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?

Dave Fleet
Managing Director and Head of Global Digital Crisis at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.