Since launching 18 months ago, Foursquare has emerged as a popular marketing platform for small businesses such as restaurants, bars, wine shops, and retailers.
ClickZ examined five small businesses that launched marketing campaigns using the geo-location service and followed up with interviews with each business. What emerged is a look at the triumphs and missteps that marketers on Foursquare are experiencing around the country.
Checking in at a Local Golden Corral, Fuddruckers: Tepid Results
Because a lot of coverage around Foursquare marketing efforts has been almost celebratory, let's start with two sobering examples before looking at success stories.
A Golden Corral franchisee in Cary, NC, ran a sweepstakes-based promotion from May 12 through June 16, where the Foursquare "mayor" received one free meal and drink per day. And other restaurant patrons who showed their check-in screen to the cashier were entered to win a free 16GB iPad.
Since that promotion ended, the restaurant has been offering a free meal for every fifth check-in to all Foursquare users. But even though the restaurant is located only about 15 miles from the tech-savvy Research Triangle area, the results have been modest: it's picked up 107 users on its Foursquare page.
Dave McAdoo, assistant manager of the Golden Corral, said interest has waned dramatically since the iPad contest ended. "Once in a while, we see people checking in, but it's really tapered off since the giveaway promotion," he said.
And a Fuddruckers location in West Homestead, PA, has seen similarly limited results. It has been offering a $10 gift card for every 10 check-ins, as well as free milkshakes for the mayor. Since launching its Foursquare page six months ago, the restaurant has picked up 148 patrons on the platform.
"It brings in a little foot traffic," said Andy Buttari, store manager. "You see people come in and check-in with their phones here and there."
Burger Joint Increases Sales by 110 Percent
AJ Bombers, a specialty burger joint in Milwaukee, has 1,400 people on its Foursquare page who have checked in 6,000 times. The mayor gets a free burger, and currently that's "Amy" - who has had to check-in 40 times in the last 60 days at this one-location establishment in order to achieve the distinction. Also, people who add a tip to the restaurant's Foursquare page get a free cookie when they show it to a waiter or cashier.
Impressively, the restaurant drew 161 check-ins on Feb. 28, while seeing a 110 percent sales increase when compared to a normal Sunday. Joe Sorge, owner of the restaurant, said his company landed the business while fundraising for the Milwaukee Social Media Community, which wanted to host an event at South by Southwest (SXSW) only a few weeks away.
To bring people into the store that day, Sorge promoted an AJ Bombers-branded "Swarm Badge" event to his Foursquare-using regulars. Such a custom badge is awarded to users who check in at a location where at least 50 other users are simultaneously checked in. On top of the sales lift, AJ Bombers raised more than $500 toward the SXSW event.
One of the best paths to such success, said the restaurant owner, lies in implementing Foursquare as a regular part of operations. "Our staff encourages the use and engagement of Foursquare by virtue of our Foursquare specials being very prominent throughout our business," he said. "It encourages our customers to ask questions of our staff. Education of that staff is the key."
Sorge also pointed out that not many SMBs can get a custom badge from Foursquare, which has been swamped with requests. "The best advice that I could give businesses is to make Foursquare work for you…be creative within the existing system that they’ve developed," he said. "Just like any other social media campaign, this is not a 'silver bullet.' Your business systems and methodology should already be in tip top working order before turning an extra spotlight upon yourself."
Wine Shop Shows A Good Offer Needs An Equal Effort
Green Grape is a wine shop located in the heart of New York City's Financial District and offers customers who check in 10 percent off for up to 11 bottles of wine. For high-end wines, that is a fairly lucrative discount.
But owner Seth Datz said store patrons have infrequently taken advantage of the savings possibility. "A customer every now and then will check in, but hardly anyone does," he said.
Why not? Datz said his company has done little to promote the Foursquare offer other than a homemade sign or two advertising it in the store.
In other words, as Sorge from AJ Bombers suggested, a Foursquare page is not enough to get customers active on the platform. Retailers must also have a strong integration plan in place to reap the big sales.
'Skee-Ball' Bar Is A Foursquare Winner - Without A Loss-Leader
And sometimes it simply pays to be way cool. Full Circle Bar appears to be such a case, as the Brooklyn, NY-based drinking establishment has accrued 1,100 people on its nine-month-old Foursquare page without any formal offers. It's located in the hipster-packed Williamsburg neighborhood and attracts a crowd of marketing professionals, artists, and freelance writers.
Those cultural types and others often frequent Full Circle Bar to play a bar version of the boardwalk game skee-ball, said owner Eric Pavony. He suggested that the skee-ball and Foursquare mentalities go hand-in-hand. Pavony said his tech-savvy patrons have gravitated toward habitual Foursquare usage and are competitive about checking in.
"It's become part of our daily social life here," he said. "People walk in, check in, and carry on."
While there are no formal rewards for becoming Full Circle Bar mayor, he said bartenders are encouraged to give free drinks to people competing for the Foursquare distinction.
"When we hear someone say, 'Hey dude, why did you knock me off as mayor?,' we hook that person up," he said. "There's a correlation between the people who get hooked up with free drinks and people on Foursquare."
How about putting up signage around the bar to encourage even more Foursquare activity? "You know, I was thinking about doing something like that," Pavony explained. "But it didn't seem that cool. Foursquare is one of those technologies that simply catches on. And I think it is more likely to catch on if it's not forced on people."
What's more, a Full Circle Bar patron has created a Foursquare page for the bench that sits outside the establishment's front door. It hasn't been nearly as successful when compared to the bar, though, while garnering only eight users on its geo-social page.
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Christopher Heine was a senior writer for ClickZ through June 2012. He covered social media, sports/entertainment marketing, retail, and more. Heine's work has also appeared via Mashable, Brandweek, DM News, MarketingSherpa, and other tech- and ad-centric publications. USA Today, Bloomberg Radio, and The Los Angeles Times have cited him as an expert journalist.