SXSW: Foursquare CEO Dishes on Deals and Monetization

Austin, TX – Foursquare marketers who’d like to see more foot traffic generated by mobile search and the deals they are running may be pleased with the geo-social app’s next iteration, CEO Dennis Crowley suggested during his SXSW keynote today.

“We’re disassembling the app and reassembling it to encourage people to explore,” he said. It was one of a handful of times Crowley used the word “explore” during a Q&A-styled session.

Foursquare introduced an Explore button in January that’s become a recommendations engine for people wanting to discover restaurants, bars, and other retailers in their current locale. When users click the button, a Specials tab is prominently placed to help them see nearby check-in deals from merchants big and small, as well as syndicated offers from Groupon, LivingSocial, and Scoutmob.

“Deals have been part of the product since the beginning,” Crowley said. “Specials have been baked into it.”

The CEO credited deals and specials with his app’s impressive growth, as three-year-old Foursquare recently went from 5 million users to 15 million in 12 months.

“That’s how we are getting big,” he said. “[We] help them save money.”

And during the sit-down with TechCrunch writer MG Siegel, Crowley admitted his New York-based company still had a lot of work to do in developing monetization strategies. He suggested his app wants to allow game developers and other businesses more revenue-sharing options like distributing Foursquare deals and specials.

“They asked me the same [revenue-sharing] question last year,” Crowley said. “You can ask me again next year, and the answer will hopefully be different.”

Dave Barger is a web strategist for Memphis-based LunaWeb who headed a location-based marketing panel on Saturday. He said Foursquare must continue to strike a healthy balance between mobile-social experience and retail deals.

“If it gets too loud and noisy, people will go elsewhere,” Barger said. “Foursquare has to be careful with that.”

Foursquare’s Big Night at SXSW

During his keynote, Crowley said that 800 Foursquare users, at some point during Friday night, checked in at the 126-year-old Driskill Hotel in downtown Austin. ClickZ can confirm around 680 people had checked in by 10 p.m.

The Driskill’s upstairs bar is a popular spot for agency staffers and brand marketers to drink cocktails during SXSW, and it was participating in the Foursquare program this weekend that credits American Express card holders $10 for checking in. Foursquare is one year into an agreement with Amex that offers credit for check-ins.

“People love those deals,” Crowley said.

But will Foursquare ever be something regular consumers enthusiastically use? Or will its highlights continue to reflect the Driskill Hotel check-ins explosion, where largely only marketers and tech geeks participate?

“I think three years from now,” Crowley said, “people will look back and say, ‘How did we live without this stuff?'”

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