It can be easy for PR pros to spread themselves too thin by trying to maintain an active presence across a range of social networks. But thanks to its 20 million users, geolocation app Foursquare may be worth the extra effort—especially after the release of its two new features: Promoted and Local Updates.
In a move that has drawn comparisons to Twitter’s Promoted Tweets option for brands, Foursquare has launched Promoted Updates, which will allow brands to place paid ads in the app’s Explore tab (pictured). The feature is rolling out with a pilot program of 20 partners consisting of local businesses and nationwide brands, including Mario Batali restaurants, BR Guest restaurants, New York City-based small business Butter Lane Cupcakes, Best Buy and J.C. Penney.
Promoted Updates are a natural progression for Foursquare, Steven Rosenblatt, chief revenue officer for Foursquare, told the New York Times. The updates will always carry the Promoted label, and there will be a lot of controls in place to ensure that ad frequency will be limited.
Foursquare suggests that brands can pay for updates such as a money-saving special, an update on a new fashion line or a photo of their latest dish. “It works similar to ads on Google; there, if you search for ‘laptops,’ you’ll see an ad for an electronics Web site next to the results,” according to the company’s blog. “In Foursquare, if you do the same search in Explore you might see a promoted special about a weekend deal at a nearby computer store.” The criteria for seeing the promotion includes a user’s location and where the user or their friends have previously expressed interest in the business.
Foursquare has also recently released its Local Updates feature. Businesses can now share text, photos or specials with nearby customers, and even share the update on Facebook and Twitter at the same time. When customers like your location or check in multiple times, Foursquare considers them loyal customers and will automatically share your updates with them when they’re in the same city as one of your locations.
Finding the Right Fit:
So which feature is more promising for small business communicators? Not surprisingly, the answer comes down to budget size. Local Updates are for engaging with customers that have already checked in or liked a page on Foursquare, while the Promoted Updates feature is meant to attract new fans. More importantly, Local Updates represents a free way to reach customers using their mobile device near a physical location without actually paying for mobile advertising. The Promoted Updates are, for now, limited to those in the pilot program.
A May 2012 Web.com Small Business Mobile Survey found that while 69% of small businesses consider mobile crucial to their growth in the next five years and plan to increase their spending on it, the majority of them still haven’t taken full advantage of mobile marketing. Foursquare’s Local Updates feature is a way to change that—today—while Promoted Updates offers a promising, albeit costlier, option for the future.
Jonathan Kopp, partner and global director of Ketchum Digital, says that while the Internet has always offered worldwide connectivity (hence the “www”), the truth is that so much of social media remains hyperlocal. “The best approaches across the social Web recognize the user’s context, especially their location,” says Kopp. “PR pros will serve their consumers best by integrating social, local and mobile (SoLoMo) elements to serve up more customized messages that drive meaningful offline actions, such as store visits, trials and purchases.”
Kopp says it will be interesting to see how Foursquare users respond to Promoted Updates. “If they are done elegantly and add real value, such as Amex’s integration with Foursquare on the check-in side, they will be a hit,” says Kopp. “If they are clumsily implemented based on proximity, without any grounding in the user’s situation and activity, they will fail.”
Follow Bill Miltenberg: @bmiltenberg