This past Friday, April 16th, was the first Foursquare Day. I participated. Many others did. Many more should have.
If you’re not familiar with Foursquare, it’s a location-based application which combines social networking with a sort of urban exploration game. It’s often been referred to as “the next Twitter”; a comparison which seems oddly appetizing to business types, given that the wildly popular, four-year-old Twitter has only recently come up with an unexpectedly pedestrian plan to turn a profit.
Foursquare isn’t quite yet spreading like wildfire, due largely to a general public perception that is, perhaps ironically, similar to that of Twitter: “What’s the point?”
I still hear the question asked about Twitter four years after its inception, and I still find it difficult to explain when people ask me. Twitter is a brain-dump, sure. It’s also a great tool for networking and promotion, if one knows how to implement it. But so is Facebook. So why would one need a Twitter account if one already has a Facebook account? The short answers are that Twitter has a “smartphone convenience factor” that is not quite present with Facebook, Twitter allows more of a feeling of individualized communication, and of course it doesn’t hurt from a marketing standpoint to carry your eggs in different baskets. In fact, to an extent, the more baskets you have the more eggs you can carry.
Which brings us to Foursquare. “What’s the point?” I didn’t quite have an answer to that question at first, either. Foursquare’s stated purpose is to “encourage you to discover new places and challenge you to explore your neighborhood in new ways.” Okay. Great.
This is how it works: if you are at a location or business, you are able to “check in” using your smartphone (or other form of internet access; smartphone apps are usually most convenient.) If you have friend connections on Foursquare, you can see where you friends have checked in and when. Badges are awarded for achievements, similar to video game achievement awards. If you have the most check-ins at a place, you become the “mayor” of that place. Yeah, it sounded kinda ridiculous to me at first too.
When I signed up (about two weeks ago), it was in order to try Foursquare out and see if I would find it useful, as I do Twitter. I was able to check in at a Publix supermarket parking lot. So far it wasn’t impressing me. “What’s the point?”
Then I heard about Foursquare Day. Quick background: Foursquare Day was dreamed up little over a month ago by a Tampa optometrist named Nate Bonilla-Warford. The idea was that on April 16th, local businesses would offer specials to patrons who “checked in” on that day, or who had become “mayor” by that time. At the end of the day there would be a “swarm” at a predetermined location. A “swarm” involves at least 50 people checking in at the same place within a short time period.
I thought that it would be a cool thing to participate in. It was conceived in Tampa, and it was focused on drawing attention to local businesses. I’m all about that, of course, so I began promoting Foursquare Day via Twitter and Facebook. By the time I heard about it, the Foursquare Day idea was spreading to different cities around the world, which made it even more intriguing. I was excited.
Then April 16th rolled around.
Let me begin by saying that the people who put Foursquare Day together and promoted it did a really great job. And I’m glad that all the people who participated chose to do so. I just wish that more people had participated.
I checked in at over ten locations that were offering Foursquare Day specials, and I spent money at almost every one. I did so because I felt that part of the purpose of the event was to demonstrate to businesses that Foursquare (and the tech community) can be a valuable promotional tool. To that end, I’m not sure that we succeeded. At the time of this writing, several Tampa businesses that offered specials on the Foursquare Day website have a total of only three or four check-ins. Ever. It’s a little disappointing that they reached out and didn’t get much of a response. Hopefully we can do better next year.
I understand that not everyone was able to participate to the extent that I did, and I also know that there may be some benefits to businesses that are not quite as noticeable as immediate sales. For example, I think that the businesses listed on the Foursquare Day website may have gained some notoriety behind the scenes. I’m a primary administrator for the Facebook page of a business that participated, and in the week leading up to Foursquare Day we had an unusual jump in Facebook fans. That could be a coincidence but I don’t think so.
But even if it is, I personally gained awareness of businesses that I previously was unacquainted with, some of which are hidden treasures of Tampa. Examples are Cafe Hey on Franklin Street and the Why Not Boutique on MacDill. If a few of us found great new places, we can tell our friends about them. And they can tell their friends.
Now, thanks to Foursquare Day, I see the point of Foursquare.
I’m looking forward to the next Foursquare Day, and what I’m hoping will be an increase in participation.