Synopsis — The expansion of social media into location-based services has opened up opportunities for local businesses like nothing previously seen, with perhaps the exception of Google Places. Now any business, no matter how small, as long as they have a physical location, can offer special deals and promotions via these services with a goal of increasing foot traffic into their brick-and-mortar locales. Using the gaming notion so popular with online visitors, location-based services such as Foursquare have expanded the premise to include loyalty factors that will keep customers returning to a business. Using the check-in technique, where a customer checks in (as in a hotel) while visiting the location of the business, awards are given to frequent visitors as well as coupons or special deals.
Hallie Janssen, in her article “Location, Location, Location: Beyond Claiming Your Listing,” looks at five of the top location-based social networking services — Facebook Places, Foursquare, Brightkite, Loopt, and Gowalla. She details each, differentiating them as to size, gaming aspects, and key promotion driver, and provides marketing tips for each. But she doesn’t stop there — once the location-based social media services are discussed, Hallie moves on and talks about how you can make use of the location-based aspects of Google, Bing, and Yahoo! as well. With this data in hand, you can start to navigate this lucrative marketing opportunity and decide if it’s time for you to up your game!
The complete article follows …
Location, Location, Location: Beyond Claiming Your Listing
Location-based social services and networks provide ways for business owners to connect with their immediate customers, often at the point of purchase. Knowing how to capitalize on the existing fan base on these networks is becoming increasingly important as audiences continue to grow. Many business owners have taken the first step by claiming or creating their listing on such sites, but now it is time to go beyond that to truly use them to help market products and services. In this article, I will review the top sites and explore how to use them for dedicated marketing programs and cross-channel campaigns.
Marketing within location-based services affords business owners the opportunity to encourage repeat visitors and create a fun game around frequenting their venue. These games encourage customers to stay loyal to a business and keep them coming back, all the while sharing their activity with their network. Let’s review the top five location-based service sites and their key marketing opportunities.
1. Facebook Places
Number of Users: 500 million
Game Aspects: None currently
Key Promotion Driver: Special rewards and coupons for check-ins
Facebook Places is the newest kid on the block when it comes to location-based check-ins, having been launched in August 2010 to compete with popular sites like Foursquare. By checking in, Facebook users can tell their friends what they are doing and where they are doing it. Users can also tag friends who are with them. There is no gaming aspect to Places yet, but users can receive discounts and coupons for checking in with businesses participating in Facebook Deals. Businesses can also choose to reward users who check-in frequently with a punch card arrangement.
Marketing Tip: Success on Places revolves around a clear couponing strategy and reward-based system. Watch for the recently launched Sponsored Stories, a new advertising service where advertisers can include a user’s post from Places in Facebook ads.
Number of Users: 6 million
Game Aspects: Points and badges
Key Promotion Driver: Special rewards for check-ins
Foursquare is a location-based social network that allows users to check in at various locations on their GPS-enabled mobile devices. By checking in, they connect and compete with other users, earning points with each check-in and racking up badges with each accomplishment (e.g., checking in at a gym 10 times in 30 days merits a gym rat badge). Users can also add tips and compile to-do lists throughout their travels, creating mobile reviews of each business frequented on the site. The highest number of check-ins per location earns a user the title of Mayor, but they can be ousted by another user with more check-ins. The points, badges, and mayorship make Foursquare one of the more game-like networks, while the tips and to-dos provide content and instant brand insights that make it one of the most informative.
Marketing Tip: Since Foursquare users are rewarded with badges and points, it’s critical to set up your marketing plan with mayor rewards, count-based specials (unlocked after a certain number of check-ins), and frequency-based specials (unlocked every x number of check-ins).
Number of Users: 5 million
Game Aspects: Badge levels
Key Promotion Driver: Special rewards for check-ins
Brightkite combines GPS data with a customized feel. Users have Facebook-like profiles with personal information, and can include updates, photos, videos, and links, with check-ins on enabled locations. Users can friend each other and interact by commenting and liking/disliking posts. On the mobile application, they can send an unlimited number of SMS texts, reaching out to friends and connecting in real time.
Marketing Tip: Brightkite is different from other location-based services in that it actually offers advertising opportunities, which appear in the application via standard web banner sizes, on mobile websites, and through SMS text messaging. Other campaign possibilities include branding, click-to-mobile web, SMS, store finder, click-to-video, click-to-call, and standard coupons. Additionally, targeted advertising lets you choose to target users by certain locations and places, behavioral targeting, time of day, activity, demographics, language, and even weather.
Number of Users: 4 million
Game Aspects: Rewards and achievements
Key Promotion Driver: Coupons and sharing reviews with friends
Loopt allows users to connect by enabling their location, so they can locate their friends and easily send them an SMS text or call them. There is a check-in feature on Loopt, but users can also run their location continually. Loopt integrates services such as CitySearch, Zagat, and Bing to provide reviews and information about a location. Users can leave tips after visiting locations and can upload photos and comment on other check-ins. Loopt recently introduced Loopt Star, a location-based game with a check-in feature, where retailers and business owners can reward users for completing designated tasks and challenges. Loopt Star has badges and a “boss” classification similar to Foursquare.
Marketing Tip: Similar to Foursquare, it’s all about rewarding your best customers. The first step is to outline a clear plan on how you will reward customers for completing tasks and challenges, along with check-ins.
Number of Users: 600,000
Game Aspects: Items, Passport stamps and venue highlights
Key Promotion Driver: Sharing travel experiences
Gowalla is a location-based network game where users can check in to various venues, leaving and exchanging items, uploading tips and photos, and commenting on the activity of others. Gowalla puts a high focus on the game aspect, awarding check-ins with items that can be kept or swapped with other users. The items are representative of (and look like) physical places visited, creating somewhat of a digital passport. Users can also link several spots together as “trips,” such as bar crawls and city tours.
Marketing Tip: Gowalla users are encouraged to leave highlights or notes about venues they visit, which help those venues rank on Gowalla City Pages. This is amazing exposure for businesses, as these pages are highly visited.
Don’t Forget About Search Engines
The three major search engines — Google, Bing, and Yahoo! — have started to expand their reach outside of the laptop, creating their own hybrid location-based services or partnering with others. Let’s see how these work and how you can extend your advertising reach through them.
Sites: Google Places and Google Hotpot
Ad Opportunities: Google Tags, Google AdWords, Google Boost
With Google, you can claim your business listing on Google Places and start to advertise within your Place Page. Users can view your page through a search or within a map application. Recently, Google has been beta testing Google Hotpot, which allows visitors to rate and review places, share them with friends, and receive personalized recommendations when searching for places on Google.
One advertising opportunity within Google Places is Google Tags, which lets advertisers tag their location, helping with clickthrough-rates of the listing within the search results. Google AdWords also has targeting options for certain devices and locations to help advertisers reach local audiences, along with using phone and location extensions to include phone and address information in current ads. Finally, Google recently launched Google Boost, which helps smaller advertisers with no experience to set up campaigns.
Sites: Bing Local
Ad Opportunities: MSN adCenter and partnerships with other local sites
Bing Local is similar to Google Places in the way you claim your listing and market within it by filling out business information. Bing recently expanded its partnerships with other local sites, making it even more attractive. Users can now view content from sites like FanSnap, Everyscape, OpenTable, and GrubHub. Businesses should be active on those sites as appropriate, in order to gain additional exposure through the Bing partnerships. As with Google AdWords, advertisers can target within MSN adCenter and reach customers on Bing Local.
Sites: Yahoo! Local
Ad Opportunities: Yext, MSN adCenter, and partnerships with other local sites
Yahoo! Local offers location-based services very similar to the other two, especially considering their recent partnership with Yext. Through Yext, businesses can choose to tag their listing on Yahoo! and other sites. This in turn sets a business apart on those sites with a tag designation.
As you can see, the location-based social network space is just starting to heat up — it will only get hotter throughout 2011. Marketers that can clearly plan promotions and reward programs, along with coordinating across all channels, will be rewarded with loyal customers by participating judiciously in these and other location-based services.