Social Media: Changing Places

With the advent of location based check in services, the door has opened for retailers to reach consumers in new and creative ways never before possible.

Just as e-commerce businesses are getting a strong hold on utilising current social networking avenues, along comes another facet to consider in any social media strategy – location, location, location.

No, we’re not talking mobile commerce but rather social media in the form of location based check in services such as FourSquare and FaceBook’s Places.

Checking In Socially

FourSquare, which has over 2.6 million international users, is a free smart phone application that works by  updating statuses with current location data when users ‘check in’.  It’s usually linked to users’ FaceBook and Twitter accounts.

Users can provide further information or add tips about a location, while earning badges and points based on the number of times they check into particular locations.  For example, if a user checks into one place more than anybody else, they are given the title of ‘Mayor’ for that spot.

While this doesn’t have any redeemable reward or monetary value with the FourSquare application, FourSquare registered locations are lapping this kind of novelty up and implementing marketing and promotional initiatives around it.

Angela Vithoulkas of Vivo Café in Sydney, endeavoured to create the FourSquare Swarming Record, which requires 50 or more people to check into the same place within three hours.  All in all, Vivo Café received 78 unique visitors, 134 check ins, and the Swarm Badge was unlocked at 9am – two hours after the first venue check in.  Vithoulkas also used this opportunity to generate revenue, by offering checked in customers, a $15 breakfast, donating $5 from each to charity.

Retail and E-Commerce in the Geo Location Sphere

In terms of retail, these kinds of applications have enormous potential, giving creatives and marketers a fantastic path in which to be extremely innovative when it comes to branding, campaigns and promotions.  Gap USA held an event, offering up to 25% off all apparel to all FourSquare users who came to the store and checked in.

Closer to home, retail chain Borders has become one of the first major brands in Australia to run a promotional campaign based around FourSquare.  Borders is rewarding consumer loyalty by giving customers who utilise FourSquare, a 10 percent discount on full-priced books for every third check-in at any one of its 26 stores.

According to Simon McEvory, Managing Director of Tangent One, the digital agency behind the Borders’ campaign, FourSquare connects the digital and offline channels, allowing retailers to reach users in the mobile and digital space – all the while driving traffic to stores or to the website, depending on what the client wants. “It’s a brilliant cross-channel approach,” he says.

“The main emphasis of this style of location-based service is that it allows people to gather easily, while getting a benefit,” explains Fi Bendall, Managing Director of digital and interactive consultancy, Bendalls Group.  “For the location, whether it be a fashion outlet offering discounts for checking in, or a restaurant promoting a menu deal, it provides an easy, low-cost use of social media to drive footfall and revenue.”

Utilising this type of social media avenue is clearly a great way for retailers to drive visibility, traffic and revenue. Australian retailers especially have a great opportunity now, to take advantage of this emerging market as users on FourSquare are still growing.  “At this stage, retailers can test, learn and be forgiven if they get it wrong,” Bendall explains.

And while it might be obvious how bricks and mortar retailers can utilise this kind of social media, rest assured that there’s a place for the pureplay market too.

Pureplay retailers need to get “creative about how geo-location might be used to benefit both business and customers,” explains Social Media Strategist, John Johnson.

Geo-location services offer the potential of organising an event such as a meet-up at a physical location, or location based treasure hunts, adds Johnson.  Bendall agrees by saying that pureplay retailers can utilise geo-location tactically, citing a treasure hunt on FourSquare whereby users collect online vouchers, redeemable on the e-commerce site, as an example.

In the UK, Jimmy Choo organised the “London Sneakers Treasure Hunt Trail”, where one pair of Jimmy Choo trainers checked in at various locations.   Those who followed the campaign and were quick enough to arrive at a venue before the trainers left won a pair in the style and size of their choosing.

Geo Location Battle: FourSquare versus FaceBook Places

While FourSquare hasn’t just checked in on social media radars – it was launched in March 2009 – up until now, it has ruled the geo-roost, over other contenders such as Gowalla and Yelp.  However, this will all change once Places becomes available to all FaceBook users – that is all 500 million of them.

Places works in a similar way to FourSquare, however it implements typical FaceBook features such as tagging, which lets users tag friends in their location updates and even to check in on a friend’s behalf.

The sheer number of FaceBook users gives Places “a serious advantage from day one,” says McEvoy.  “Add to the fact that most of FourSquare’s referrals come from FaceBook and you can see that FaceBook users will have a tough decision to make about getting involved with a new social network for location services, or just use Places on their existing one.”

Yet, Johnson believes that there could be room for more than just Places. “FourSquare certainly has momentum,” he explains, “and although quite small by FaceBook and even Twitter standards, it may still do well.”

As a result, “location based check-in services will become more mainstream over the next six months,” says Bendall.  “I can see directories of places of FourSquare retailers emerging, where you can check out what’s on offer if you check in.”

Moving Forward with Social Media

With location now well and truly covered in the realm of social networking, how can retailers best move forward with social media?

McEvoy feels that we’re beginning to move on from that initial wave of frantic excitement where everyone, particularly marketers and retailers, were preaching social media as a panacea to solve all problems.  “Retailers and brands are now seeing that integrating more traditional marketing efforts with social media, email, e-commerce, location services, etc. produces the best results.”

Johnson advises e-commerce businesses to keep an eye on what’s going on in the social media space.  “Think creatively about how it might be used to benefit the business, as it continues to evolve.”

After all, as social media continues to grow, so too do the ways in which it can be utilised with originality and innovation by businesses in order to stay one step – or check in – ahead of competitors.

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