If you’re already struggling to keep your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts fresh and relevant to customers, adding yet another social medium to the mix may seem impractical. But devoting some quality time to emerging location-based services could do big things for your small business.
These increasingly mainstream applications offer low-risk, high-reward potential for connecting with audiences both online and on location. Here’s a quick look at the most promising opportunities to date.
Foursquare: not just fun and games
Part social tool, part game, the Foursquare Web and mobile applications enable users to connect and compete with friends by updating their location (pinpointed via satellite) in real time. Members earn points and unlock badges by “checking in” at places ranging from restaurants, museums and nightclubs to florists, grocers and gas stations — otherwise known as your business.
On April 16, retailers in more than 100 major cities celebrated Foursquare Day, purportedly the world’s first social media holiday, with specials and VIP events for Foursquare members. While the application is still a long way from Facebook-level fame, it has seen remarkable growth since its launch in March 2009. In April 2010, it boasted approximately 1 million users worldwide.
Over the past year, some of your competitors have discovered powerful ways to leverage Foursquare in their marketing efforts. With the simple flash of a mobile device, customers can prove how many times they’ve visited a particular venue, or if they’ve visited often enough to become “mayor” of that venue. They can also share tips and comments on venues, which could translate to positive word of mouth for your business.
More and more, retailers are using this technology to reward their most loyal customers, and to attract new customers, with discounts, freebies and special promotions. Foursquare will tell users what deals you’re offering and when, where and how they can get them. And if you’re offering a better deal than your competitor across the street, Foursquare will let users know that too. At the same time, business owners can review stats about their customers — from a gender breakdown to the number of unique visits — with Foursquare’s free analytics tool.
For small businesses trying to increase foot traffic, it’s definitely worth checking in. Go to Foursquare for Businesses to get started.
Gowalla: gaining momentum
Considered Foursquare’s biggest competition, Gowalla encourages users to “go out, go discover and go share” local destinations in exchange for digital goodies, not unlike virtual geocaching. Winner of the Mobile category in this year’s South by Southwest® Web Awards, Gowalla provides an optimal gaming experience on the go.
In March 2010, the application had approximately 150,000 active users — many of whom insist Gowalla outrivals Foursquare with better design elements and more precise GPS capabilities. However, Foursquare is ahead of the game in terms of a user-friendly Web presence for business partners. At the moment, business promoters who want to utilize Gowalla must contact the team via e-mail or Twitter. The team then determines the best way to integrate Gowalla with the needs and expectations of that particular business.
“Some things, like a local coffee shop offering 10 percent off purchases with check-in, we immediately implement by adding a bit of code to their spot page,” says Jonathan Carroll, community and business development manager at Gowalla Incorporated. “Others, like our partnership with Chevy during South by Southwest, or our promo with Chipotle, require further discussion of the overall goals of the campaign and brainstorming on the best way for a business to implement our technology.”
Carroll says Gowalla is developing a business opportunities page as a natural extension of the Web site, due to debut very soon.
Location integration is smart business
While they’re creating a huge buzz right now, Foursquare and Gowalla represent just one corner of an immense location-based social media, or “lo-so,” landscape. Depending on your company’s specific goals, you may benefit more from partnering or advertising with Brightkite, Loopt, Hot Potato, Yelp or a host of other location-based services.
Of course, Google is at the forefront of the geolocation boom with mobile apps like Google Latitude and the Google Places search tool, which now offers streamlined features for business owners.
Twitter continues to expand its small-business marketing potential with a location feature, which allows users to share exactly where their tweet is coming from. And Facebook recently joined forces with Yelp to offer an integrated, highly personalized user experience. Given the growing synergy among social networking platforms, business owners should think of location-based services as several interdependent “next big things” — rather than focusing on just one site or application.
Driven by increased smartphone use, a surge in app launches and steady advances in geolocation technology, mobile location-based services are expected to be worth more than $12 billion by 2014, according to Juniper Research. In other words, the future of location-based social media is extremely bright, and savvy business owners are getting in on the ground floor.
Eve Daniels is a Minneapolis-based writer and editor.
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