Archive for 2009

SocialScope Incorporates Foursquare, Twitter Lists

SocialScope, the BlackBerry app billing itself as “a mobile inbox for your social networks,” has released a new version (v0.9.5.81-0) of its beta application.

The primary changes in the new version:

If you aren’t aware, Foursquare is a location-based social network combining geographic context with gaming elements. I’m fascinated with it thanks to its myriad marketing opportunities, but unfortunately there’s no way to use it on a BlackBerry right now aside from a less-than-satisfying mobile site (there’s an app in closed beta testing right now, but I haven’t received an invite yet).

The new SocialScope app almost negates the need for a stand-alone Foursquare app entirely. Using the Foursquare API, the app accesses your BlackBerry’s GPS functionality to determine your location (no news on how it works on older models) and lets you check-in to places quickly and easily.

Foursquare location information on SocialScope Foursquare location list on SocialScope

Foursquare friend updates on SocialScope

(Note the built-in typo in the standard “off the grid” messages)

While SocialScope has supported creating groups of users in the app itself for a while, the latest update also supports Twitter lists, allowing you to display your pre-created lists, add to existing lists or create new lists from scratch.

Adding to a Twitter List in SocialScope

SocialScope has already won its place as my BlackBerry Twitter app of choice due to its user-friendly interface and easy integration of other social networks, but this easily cements its spot.

Business Week Says “Beware The Snake Oil”

I’ve long railed against the widespread growth of so-called “social media experts” – in particular, the people who believe that a Twitter account is enough to qualify you to offer advice to companies on how to adopt social media.

Now, Business Week has stepped-in on the topic, with a piece entitled “Beware Social Media Snake Oil“:

“The problem, according to a growing chorus of critics, is that many would-be guides are leading clients astray. Consultants often use buzz as their dominant currency, and success is defined more often by numbers of Twitter followers, blog mentions, or YouTube (GOOG) hits than by traditional measures, such as return on investment.”

Business Week: Promises and PitfallsI read the piece expecting to come away with a bunch of misconceptions which I would end up refuting. On the contrary, however, I think the piece pretty much hits the mark on the areas of concern (with the exception of the strangely vague graphic (right) which offers no substance to its claims). In particular:

  • Article: “Their pronouncements follow a rigid gospel: Be transparent, engage with your customers, break down silos.”
  • My take: One size doesn’t fit all. Rigid approaches won’t work – just as with any communications strategy, each organization needs to tailor its approach to fit its culture, is objectives and its own context.”
     
  • Article: “”If something’s got 20 million hits on YouTube, that’s a good thing,” he says. “But what if half the comments are negative? I don’t think anyone’s got a long-term case study yet.””
  • My take: You can’t measure success by views, friends or visits. Each of those may be lovely, but I can’t pay my rent with YouTube views. Do people convert? Do they move further down your funnel? Do less people call your support line? Again, as with other communications, you need to tie back to an organizational goal.
     
  • Article: “Many argue that a fixation on hard numbers could lead companies to ignore the harder-to-quantify dividends of social media, such as trust and commitment.”
  • My take: Trust and commitment are important outcomes. However, they’re not unmeasurable. Customer loyalty is, in many companies, highly measurable. The key in taking a baseline of your target metrics at the outset of programs (social media or other communications) so you can benchmark against that baseline.
     
  • Article: “The best way to avoid a similar backlash today is for social media’s practitioners, including thousands of consultants, to shift the focus from promises to results.”
  • My take: Measurement is critical. My most satisfying client relationships have all incorporated rigorous measurement, and changes to programs based on that measurement.Ensuring a focus on this is a two-way street: communicators (or other stakeholders in social media implementation) need to commit to measuring on an ongoing basis. Meanwhile, companies need to insist on solid measurement throughout.
     

All in all, I think the piece is a worthwhile read – not because everyone working with social media tools is bad, but because stories like this can help to weed-out those who are, indeed, selling snake oil.

What do you think?

Social Media: Anti-Social, Or An Opportunity For Influence?

“Are sites like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube making it easier for customers to hate you?”

Head in the sand

This was the question posed by Timothy Taylor in a Globe and Mail story entitled “anti-social media” yesterday. Using examples such as product faults (he cites Dell’s exploding batteries, although I think they were made by Sony…) and contest results (Nissan Cube), he asks the reader to consider whether social media may give voice to critics as much as to companies.

In his concluding words, “Everything that makes social media such a powerful tool for brand awareness also makes it a tempting platform for brand sabotage.”

Here’s my take.

The toothpaste is out of the tube

Taylor is certainly right in (at least) one respect – social media does give have the potential voice to a company’s critics. Unfortunately for the naysayers, though, the horse has already bolted on that one. Social media tools have been doing that for coming up to ten years now, and I don’t see this going away any time soon.

With that said, let’s face it – if your laptop caught fire (regardless of the manufacturer), you’d be talking about it. If social media weren’t around, it might be with a smaller group of friends but it might also be to your favourite reporter… and the news would still get out.

Social media tools, used properly, can do several things for companies:

  1. Provide an early warning mechanism – social media monitoring can give you an early heads-up when an issue is brewing. Nowadays, social media users don’t just report the news – they often spark it. Dell’s Richard Binhammer once said that social media gives the company a two-week heads-up on news that may break in traditional media. While I imagine that timeframe has shrunk over the two years or so since then as traditional media have clued-in to the online space, it’s still an important point.
  2. Provide insurance in advance – social media tools can help you to put a face (or multiple peoples’ faces) on an otherwise faceless organization. The relationships that you can build through that process probably won’t save you when something goes wrong, but it can make people (a) pause and ask if something is true rather than jumping to a conclusion and (b) take a more balanced view of the issue than they might otherwise.
  3. Provide an opportunity to respond – these new channels – blogs, social networks, etc – give people more of a voice than before, but they also give companies a voice where previously they had none beyond the mass media.

Bottom line: Far from losing control, these new online tools provide an opportunity for influence where companies previously had none.

Is that a good thing?

I guess it depends on whether you’re open to thinking differently about your communications with customers, or whether you’re pretending you can put the conversation back in the tube.

What do you think?

Review: Sysomos Social Media Monitoring Tool

I’ve explored many social media monitoring tools over the last few years. This week I added to the list when I received a demo of Sysomos – a Toronto-based company launched in 2007. Along with Radian6 and the Alterian-acquired Techrigy, Sysomos is one of the well-known players in the monitoring landscape right now.

Sysomos’ offerings are split into two products (see a detailed breakdown on the Sysomos website):

  • Maps – Sysomos’ core tool – offering unlimited search queries and analysis on its database of conversations.
  • Heartbeat – Sysomos’ enterprise-level tool, incorporating search, analysis and workflow management around specific topics.

I’ve structured this review to around the major features I look for in a monitoring tool:

  • Search
  • Analysis features
  • Workflow
  • Price

Search

Historical search

Both Sysomos tools query the same database of conversations, which stretches back to 2006. All users can run queries on this entire database (historical data in the Heartbeat tool comes with an additional cost), which solves a problem I’ve frequently encountered in the past – being able to look back in time to run baseline and historical searches for new clients.

Boolean

Sysomos also allows the creation of boolean searches – a feature I welcome as it allows the creation of complex queries very easily.

Social networks

To my surprise, Sysomos didn’t seem to search the full breadth of social networks we’ve come to expect. When we asked about searching MySpace, for example, we were told that we could find MySpace if we searched for “specific users.”

With that said, Sysomos does include public Facebook pages and groups in its search results. Other tools (Techrigy, for example) do this too, but it’s a useful feature that’s becoming more important as Facebook continues to dominate other social networks (in North America, at least).

Organization

One area in which Sysomos does fall slightly short of its competitors is in the organization of queries. Whereas Radian6 allows hierarchies of queries, so you can separate searches for your competitors from those for your brand, for example.

Analysis features

Interface

The interface on Sysomos products was one of the big eye-openers for me. Long frustrated with interfaces that limit your options, I was pleased to see a very user-friendly dashboard which allows easy on-the-fly customization. Need to narrow your search duration? Just click and drag over a time period on a chart and it adjusts.

Sentiment

Sysomos comes with automated sentiment analysis. I’m a long-time cynic when it comes to this kind of feature. Companies seem to view it as almost a must-have nowadays but I’m not sure why when no-one is able to produce an accurate tool. Sysomos claims its sentiment analysis is 80 per cent accurate, but I’m afraid a 20% error margin is not good enough for me.

With that said, you can manually edit the sentiment assigned to results, and even a mere 80 per cent accuracy does mean less work for the person analyzing the data, so while I don’t consider the sentiment analysis a differentiator, it’s still handy.

Filtering

The filtering system in Sysomos is very simple and flexible. You can layer new filters on top of your search at any time, and it’s easy to add those filters onto your main search permanently if you want to.

Segmentation

While the deep mining doesn’t seem to be quite as powerful as in some other tools, the breadth of options is wider – allowing deeper analysis on geography and a limited demographic breakdown (based on user-disclosed information).

Text analysis

While word clouds are run-of-the-mill nowadays, Sysomos goes one step further through what it calls its “BuzzGraph”, which shows the associations between common words in a search. I found the context provided by BuzzGraph to be a welcome addition to the rudimentary text analysis provided by most services.

Workflow

Maps, as a search/analysis focused offering, doesn’t include a workflow system. Heartbeat, however, does. It incorporates the standard features we’ve come to expect, including task assignments. However, from the brief look I got, it doesn’t seem to go as far as Radian6′s workflow tool, which incorporates deeper categorization of posts, tagging and real-time email alerts.

Price

Sysomos doesn’t come cheap. However, it’s roughly comparable with its competitors.

The Heartbeat tool starts at $500 per month, plus a $500 setup fee. For that you get a limited number of searches and access by up to five people. For double that fee, you can double the number of queries  and get access by an unlimited number of people.

The Maps tool, meanwhile, comes at a flat rate of $2,500 per month. That allows unlimited searches on all data going back to 2006, and unlimited access, making it a potentially cost-effective tool for agencies servicing multiple clients.

Conclusion

I was very impressed with Sysomos. In particular:

  • The flexibility of the user interface is a big plus;
  • Filtering and segmentation tools combine to be a powerful analysis tool;
  • Different products for both corporate and agency needs.

If this has piqued your interest, check out the Sysomos website or their blog, and check out the video earlier in the post for an overview.

Reach Matters – Even In Social Media

“It doesn’t matter how many people you reach; it’s who you reach that matters.”

We hear this kind of statement thrown about all the time in social media circles. The idea is that you don’t need to have a massive following to have influencer or get results. Following closely behind we usually hear something like “if you have three readers and they’re Barack Obama, Gordon Brown and Donald Trump, you don’t need anyone else.”

Who are we kidding?

I’m in contrarian mode here, and I’m calling BS. While that kind of reasoning manages to be true to some extent, in practice, in most cases it’s completely false.

True, because it’s theoretically possible that you could have a tiny niche that keeps you in business and powers growth.

False, because in the vast majority of cases that’s just not going to happen (note: I’m talking proactive public relations here, not stakeholder or government relations). Most of us aren’t selling multi-million dollar solutions to a small group of buyers. The theory is sound, but in reality it usually doesn’t work that way.

Trust matters; so do numbers

It’s a harsh truth. It’s comforting to pat ourselves on the back and tell ourselves that we’re influential. Think about it, though – would TechCrunch be influential without its audience? Would Brogan? Of course, their success didn’t come overnight and they didn’t always have those audiences.  It’s not easy to admit but for most communicators, reach (or audience size) does matter.

  1. In order to get the attention of influencers, you often need a critical mass behind you;
  2. Separate and in parallel to that, the law of averages implies that, over time, the more people you reach the more influential people you will reach.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at your average web traffic then compare it to the last time you got a big mainstream media hit. It’s why I, despite being a social media convert, still argue strongly that mainstream media matters.

The flip side

There is truth to the idea that connecting with influential people can get results.

Right now, I’m in the middle of reading Trust Agents, which revolves around trust and influence. I certainly agree that a person with a highly engaged group of followers on Twitter, for example, will get much better interactions and results than someone who has gamed the system to build a large following.

Still, even within the book the authors admit that Chris Brogan’s reach means that his voice can achieve greater results than those without such an audience. There’s also a bit of a chicken/egg situation – do numbers lead to influence or vice versa?

YMMV

Of course, a well-crafted communications strategy considers the unique goals of an organization/person before deciding on the approach, meaning  a one-size-fits-all answer to this kind of issue doesn’t really apply. However, most of the conversations to which I’m referring here are based around simple audience metrics – blog readers; Twitter followers.

The rose-tinted glasses situation: a focused, targeted audience of highly engaged and influential people could potentially drive results.

The reality: reach matters.

The ideal solution is probably a trade-off between niche and mass.

What do you think?

Social Gaming Hitting A New Level

Xbox LiveLast week, Microsoft rolled out a new update to its Xbox 360 dashboard. Among other changes, the update added Twitter and Facebook functionality to “Gold” users of its service. CNET tells us that “millions” are already using these new services.

The new add-ons allow users to do the usual things that you would expect to do with Twitter and Facebook – browse profiles, tweet, etc, but they also do one very important and very powerful thing, too:

They allow you to see which of your friends on these services are using Xbox Live.

Why is this a big deal? Because, if you’re anything like me, you’re tired of logging on to spend a few minutes playing your favourite game online and being confronted with a bunch of kids yelling vile insults at you. Thanks to those types, I rarely (read: never) play online with people I don’t know.

The problem with that philosophy, though, is that it can be hard to find which of your friends uses the Xbox Live service, leaving the online experience feeling somewhat empty. With these new features, you can scan your Twitter follower and Facebook friends lists to find your fellow gamers, and quickly and easily connect to them.

It’s another step in the merging of social media and social networking into the things we already do online.

  • Mass media websites have incorporated social media tools such as RSS and commenting for a while;
  • Movie producers have used social media features during movie and DVD launches (Fight Club is a great example);
  • Now, social media is further encroaching on one of the largest entertainment industries around – computer gaming.

My bet: in a couple of years, this kind of feature will be so ingrained that people won’t think of it as a “social media” feature – it’ll just be a given when they turn on their console.

What do you think?

Conflicted About Ad.ly

Ad.lyBrowsing through my Google Reader feed this evening, a story in the New York Times caught my eye. The story was about ad.ly – a relatively new service that pays Twitter users to insert advertisements into their Twitter stream.

In the piece, Brad Stone gives a reasonable outline of the service, which counts “celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Dr. Drew and the musician Ernie Halter” among its customers. It also includes a quote from Robert Scoble:

““It interferes with your relationship with your friends and your audience,” said Robert Scoble, a technology blogger with more than 100,000 followers on Twitter, who says he “unfollows” people on Twitter who send him ads.”

Checking the site, ad.ly also counts Darren Rowse, Jason Calacanis, Jeremiah OwyangBrian Solis and Gnomedex founder Chris Pirillo among its users.

I’ve made my feelings about advertising services on Twitter known in the past. Notably, I got a little upset when some advertisers started posting misleading ads through a service called Magpie back in April this year.

However, I feel a little conflicted about this story.

Pros

Money on the side

Ad.ly lets Twitter users generate additional income with little effort.

Control the ads

Users have full control over the messages that are posted – they approve every message posted through their account.

Disclosure

Every message, according to the site, is disclosed as an ad:

“The end of every Ad.ly tweet (except tweets for charity) is marked with “(Ad)” notifying your audience that this is an advertisement. In order to ensure authenticity, every Ad.ly Tweet has to be explicitly approved by the Twitter publisher and is disclosed as an ad.”

Cons

Hijacking your connections

People don’t follow you to hear about the services that pay you to broadcast their messages. They follow to hear about the things YOU like. Still, I don’t watch TV to check the ads out there, but I do watch them. That said, I don’t like it.

While I don’t recoil to the same extent as others (Shannon Boudjema outlines her concerns succinctly here), I still feel uneasy about the concept.

Social media becoming unsocial

Ad.ly inserts ads into your Twitter stream. It’s traditional media piggy-backing on social media. There’s a disconnect between the “push” mechanism in use and the two-way nature of the medium.

Gut

Logic aside, something just doesn’t feel right for me. I have nothing to back this up – perhaps it’s because I don’t consider monetizing my Twitter followers often, but it sits wrong with me.

Bottom line

In case you can’t tell, I’m finding this one tough. Most of the solid logic points to the idea being reasonable, especially given that the Tweets are both approved by users and disclosed as ads. Still, I can’t bring myself to consider using it.

The logic is there, but… there’s a but. but it doesn’t feel right for me. I can’t put my finger on this one.

What do you think?

Welcoming A New Colleague

I’m pleased thrilled to welcome Andrea Pietkiewicz to the Thornley Fallis team.

Andrea joins our social media team this week, bringing with her over 12 years of agency experience with companies such as BBDO and Cossette.

I’m a firm believer that the lines between the communications disciplines are blurring. Public relations agencies no longer compete against each other, and they no longer only need to execute pure PR campaigns – they go up against other types of agencies and are required to plan and sometimes execute cross-functional strategies.

While Andrea shares our vision of social media as a means for long-term engagement, her experience not only adds strength to our social media  but also further expands our ability to perform in this evolving environment.

Oh, and Andrea is also a “Master Scuba Diver Trainer” which I believe gets you a jedi robe and a light saber…

Andrea blogs at beyondthebuzz.wordpress.com and you can find her on Twitter at @scubagirl15.

Welcome, Andrea!

15 Ways PR Agencies Can Help Companies With Social Media

"Help wanted" signAs social media has grown in acceptance within companies over the past few years, one debate never seems to go away – whether agencies should be involved in social media communications, or whether the only way to maintain an “authentic voice” is for companies to undertake it all themselves.

Agencies can help

Not surprisingly (given that I work for a PR agency), I sit in the camp that says that agencies have a significant role to play for many companies. For sure, companies can do some or all of these things themselves, but there’s no reason agencies can’t help without compromising the company’s efforts.

Here are 15 different activities an agency can undertake – legitimately and effectively – to help companies engage in social media.

Getting started

1. Baseline audits

One of the first steps in any communications initiative should be an online audit to both understand the current environment and to set a baseline for measuring results of future activities.

2. Audience research

Alongside an initial audit, learning to understand your target audiences is a foundational piece of a communications strategy, be it online or offline.

3. Corporate policies

Whether your company is engaged in social media or not, it is important to set boundaries around social media. If you are engaging in proactive outreach online, it becomes a somewhat  more involved process covering more areas (for a quick start, check out this ebook on corporate social media policies)

4. Workflow processes

What happens when you spot an issue? When someone asks a question? When someone discusses your company with other people? When someone criticizes you? Who is involved in the response? What will you (and won’t you) respond to?

These are the kinds of questions you need to consider before the occasion arises, and which experienced agencies have encountered often enough to help you answer.

5. Social media training

While it doesn’t take much expertise to send a tweet, the norms of communicating in social media channels can require education and explanation. Social media can require a bit of a departure from the way companies have traditionally communicated. It doesn’t mean anarchy, but traditional “messaging” approaches don’t fly so well in these informal channels. Agencies can help to transfer the necessary knowledge around this to clients new to the social media realm.

6. Social media scoping

You don’t need to be everywhere online. Twitter and Facebook might not be the right places – perhaps your audience is primarily hangs out on forums or message boards. An agency can help to scope-out the right places for your company to establish a presence online.

Strategic planning

7. Strategic development

Agencies can bring together a wide variety of communications experiences and expertise that make them well placed to assist with or lead the strategic development process for social media for their clients.

8. Campaign ideas

Right now my perspective of the ideal approach to social media is a foundational long-term strategypaired with well thought-out campaigns that provide spikes in attention and engagement. As above, agencies can bring together creative minds to design those campaigns.

9. Campaign extension

Unfortunately, PR is still often at a point where it is called-in last minute to support other initiatives, whether it’s announcing something that’s already decided or supporting a marketing/advertising program. At those points, it can be difficult to come up with anything effective that benefits the organization. Agencies aren’t a silver bullet, but again they can contribute ideas.

Execution

10. Ongoing monitoring

Monitoring can be very resource-intensive, especially if your company has a significant footprint online or in peoples’ minds. Agencies are well placed to help deal with this pressure.

11. Online engagement

This is one area that I’ll rarely recommend the agency take on. It’s a lot of work and requires a thorough understanding of the online environment, but it’s something that (in most cases) should be done in-house. It allows for shorter approvals processes (important in a fast-moving conversation) and a more authentic voice.

Still, sometimes companies either can’t or aren’t ready to take this on. It may be resource issues, uncertainty over the medium, trust issues or a variety of other legitimate reasons, but there are times when an agency can undertake this work, as long as it’s transparent. It’s not ideal, but it’s possible, with the goal that, over time, the company will in-source this work.

Regardless, agencies can help to advise companies on their outreach – be it advice wording and norms or on whether in fact to engage or not with specific people.

12. Influencer outreach

I used to call this “blogger outreach” but online influencers are so much broader than just bloggers nowadays. Just as agencies undertake media relations activities in traditional public relations, so they can also reach out to online influencers in the new form PR has taken.

13. Issues management

If your company is interesting and matters to people, they will talk about you. That talk won’t always be positive. Sometimes it’s something you’ve done; sometimes it’s something about your product; sometimes it’s “news.” The list goes on. Regardless, monitoring for issues, identifying them early and coming up with suitable responses isn’t easy.

Full-service

14. Design and creative

More often than not, you’ll need some kind of design work done for your social media properties. Maybe it’s a Twitter background; maybe it’s a Facebook page or YouTube channel design; maybe it’s something more involved such as a stand-alone site. Either way, a full-service agency can help if you don’t have the in-house resources to undertake this work.

15. Development

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and their ilk are tremendously powerful sites, and they may well be where your audience hangs out. Still, there are times when they just may not suffice, or where you want to build on top of the platform they provide – Facebook or mobile apps, for example.

What do you think? Are there other areas I’m missing?

Foursquare’s Potential For Hyper-Local Marketing

In recent weeks, I’ve become fascinated with the location-based social network Foursquare. While I’ve been using location-based apps on my Blackberry and iPod Touch for a while (Google Maps is a good example), Foursquare is the first service that has made me stop and think about the potential of hyper-local marketing on mobile devices, not just down the line but right now.

I’ve had a couple of interesting conversations with April Dunford (wannabe Mayor of Thornley Fallis) recently, which have really spurred that thinking.

Foursquare?

If you haven’t tried Foursquare yet (and most people haven’t), here’s the deal.

Foursquare describes itself as “50% friend-finder, 30% social cityguide, 20% nightlife game.” If you live in a city that’s currently supported, whenever you arrive at a new place you can “check in” to tell the service you’re there.

Each time you “check in” you earn points, which go towards a “leaderboard” of you and the people to whom you’ve chosen to connect. If you’ve visited a place more than anyone else in the last 60 days, you become the “mayor.” It’s largely meaningless, but cute.

So far, nice and simple. And right now, that’s where the service ends. That’s a problem, because the people signing-up for the service can get bored – quickly – if there’s nothing more.

Potential

Right now Foursquare seems to be focused on growing the number of cities it supports. I’m not sure that’s the right approach. If I were them, I would work to build a critical mass of people in a few cities by building-out the product to the meet its full potential.

The team announced a campaign yesterday to allow a company to sponsor its homepage by donating to a charity, so they’re clearly open to ideas. So, let’s stop and think for a minute about Foursquare’s room for enhancements.

Friends

At present, when you check Foursquare, you can see where your friends have checked-in in the last three hours. That’s lovely, but if someone was somewhere three hours ago (unless it’s work or home) they’re probably not there any more.

However, if you were to check into a hotel downtown, it would be great to know if your buddy Steve had recently checked-in somewhere nearby – you could give him a call and see what he’s up to. Maybe the app could pop up an SMS window or offer to dial his number.

Simple, but effective – enabling real-world meetups.

Offers

As a fairly heavy Foursquare user, the company knows where I hang out. I spend my days at the Thornley Fallis offices; I go to the same places for dinner a fair bit – that sort of thing. That kind of real-world behaviour offers an opportunity for them to present me with offers. If I were to be offered $10 off a meal in an area in which I already hang out, I’d be highly likely to take advantage of the offer.

It’s a powerful concept, which can branch off in various directions:

  • A straight customer acquisition play, pushed to any user in the area;
  • A limited-scope acquisition play – offered the first time a user checks in to a place (OrderIt.ca does this when you order from new restaurants through their service – this is a similar concept);
  • A loyalty play by tying the offers to a certain number of visits to the location in question – a bit like a rewards card.

Similarly, we’ve already heard about “Mayor Specials” (for example at Coffee Groundz in Houston, Texas) where the mayor of a certain location gets special treatment. There’s room for a concerted push in this area, beyond their own website, to the owners of businesses that have proven popular with users.

Advertisements

Google has made its billions from providing contextually relevant ads to its users. Google Maps goes one further, providing slightly more targeting based on your search. Foursquare can go even deeper, targeting the areas that you frequent.

This is gold. Online retailers have a relatively easy solution to generating traffic – online ads drive people to your website. Real-world businesses have a different problem. It’s harder to drive people through your door through the current web channels.

Imagine, though, that I received ads targeted to the place where I am now, whenever I checked in. As a small business owner, why on earth wouldn’t you want to invest in ads targeted people who you know are right outside your door? The conversions are a little harder to measure than through an e-commerce site, but it’s a powerful concept.

Focus

All of these things require one foundational step: focus,

Foursquare needs to focus on developing a critical mass in its core markets. Only with a significant number of users in a market does Foursquare become a viable investment for businesses. Right now, just one Toronto business is running a Foursquare promotion, and only one person has checked-in there.

New York, Boston, Toronto – wherever these markets are, the Foursquare team should think about how they can drive deeper adoption of the tool in those communities, first from a consumer perspective and then from a business perspective – where the clear business model lies.

What do you think? Have you tried Foursquare? Where do you think the potential lies?