Check In and Unlock Cincinnati
Foursquare, the location-based mobile application, is growing in usage and leverage in Cincinnati. As more businesses offer deals when users check in, the city is being unlocked as badges are claimed and specials are awarded. Frequent customers are enjoying the rewards, friends are sharing spots and becoming new customers, and Mark Mallory is no longer the only mayor in town.
A great way to share and discover what's happening now, Foursquare allows users to alert their social networks of their current location, add tips for what to do, that pop up when others check in and gives users the opportunity to collect badges for their adventures. The location-sharing social network keeps track of checks in, providing points for each spot and more points for new venues (only one check in her place per day counts), and awards "mayorship" to the person who appears the most at any given check in spot. For many businesses, the free advertisement is still just that. But more places are creating enticing deals to bring customers back and encouraging them to promote their location.
More local companies are offering tangible rewards for customer loyalty. James Heller-Jackson, Marketing Director of Take the Cake in Northside, says their Tuesday Foursquare deal helps to increase their visibility on Facebook and Twitter.
"Our mayor always receives free coffee. And we also post a secret word on Tuesdays that entitles patrons to $1 off their lunch from our blackboard menu," said Jackson. By being a part of their social tribe, customers enjoy the perks and are more likely to talk to their friends about the benefits of frequenting the bakery and café.
"Social media is hugely effective in bringing people to Take the Cake - but we wouldn't have the success with social media if we didn't have a very good product."
The Tuesday deal was started to increase business on one of their slower days, which it has according to Heller-Jackson. Take the Cake has plans to create new Foursquare deals as more patrons continue to check in and increase their impressions.
As businesses leverage Foursquare for increased revenue, local customers are enjoying more than just complimentary treats. Chris Ostoich of Blackbook EMG is using the location-based application to figure out "how we can help improve the visibility of our client's relationships with vendors." Blackbook EMG works with people who are new to the Cincinnati market and recommends venues, theatre, restaurants and more, based on their preference. Until now, they have not had the ability to track if the venues have been frequented Foursquare gives them the opportunity.
"It's great to have to analytics behind it - there's value in that. But we're not seeing enough participation on the vendor side," said Ostoich. He recently checked in at Tazza Mia in East Walnut Hills for coffee and wrote the owner a note requesting a special on one of their "ridiculously good" chocolate chip cookies. The owner responded to keep an eye out the following week for a deal to come. This transparent and open interaction between consumers and business owners is helpful in creating marketing efforts, as they receive unsolicited information on what their clients and customers are seeking. Ostoich also enjoys the gaming aspect, not for earning points, but to share information with friends.
"We were having dinner at Jean Robert's Table last week and a friend showed up after he saw we checked in. It's become sort of a game for us to get somewhere first or to find each other when we're out," said Ostoich. "When we get more vendors to participate in the specials, there will be more attendance and visibility. I think we have just started to scratch the surface on location based marketing tools. The number of people using the application is still quite small, but they said that about social media five years ago. Mobile devices are becoming more and more powerful," said Ostoich.
Bill Donabedian of 3CDC and Fountain Square is learning how to leverage the technology in a space that doesn't exactly offer a product or service. As Fountain Square offers free programming and events, they are exploring ideas for incentives to check in on Foursquare.
"Most businesses have a service to provide something free. The Square is open twenty four-seven, without a product, so we're still working on incentives. Perhaps the deals will be for the parking garage, or surrounding businesses," said Donabedian. And of course there is the concern of measuring analytics for the new technology. "There is no paper trail; it's a challenge to figure out how to validate a check in on the device and communication this with the vendors on the square, since they all independently owned and operated," he said.
Like any social networking, Foursquare helps the Square as they don't have revenue for advertising. The geotagging allows them to be highly targeted and constantly allows people to know what others are doing.
"Any time we can leverage social networking, it allows us to compete where we normally cannot and that's really the advantage. Without question it has been the best return on investment for us - it takes time and has to be used properly but it's basically free and has provided the results we need," said Donabedian. He says that Fountain Square plans to offer their first Foursquare deal when the ice skating rink opens around Thanksgiving, with free skate rental for the mayor or free skating after a certain number of check-ins.
Local businesses have a nearly limitless opportunity to leverage this marketing tool and blossom customer loyalty and word of mouth - or mobile - advertising connections. Jackie Reau of Gameday Communications agrees. She is working with numerous clients to counsel them on the new technology.
"It's a great tool to use to cultivate new customers and engage current customers. Foursquare generates mass appeal to stores or restaurants and then you know the name and profile of cutomers checking in. It's very trackable," says Reau. She also enjoys the entertainment aspect of checking in on Foursquare.
"I love the game aspect, and I'm very competitive for mayorships," she says. "In my own office, I'm not the mayor! A guy I work with bumped me as mayor last Friday and I said 'This is not a great way to start my day."
Like Ostoich, Reau also sees the value in shouting your location to your social webs. While dining at Senate in the Gateway Quarter, she recently checked in and a friend sent her a Facebook message telling her to stay and they were on their way to join. "I like looking to see how people are using it and the badges are fun. It's fun to see who else is there in the facility or organization."
Laura Morarity of Wordsworth Communications believes that Cincinnati businesses can benefit from Foursquare opportunities with social media as well.
"The key for businesses to leverage location based services is to make sure they're offering their services with other social media presence, she says. "On Foursquare, they must make sure it's not a standalone item; the efforts must be integrated with Facebook and Twitter presence as well," Morarity explains.
The Taft Museum of Art is currently offering free admission for the mayor's fifth check in, free dessert with entree purchase in the café for your tenth check in and even free Individual level membership after the fifteenth check in.
"It's been a great tool to increase awareness," says Tricia Suit, Director of Marketing and Communication at the museum. "It's been fun to see who's checking in and start conversations with them about the art; and it shows we're paying attention."
Badges are earned by checking in for special events, a certain amount of check ins or checking in to places with large amounts of Foursquare users, such as the Swarm badge. Checking in at the Dilly Deli in Mariemont unlocks a badge that earns users a free beer cheese appetizer, for example, but few official badges have been created in the Cincinnati market.
As more businesses get on board with Foursquare and checking in provides benefits and deals to Cincinnati customers, businesses will continue to expand their offerings. Consumers are more likely to patronize a business now because of Foursquare, as it adds an element of entertainment to their social networking or it's for the free dessert and to show friends that they are hip to a new place or to shoot out a welcome invite to join them.
Phototgraphy by Scott Beseler
Foursquare application on the Blackberry
Checking in at Jean Roberts Table
Bill Donabedian checking into It's Just Crepes
Foursquare logo (provided)
The Taft Museum