Have you Heard of Foursquare?

Back in the day, it was a game where 4 people would be in 4 squares in a driveway, and they would competitively bounce the ball against each other, much like tennis without the rackets. These days, foursquare is an online social media application, similar to Twitter and Facebook. It is a “location-based social networking website for mobile devices,” . It allows users to “check-in,” only when they arrive at foursquare locations, such as hotels, restaurants, shops and more. Checking in does two things: 1) It alerts the foursquare network on your activities, creating some “chatter” with your foursquare friends, and 2) It sends a signal to the general market place that you are validating a brand by “hanging out” at a certain venue, e.g., I’m having coffee at Coffee Shop, implying that Coffee Shop is a cool place to be. (Note that foursquare’s name is based on its founder’s fond memories of playground games from his youth.)

Users check in by logging into the foursquare application, usually on a smartphone (iPhone, Android, Blackberry, etc.). This cool new concept takes online social networking one step further by adding a global context to user activity. It elevates a status update from, “I’m eating dinner,” to, “I’m eating dinner at Nancy’s Pizza Midtown on Ponce De Leon in Atlanta, Georgia.” For some, this can seem like information overload. But the beauty lies in the information because it expands one user’s world to that of another. We used to do this before, like the possibly familiar phone tree, but today’s technology allows us to share more information with more people faster. This is what makes living in the twenty-first century so unique; we live in an incredibly flat world. Through digital networks, a user living in one state is open to the experiences and lifestyle of a user in another. This is useful to keep in touch with friends, for expanding personal horizons, and for better understanding business environments.

Foursquare also has a competitive aspect to it, which turns it into a game for users. As you check in, you earn points, badges, and sometimes “mayorship.” The points that users earn sometimes result in coupons or gifts from restaurants or shops. One website boasts the story of a user who checked into a restaurant on his iPhone and received a free round of champagne (add citation). Of course, if your friend won a round of champagne at The Bubble Lounge, then that usually means that your foursquare network is going to The Bubble Lounge to try to win their round of champagne. That makes The Bubble Lounge very happy about investing time into a foursquare membership. This type of advertising is what marketers call viral marketing – promotion through word of mouth.

Businesses can also take advantage of foursquare’s website. If you receive a lot of check ins in one evening or if you have foursquare specials, this information will flash on the foursquare website for viewers to see. There is also a “merchant dashboard” that displays real time data about business patrons – very useful for profiling customers, especially for businesses where demographics vs time can help improve customer service.

Okay – maybe foursquare isn’t your thing or maybe you’re not ready for it. Either way, it is interesting to know how today’s technology has impacted viral marketing. It is spreading. And, if you’d like to see how the spread of blindness impacted a community, have a read of Jose Saramago’s Blindness (http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2526.Blindness). It’s pretty fascinating!

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