Lessons From Using Foursquare In the Restaurant Industry


If you haven’t heard of foursquare and you run a restaurant, bar or other retail location, then you need to run to the foursquare website after you finish reading this blog post and start learning about it now.  This is the 3rd follow-on post in my series of 7 Social Media Must-do’s for the Restaurant Industry.

What is foursquare? – Before I get started, I will provide a short description of foursquare.  foursquare is a location-based game/service that lets people with GPS-enabled smartphones ‘check into’ various venues or locations.  foursquare users earn points for each venue they check into and the person who has the most checkins at a location is ‘elected’ the mayor of that venue.  There is a social aspect of the game as you can announce your whereabouts to your foursquare friends or broadcast it publicly via integrations with Twitter and Facebook.  For restaurants, foursquare is a customer loyalty program that is essentially free for you to leverage and the first (or second) movers in this area can plant a pretty big competitive stake in the ground with a minimal outlay.

A typical foursquare dashboard

Why is foursquare important? My reasons for experimenting with foursquare are based on the traffic I’m seeing in our test locations and mentions I am seeing in our social media feeds.

Traffic is increasing dramatically – Looking at the last 30 days at our two test locations shows that check-in traffic has increased by 2 to 3 times over the previous 30 days.  It is  too early to tell if this trend will continue, but it is a good and encouraging sign that foursquare is rapidly gaining mindshare and traffic.  As a comparison, Twitter also started off slowly over 2 years ago but it quickly gathered momentum like a snowball rolling downhill.

Free mentions – Another great side benefit of foursquare is that 10 to 25% of the users have integrated their foursquare accounts with either Twitter, Facebook or both services.  This means that they publicly broadcast their whereabouts whenever they check-in, add a tip or brag that they become the new mayor of a location.  These mentions are ‘free’ publicity for your brand, increases your brand awareness and could encourage other potential customers to visit.

Automated foursquare tweet on Twitter

What reporting does foursquare provide? foursquare excels at providing simple yet powerful information to owners of business accounts.  Access to the Stats alone should be worth it for business owners to claim their business listings on foursquare.  The statistics are very visual and appealing, and foursquare gives kudos for the inspiration of their dashboard to Nicholas Felton’s amazing Feltron Annual Reports.

The top line stats include the cumulative number of checkins, unique visitors, the mayor and business details.

Example of Summary Analytics in foursquare

The detailed stats for each claimed foursquare location include Key Metrics, Top Visitors and Most Recent Checkins, and there is a simple filter to view the data from today, yesterday, last week , last 30 days, last 60 days and all time.  One feature that I like is to see the most recent checkins along with the users Twitter handle if they have added it to their profile.  One of our rules is to follow everyone on Twitter who mentions our brand or who checks in to a location via foursquare, so this feature makes it very easy to follow new fans.  In any case, foursquare offers some great insights to frequent customers and a way to recognize and connect with them.

Example of foursquare Detailed Stats

How do I add an offer on foursquare? It is pretty easy to add an offer on foursquare.  A typical offer consists of a promotion for someone who checks into your venue and a more valuable promotion or spiff for the location’s mayor.  If the offer is perceived as valuable enough, the competition to claim the mayorship will result in many repeat visits and publicity which should more than offset the cost of the promotion.

Add A Special Promotion on foursquare

What else have I learned? The biggest insight so far is that not all locations are created equal.  Within the 40 location chain I am working with, there is a wide range of checkin activity.  Some locations have less than 10 checkins and others have more than 100.  The locations that seem to have high traffic correlate to high foot traffic and locations near clusters of young technology-inspired professionals.  For example, our location in Redmond, Washington across from Microsoft is our most active location.  Another minor challenge is that you need to determine how to handle the checkins from an operational standpoint especially if you want to track foursquare usage through your POS system – and you’ll have to educate your staff on the foursquare service and recognizing when someone has checked into your establishment.

What would I like to see changed? I’d like to make it easier to claim locations or at least speed up the process as I started the claim process for a bunch of locations 2 weeks ago and just one was approved.  Part of the reason is that foursquare is experiencing growing pains and probably can’t keep up with the administrative task of validating business who are claiming venues.

foursquare currently uses 6 digit venue numbers for each location and from an ease of use and SEO standpoint, I would like to see natural URLs that include the name and city of each location.

I would also like to see more information, including pictures, of a business.  Right now, the information is limited to the company name, address, phone number, Twitter handle and a Google map.

What’s the future of location-based services? A potentially looming issue is whether foursquare will remain independent, get acquired by a larger competitor or get their service overwhelmed by Facebook – the 900-lb gorilla in social networking.  Facebook has already hinted at adding location based services and other services like Twitter and Yelp have already added location features in addition to other small companies like Gowalla and Brightkite who are also trying to break the code for this market.  And just today, a new location-based service called SCVNGR was launched which will let brands or companies define tasks or treks to engage users.  For example, I saw two articles on SCVNGR published in Mashable and the NYTimes today.

I’d love to hear from others who are experimenting with foursquare to see how your experiences compare to my experiences.