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.


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.


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.


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.


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 ( 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.


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.


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?

23 Responses toFoursquare’s Potential For Hyper-Local Marketing

  • Dave,

    Low hanging fruit is where the younger generation hangs out. They have the networks on Facebook that they can take right into Foursquare and always interested in where everyone is and what they are doing. Nightclubs, Bars, Restaurants can have the biggest impact on their sales by just creating a buzz about Foursquare and what they have going on.
    Business travelers in Airports also could be targeted it seems that crowd is checking in more with downtime between flights- they are a captured market for the establishments already there so it could move some folks.
    Foursquare check in for parties traveling to a conference with the same company from different cities.. the list goes on.

    I will be watching this as it matures as a tool for clients in the #smallbiz market to use.

  • I’ve just started using Foursquare and am surprised at some of the things that have happened. I’ve had people text me about some of the locations I’ve been to and ask questions about the food, service, etc.. Living in a large metroplex like Dallas-Fort Worth where the primary mode of transportation is automobile, I was curious to see if Foursquare would have the same type of spark as it does in NYC. I’ve been pleasantly surprised and while I think the original intention was for nightlife, I’m seeing people in DFW use it differently, checking in all day.

  • Great post on foursquare. The idea you’re talking about with “offers” was announced in a way under: .. not sure how many cities and businesses can take advantage of it yet, but they are heading in that direction for sure.

    Also with that BART mention ( a few weeks ago. Foursquare is really looking for unique ways to market themselves I think. I agree with you idea of building up critical mass before launching in so many cities. We’ll see how the way foursquare plans to do it plays out.

  • This does sound like an interesting app with a lot of potential – how many people would you say are currently using it? Haven’t heard of it here in England. I guess the power with something like this comes as it attracts more users and the advertising and offers you are suggesting become a worthwhile investment for local businesses to get involved with. Currently then on Foursquare, you interact in a private network containing those you have selected? So in theory there will end up being multiple mayors of each location? I imagine there is also a ‘public’ leaderboard which you can choose to enter? All very intriguing.

  • Dave,

    You’re the first person to set me straight on what the heck FourSquare does. I’ve seen the Twitterati mention it in the stream, but never got round to the few clicks it takes to find out more. One of the reasons being that it seemed to lack focus… to your point.

    — Axle Davids

  • I agree heavily with this view on Foursquare. There is sooo much potential out there for a new vehicle in advertisement. It’s something so simple to implement and really does not take much for maintenance. I have only been using Foursquare for about 3 months, but within the first couple weeks i was realizing it’s potential.

    I will be excited to see where this service is in 6 months. I expect a lot of new features to be rolling out soon (besides new cities).

  • I think this is a really interesting concept. Like you said, this is definitely an idea that needs to be extremely focused, which makes me wonder how practical it is. I’m an implant to Chicago from a small city in Ohio. While I can see the concept working here, it’s not something that would reach my hometown anytime soon. With the most popular social media sites (Facebook, twitter, youtube) being sites that are equally useful to people in big cities, small towns and every place in between, how likely is it that hyper-local networking sites will be the next big thing? If it did become big in larger cities, is this something that could eventually be implemented in smaller cities?

  • At UNC Charlotte we’re using Foursquare to connect with our students and offer them promotions for on-campus dining locations and university-branded items like rally towels. We’re hoping to expand into adding tips & to-dos to our locations and more tightly targeting (by location, by date & time, etc.) our promotional messages. We still have a lot to learn about how to really take advantage of the Foursquare platform, but we think it has tremendous potential.

    More info about our use of Foursquare:

    • Thanks for the info, Brian. Very interesting program – I’d love to hear more about it as it develops…

  • The element that could be the end of these geo-location based services is the firehose effect they have on other social platforms. In the past 2 weeks, I’ve had to hide the Newsfeed and unfollow friends on Facebook and Twitter that use these services to overshare what they are doing and where they are at. It’s the same effect that status updates had in their infancy, but on steroids with new applications that are unwelcome and not relevant to the channel.

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