curve we were. The bigger foursquare gets, the more appropriate our recommendations will be, and since the customer’s program is ongoing, they can incorporate it at any time.

There is something about it that is very reminiscent of Facebook back in 2006. Friends and relatives thought I was crazy, or at least, eccentric, when I joined Facebook. (One even said that it was “sad” that I had to go online for friendship…) When I joined there were 6 million people on Facebook. Today, there are close to 400 million – including all those friends and relatives I mentioned. (As of this week, Facebook consistently attracts more daily visitors than Google – CNET.) In 2006 – and even today – there are those who can’t imagine why you would want to share private or personal information about what you are doing online. Today, they are scared of the risks of posting information about where you are into a public mobile ethersphere. There are even spoof sites that beckon thieves to “rob me now” when your foursquare status (geotag) shows you are away from home. The number of foursquare participants is low, but the passion of those using it is high. (In actuality, foursquare reached 500,000 participants this week – March 19th, up from 400,000 last week due to intensive guerilla marketing efforts at South by Southwest last weekend.)

Yesterday, I called my client to check in (not in a foursquare sort of way, just a phone call). The first thing he said was that since we had spoken, he had seen and heard about foursquare over and over in the press. It wasn’t gradual, and it didn’t take six months. It was immediate.

My heart began to beat as I observed the amount of hype this new trend is getting – fast. And so, the question arises again, “how can this new obsession be used – and why?”

Now, I wear a number of hats. I am a “user” – of media, that is. I am a consultant to media and entertainment clients. And I am a consultant to marketers. So, my introduction to foursquare posed at least three sets of questions.

First, how and why should I use it? How can I improve my life by joining foursquare?

Second, what’s the plan for Dennis Crowley, founder of foursquare, and his partners? How are they going to monetize this? And, wow, these guys have something hot with a lot of potential. Oh and how might Apple limit or enhance this potential – specifically, Apple recently announced that they would not allow hyper-local advertising on their platform. Uh oh, that seems limiting.

Third, how can marketers exploit this great new technology, growing social trend and incredible treasure trove of consumer behavior information? And in using the word “marketer,” I reference a huge range of players, from your local ice cream shop to the Bravo network (“America’s Top Chef” program) to major global marketing brands.

And fourth, how can other constituents partner with and leverage foursquare. For example, Harvard University and the University of North Carolina and announced foursquare programs this December; and Zagat announced a content partnership shortly thereafter.

And so it goes that I must take up the mouse again – to create a repository of foursquare marketing uses that I observe, identify and generate…

Be sure to check in to see what I uncover.

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