Foursquare – A Sidewalk Barker in your Pocket

Back in my radio days I used to do a lot of what we called “remotes”, which was short for remote broadcasts. These broadcasts were usually live commercials purchased by an advertiser.

One time I found myself at a shopping mall in a small Canadian town doing what we called a “red light” sale. I was patched into the mall sound system and we had a flashing red light on a post set on a cart. This would be wheeled around the mall from store to store and when in front of a shop, people knew that store had special offers. My job was simply to let everyone know the light had lit on some location. Yes, this was definitely a highlight of my broadcast career.

Crazy as it may sound, it worked and the mall was packed for the “red light sale”. People followed that red light around as if it were the goose about to lay a golden egg.

When I read about retailers leveraging social media and specifically Foursquare, I’m always reminded about that old red light sale. For example, Radio Shack has a promotion running now where they use it as a kind of virtual sandwich board to draw people in to their stores when they are nearby. According to Radio Shack, using Foursquare seems to be working for them with users spending 3.5 times more in the store than those who don’t use Foursquare.

Quoting directly from the RealtimeNY11 post, here’s how the promotion works:

  • Foursquare users don’t have to follow Radio Shack to be alerted of its special offers.  When a Foursquare user is near a Radio Shack location, they’ll see a “Special Nearby” icon on their phone screen (if it is the closest available merchant deal on the platform). When they click on the icon, the offer details and the store’s location come up.
  • Foursquare’s 3.0 app, released last month, allows brands to run different special offers across various locations, and brands can choose from seven types of “specials.”  The Radio Shack campaign offers a “Newbie Special” (1st time check-ins get 20% off), and a “Check-in Special” (users get 10% off).  Mayors get 20% off.
  • Radio Shack is also experimenting with the Google Latitude Check-in Offers program, which offers tiers of checking in. Check-ins on Google’s platform at Radio Shack can make you a “SHACKaholic” (top tier – 20% discount), a “SHACKspert” (middle tier – 15% discount) or “SHACKreational” (entry tier – saves 10%).

People have a very personal relationship with their smartphones and are more likely to read messages (from a number of channels) on them. Remember, this is their phone, web browser, SMS, email reader and social media portal all wrapped up in one portable unit. It’s hard to ignore your pants or purse ringing or vibrating, isn’t it?

So, now retailers have a virtual remote broadcast running 24/7 or you could describe it as having your own personal sidewalk barker drawing people into your store.

The first thing I learned in radio was that there are no new promotions, just variations on a theme. That’s something which might be helpful for marketers to keep in mind when considering how to use social applications such as Foursquare. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to be successful with something like this. With a little creativity and planning, you can successfully apply tried and true marketing and promotion techniques via these new social channels.

You’ll likely hear a lot about these kinds of social media promotions and marketing tactics at the upcoming RealtimeNY11 conference in New York on June 6th.