SocialSocial MediaWhat Foursquare’s Swarm App Means for Businesses

What Foursquare’s Swarm App Means for Businesses

The unbundling of Foursquare's two functionalities has led to two separate apps - Foursquare and Swarm. What does this mean for marketers?

Earlier this month, Foursquare released a sister app, Swarm, which is a social heat map of sorts, helping users find friends and interesting things in close proximity to their current location.

Swarm maintains some of the core functionality that we have come to know, but don’t love so much anymore, about Foursquare – the check-in. Foursquare has seen a declining interest in checking in over the past year, and noticed that most users either use the app for finding friends or for finding businesses, but not for both.

So Foursquare decided to unbundle the two functionalities and create two separate apps, a trend that has emerged lately due to evolving mobile usage trends (think Facebook Messenger). At one time, companies were competing for home screen placement, which meant that a single app had to be a comprehensive environment, allowing users to experience everything the company had to offer in a single place. Now that users are becoming more mobile savvy and improved search functionality on phones allows you to find the app you’re looking for with a quick swipe and click, it’s not as important to provide that all-encompassing experience. What is important is providing value to the user, without interrupting their lives or requiring too much attention (or battery life).


Swarm shows which of your friends are “right here” (within 500 feet), “nearby” (within 5 miles), “in the area” (within 20 miles), or “far far away.”

That’s just what Foursquare believes they can do with the combined powers of both apps – Swarm for socializing and Foursquare for discovery. A new version of Foursquare will be released later this summer, which will completely remove the check-in functionality, and focus solely on exploring and learning about local businesses instead. For now, you can access Swarm by opening the app directly from a menu link within the Foursquare app (see image below), or when you click check-in on the Foursquare app (assuming you have downloaded Swarm).


After downloading Swarm, you will see a link to the app in your profile menu on Foursquare.

How can the app do this without check-ins? Foursquare is leveraging Pilgrim, their predictive intelligence technology, which uses GPS signals, cell tower triangulation, personalized historical activity (e.g., number of dive bars or concert venues you check in to), and Wi-Fi networks to understand the location of an individual user and recommend nearby businesses. They currently refer to these data points as “passive check-ins,” and although they may be a little too creepy for some users today, it is likely they’ll become the norm in the future.

Foursquare has stated that they never really meant for check-ins to be the main action on the app when they first launched in 2009. Due to limited technology and a lack of business data, however, they were forced to require the feature as a means for expanding their footprint. With advanced mobile technology and some 60 million venue points on Foursquare, they’re now ready to take the next step.

This direction is great for users, but how does it apply to local businesses or national companies with multiple locations? There are several things you can do as a business to leverage Swarm and the new Foursquare.

Claim Venues

Local search and discovery is the main focus of Foursquare, so a critical first step for any business is to claim any venues already listed on Foursquare, or create new listings. If you have multiple locations (10+), Foursquare provides forms and spreadsheets to manage this location data more efficiently. You will need to create a brand page for multi-location business, which allows for ease of data management. Foursquare has indicated that the current version of local updates will be changing in the near future, but users will soon have a broader ability to leave tips about local businesses.

While Swarm and Foursquare are two separate apps, the venue data will not be duplicated and can still be managed in one place. For example, an address changed on Foursquare will be updated on Swarm as well. An added benefit of managing venue data on Foursquare is that your data will be updated across numerous other apps and sites as well – Foursquare is the motherboard for nearly all apps using location data. Pinterest, Vine, Evernote, Path, Flickr, and Serious Eats are just a few of the companies using Foursquare’s Venue API to integrate and populate location data.

Increase Foot Traffic

The new Foursquare will provide results that are not only exclusive to a user’s location, but are also personalized to show what an individual user will enjoy “based on everywhere that person and their friends have ever been,” according to Foursquare chief executive (CEO) Dennis Crowley. That means results are personalized, and cannot easily be molded using keyword or other listing optimization.

To increase the potential for showing up on users’ feeds, your business needs to increase the number of people actually visiting your store. It’s no longer just about increasing check-in volume. The passive check-in means that even if a user doesn’t explicitly say they visit a ramen noodle shop three times a week, Foursquare will know and may start showing that restaurant to their friends. And when that person is in a new city and there’s a ramen place nearby, Foursquare will show that restaurant in a discovery result because they know that person loves noodles.

Increasing foot traffic to your store requires a combination of on- and off-line initiatives. Run advertising campaigns with your local media, host events at your store or restaurant, establish relationships with other local businesses and organizations, get active on social media channels, and run Specials on Foursquare. Specials will be changing a bit too, as Foursquare will ultimately remove Mayor Specials going forward. Mayorships, in addition, will be reduced to existing only among your friends so that you’re not competing with a bunch of random strangers for the top spot at a local business.

Run a Foursquare Ad Campaign

Foursquare has reported success from their advertising product, launched to a small number of brands about two years ago and opened up to all businesses in October 2013. Ads have helped Foursquare to grow revenue from approximately $2 million in 2012 to $12 million in 2013, and they are projecting between $40 and $50 million in 2014.

Ad prices are auction-based with a per-action fee – saving an ad for later, sharing it, or checking in – and only targeted to nearby users or those likely to become a customer (i.e., those that have visited your business or a similar business recently, or searched for something related), making these ads a cost-efficient way to increase awareness and drive foot traffic.



Foursquare ads can currently be seen at the top of the search feed. Clicking on an ad bring you to a landing page within Foursquare. The look and feel of Foursquare ads may change with the new release later this summer.

Measure Performance and Learn About Customers

Once you create a brand page, you are provided access to Foursquare’s analytics interface, which includes basic customer demographics, check-in volume across all locations, sharing volume for check-ins, and popular geographic areas.

Create Personal Connections

Swarm can be a great tool for finding other business partners or connections nearby for an impromptu meet-up. Let’s say you’re traveling to Chicago for a conference – you could potentially see which of your contacts are near McCormick Place and reach out to schedule a meeting. They, of course, must be using the app and you have to have other’s contact information for reaching out in order to make it work. Swarm makes this easy by linking all contact info to their profile. The hard part is organizing your contact list to ensure it’s entirely accurate and up-to-date within your phone.

The release of Swarm heralds a major shift for Foursquare and location data sharing in general, but the ways in which a business should leverage Foursquare haven’t changed drastically. Swarm has certainly brought renewed interest in location sharing over the past few weeks, but the biggest questions will be regarding whether this increased interest will translate to increased activity, and whether users will keep and continue using both apps separately, or will simply delete Foursquare in favor of Swarm. I have seen a number of people posing this question on various social networks lately, and have not seen a consensus either way. I personally use Foursquare for both finding businesses and finding friends, so I see the value of keeping both apps and using them for their different purposes.

How do ClickZ readers use Foursquare – for finding friends or finding businesses? Will you keep both apps, or will you remove Foursquare after downloading Swarm?

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