Budding Foursquare Feature Helps Build Customer Base Credit: Mark West

More than 15,000 businesses in August partnered with social networking tool Foursquare to attract new clientele and reward loyal customers through a new Foursquare feature called Special Offers.

One of those businesses – Palo Alto, Calif.-based Monique’s Chocolates – pulled in nearly 115 new patrons after using the feature, which lets owners offer free or discounted products and services to Foursquare users through the trendy mobile app.

“It works,” said Mark West, owner of the 7-month-old chocolate store. Since April, West has been offering the same promotion: “Show that you've checked in and buy one truffle, get one free!” Shoppers redeem deals by alerting Foursquare when they’re inside a venue (known by users as “checking in” via cell phone) and then showing the mobile coupon to the business.

The feature’s purpose is to help merchants build and retain foot traffic, potentially increasing sales through what amounts to free advertising.

West, for example, uses Foursquare free of charge whereas he pays to advertise in a newspaper. It’s unknown whether promotions on Foursquare are more effective than traditional paid advertising. Regardless, the free online service provides businesses with an additional marketing tool.

Consumers have noticed more businesses jumping on board and subsequently making Foursquare more interactive for everyone involved.

“With promotions, venues are giving back to those social media mavens … It's a give-and-take, I think, and Foursquare really brings that into the digital, modern age,” said consumer Chaviva Galatz, a master’sstudent at New York University and social media intern at Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York.

Galatz, 26, of Teaneck, N.J., told BusinessNewsDaily the promotions create a friendly competition among friends and strangers because most deals are tied to the number of times someone checks in or becomes a “mayor.” The “mayor” is the person with the most check-ins at a certain location.

“Now that I've discovered the Foursquare business page, I know there are promotions out there I'm missing,” she said. “So I'm psyched to go shopping.”

Here are types of promotions businesses can offer:

- Check-in specials: Users earn these when they check into a venue a certain number of times. Example: Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee awards free tours on patrons’ 10th, 20th and 30th check-ins. The tour includes a souvenir pint glass, four pours of beer and a coupon for a free beer.

- Frequency-based specials: Users earn these when they check in to a venue every Xnumber of check-ins. Example: Dallas-based Hector’s on Henderson gives a free appetizer with an entrée purchase for every third check-in.

- Mayor specials: The person who checks in the most at a venue during the past 60 days earns these deals. Example: The Double Windsor in Brooklyn, N.Y., lets its mayor drink at happy-hour prices anytime.

- Wildcard specials: These deals always are available. Example: Helmet Hairworx in Atlanta discounts products 10 percent when a customer checks in.

“We have seen many local merchants have a great deal of success engaging with (customers) by offering them incentives to keep on coming back to their venues,” wrote Foursquare on its website.

4Food, a  burger joint that opened Sept. 7 in New York City, plans to try using Special Offers soon because the restaurant grew a following on Foursquare by opening for limited hours before its full launch: more than 350 unique visitors and nearly 600 check-ins.

“We're still working through these specials and they will likely change regularly to provide our customers with interesting incentives to check in,” said Ashley Tyson, marketing consultant with KindaSorta Media, who is working with 4Food.

Businesses often promote their Foursquare deals on Twitter and Facebook and on signs inside and outside  their stores. Foursquare also sends window clings to businesses after owners claim their venues. West put up the clings emblazoned with “CHECK-IN HERE” and the message “Check in to unlock specials, meet up with friends and explore what’s nearby.” The clings remind customers to check in on Foursquare and draw interest to the application for people who don’t use it.

More ways businesses benefit from using Foursquare:

- Check-ins automatically are shared on other websites: Users often allow Foursquare to broadcast their check-ins on Twitter and Facebook. Ideally for businesses, the check-ins will be seen on three of the most-popular social media sites out there. Taking advantage of this  to the fullest is 4Food, which streams check-ins, Twitter tweets and Facebook posts on its 240-square-foot media wall in the restaurant.

- Tips: A business can add helpful information and customers can leave reviews and recommendations in the “tips” field of a venue page. Owners can read patrons’ tips to see what’s working and what’s not.

- Real-time venue stats: Foursquare tracks each venue’s information, such as most-recent visitors, most-frequent visitors, the time of day people check in, total number of unique visitors, gender breakdown of customers, portion of Foursquare check-ins broadcast to Twitter and Facebook. The statistics feature also provides a histogram of check-ins per day. Tyson plans to analyze the data for 4Food: “We'll use this information in conjunction with our own research to determine additional opportunities for us to tailor our product offering to our consumers.”