Lately, I’m getting a bunch of new friend requests on the social location platform Foursquare. Interestingly, the invitations to connect are coming from those who aren’t necessarily early adopters: The folks who aren’t steeped in the social media world, and the people who don’t suffer from what is known as Social Tool “ADOS” (Attention Deficit … Ooh! Shiny!).
To me, it’s yet another signal that social location networking is starting to catch on.
It’s true that the population of people using these services is relatively small. A Forrester report from six months ago showed fairly modest adoption rates.
But more significantly, services like Foursquare, Gowalla, Loopt, Yelp and so on attract the right kind of customer for marketers to entice with ads, mobile coupons, rewards, and other location-based campaigns. Why? Because they are more likely to be “Influentials,” and to share their opinion and spread the word about a business. They also encourage others to participate in social location networking, to boot.
Forrester found that 38% of social location networkers are more likely than others to have friends and family ask their opinions prior to purchase. They’re more likely to research a product or service before purchasing, and 14% to 23% more likely to use their phones for comparison shopping.
The upshot? Social location networks are increasingly part of the marketer’s toolkit, says Simon Salt, who just published a brand-new book on the topic, Social Location Marketing: Outshining Your Competitors on Foursquare, Gowalla, Yelp & Other Location Sharing Sites (Pearson, 2011).
What I like about Simon’s book is that he acknowledges right up front that networks like Foursquare, Gowalla, Yelp, and others are easily dismissed. (I particularly like that the first chapter of the book is titled “Why Should I Bother?”)
But savvy marketers won’t dismiss these tools. Instead, they’ll make use of the growing trend of people sharing their location and—more importantly—their opinion about those locations. He shows some businesses already are. But more importantly, he points to clear opportunities for those who are able to move quickly and fast. In other words, this is the book that can give you a vital head start to incorporate social local networks into your digital strategy.
Simon and I chatted recently about his book and why he wrote it.
Q: So how do you explain the concept of social location marketing to those unfamiliar with the concept? Or better yet—how might you explain it to your mom?
A: There is a new craze where people want to tell their friends where they are hanging out. They do this with their phones. They use an app to “check in,” and it sends a message to their friends.
Businesses want to interact with the people who are doing this. This is a perfect marketing opportunity. The question for businesses is what does that marketing look like and which app would be best.
Q: What's one thing that every small business should do in regards to social location marketing?
A: The first thing each should do is claim their location on each of the major platforms like Foursquare, Gowalla, Yelp and Facebook Places.
Then, start with the monitoring of customer comments via Yelp. Get used to the idea of the social consumer as one that they will interact with on a regular basis. And understand that the social consumer wants to have a shareable experience—and will share the experience that they have whether it is good or bad.
Q: What's a trap small business can fall into when it comes to marketing via social location networks?
A: The biggest trap that any business can fall into when using social location marketing is to believe that the check-in is the end point. It isn’t. The check-in is the gateway to the engagement. You have to focus on the experience that the customer receives, not on the technology.
Q: I understand why businesses might want to participate in networks like Foursquare or Gowalla because they want to reach individuals checking in there. But what about individual consumers? Why should they bother?
A: As marketers start to understand the social consumer and their needs, rewards are becoming increasingly more attractive for individual consumers. Take, for example, the recent partnership between American Express and Foursquare. American Express cardholders can register their card with Foursquare, and when they check in at participating vendors, they receive discounts and credits toward their bill.
JetBlue offers additional air miles for its loyalty program for users who check in at any of its hub airports using Facebook Places. Many companies are now seeing the link between check-in and loyalty, and the fact that these systems can become an automated loyalty program. In fact, Topguest—a third-party check-in aggregator that partners with companies in the travel and tourism industry—is working to specifically tie in different social location sharing apps to loyalty reward programs.
Q: What kinds of businesses are really using social location marketing particularly well?
A: Retail and the Travel, Tourism & Hospitality industries have been the early beneficiaries of social location marketing. Given that they already had loyalty programs in place and understood the value of repeat business, it was a small step for them to grasp the potential offered by social location sharing apps.
That said, it is not limited to those industries, and we have seen it being successfully used by verticals as diverse as Fashion and FMCG. One example of a business that has used this to grow their business is A.J. Bombers in Milwaukee. The full case study is in my book; but in short, through the use of a one-day campaign,; they managed to grow their customer base by 110% year on year.
Q: What about B2B companies? Or virtual companies, who lack a physical location?
A: B2B companies can most definitely take advantage of social location marketing. One Foursquare-based third-party app produces heat maps of check-ins. While this might seem little more than a pretty picture, when viewed by a company that makes deliveries or service calls in a particular geographical location, it can give them a visualization of their existing marketing efforts.
The areas where their field staff are not checking in is where they don’t have customers. That is a perfect target area for their marketing efforts.
[As for virtual companies], IncSlingers is a virtual company in that we don’t have offices that our clients come to—we tend to go to them. However, anyone who visited Austin for SXSW and checked in at any of the coffee shops around the city this year discovered, they are part of something called the IncSlingers Coffee House Tour. Every time someone checks in at one of those locations on Gowalla, they will see a notification page that tells them that they just checked in at a location that is part of the IncSlingers Coffee House Tour—great brand awareness for our company at no cost. (It’s free to set up tours in Gowalla.)
Q: Should business optimize their content for local search differently than they optimize generally? If so, how?
A: Yes—I’m a strong advocate of ensuring that businesses optimize for local search. For example, if you are a bar in Dallas, then make sure you have “Dallas” as a keyword in your website; don’t assume people know where you are.
I recently tried to book a cab from a website. It appeared to be the Yellow Cab website, turned out it was Yellow Cab but only for the Los Angeles area—I was trying to book for Austin! I had to dig through several layers of the website before I found that out.
Photo credit: Nan Palmero