Can Foursquare capitalize on its marketing potential?

Here’s a piece I wrote for Ragan.com about the untapped potential of Foursquare:

Published: 4/26/2010

Can Foursquare capitalize on its marketing potential?
By Ari B. Adler

Function must supersede frivolity and deliver pertinent information when the consumer wants it

There’s a love-hate relationship going on with Foursquare the likes of which we haven’t seen since Crocs tried to make brightly colored shoes with holes in them a major fashion statement.

The mobile check-in started as a game and quickly turned into a way to keep up with friends and their favorite hangouts. For some, that’s enough to keep them coming back. Others try it and lose interest.

Still, it’s the folks thinking not about what Foursquare can do, but what Foursquare could be doing that will probably continue to drive the company’s success.

“It took me a while to figure out what the thing is about—not what everybody uses it for, but what function does it play?” said Ike Pigott, a communication consultant and blogger from Birmingham, Ala.

Pigott noted how Twitter expanded the world so people can know what any of the people they follow are doing. The problem with Twitter, Pigott said, is the information, “falls off the radar due to sheer volume.”

Transcending time

“If I go to a sandwich shop in an unfamiliar town and have a life-changing sandwich and tweet about it, [and] if you’re there while traveling for a conference four months later, that won’t mean anything to you,” Pigott said. “What Foursquare does at its core is connect everyone over time instead of just space.”

According to Pigott’s theory, Twitter is about the here and now, whereas Foursquare is more about the here when you need it.

“I may not see your noisy tweet from four months ago, but with Foursquare, I’ll see it when I’m in the exact place where that information is relevant to me,” Pigott said.

It’s that type of relevance to travelers that prompted The History Channel to engage Foursquare for its campaign to bring visitors more information when they check in at historical sites.

Foursquare’s real strength, therefore, may be its ability to connect people with relevant information.

“One of the things that has intrigued me about Foursquare is its potential in event planning and attendance,” said Ryan Knott, manager of communications for the Michigan Osteopathic Association. “An event like Lansing’s ‘Be a Tourist in Your Own Town’ could use Foursquare to track people’s movements and special prizes could be given out to those with the most check-ins. I also was impressed with Foursquare’s partnership withIgnite Week. When I checked in at Ignite Lansing 3.0, I was given the Ignite Badge. Not a huge deal, but it was a nice way to bond with other attendees around Lansing and around the world.”

Conference call

Knott said he thinks this kind of Foursquare connection could expand to bring more life to industry conferences, as well.

“I could see using Foursquare for competitions at our annual convention—our member physicians could receive additional raffle tickets or something for checking into specific rooms or events,” Knott said. “Unfortunately, our members aren’t quite wired into Foursquare yet, but with some prodding, we might be able to get them there.”

It may not take much prodding if folks start to see the value of the giant database of useful information people are building via Foursquare, even without realizing it. Connecting with people is important, but connecting with and getting information from your “friends,” is even more important.

“Five years ago, what you asked Google or Ask.com, we now go to Facebook for, because our friends give us more relevant information that means something to us,” Pigott said. “In three years, people won’t be fighting it out to be mayor of Starbucks. If Foursquare is done right, it eliminates the noise, because it only delivers the information when it’s relevant to me at the moment I can act on it.”

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