Foursquare, Seriously

In his post about Foursquare last October, David Lewis said Foursquare had “some serious weaknesses,” but he admitted, “It’s worth keeping an eye on it.”

Well suddenly, Foursquare seems to be breaking out of its status as a cutesy, fun mobile-enabled game. It has just been discovered by the likes of Bravo TV, HBO, the History Channel, Warner Brothers, and Zagat, according to Advertising Age. The magazine says “These new deals represent an entertainment trifecta for Foursquare – network TV, cable TV and movie studios.”

It’s true that when big advertisers discover a new media channel, it tends to legitimize the channel for other advertisers. My last post about Pepsi snubbing Super Bowl ads in favor of Facebook speaks to that. So is this the beginning of Foursquare’s coming out party?

Obviously, Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley would like to think so. He sees entertainment brands as having significant potential for the company because of changes in viewer behavior. He believes consumers now watch shows on television “with computers on their laps or phones in their hands – multitasking while they watch, communicating about the content, or just killing time during commercials.”

This kind of behavior plays nicely to Foursquare’s shtick: users and friends checking in with each other from specific locations, making lists of favorites and sharing them, winning points for checking in, and winning badges for participating in new experiences. It all may sound a little juvenile, but think of it as a GPS-enabled Twitter combined with enticing rewards. Obviously, some very big advertisers are testing Foursquare to see if it will work for them. Exactly how these advertisers will use Foursquare, or benefit from it, is part of the test.

There are already some advertisers who are proving that Foursquare can pay off. Zagat, a guidebook that rates restaurants, is probably one of the better examples because what Zagat does fits so well with the concept of Foursquare. According to Advertising Age, “[Zagat] has populated five cities with tips that share their expertise – things like drink deals, the best times to dine, and what entrees to order. By checking in at Zagat-rated locations, users can unlock a new ‘foodie badge’ and those that frequent a place most often might be featured on Zagat.com…”

Zagat has an iPhone application that allows users to access content about and ratings of restaurants. It also offers the ability to make OpenTable reservations for those restaurants that accept them directly from the app. But Zagat’s Ryan Charles told Advertising Age that iPhone and other smartphone applications are just the beginning. Foursquare is “a natural progression. There is an obvious synergy between Zagat’s expertise in helping people make quick, informed decisions and Foursquare’s location-based platform.”

Will this latest buzz get Foursquare over the hurdle of being an intriguing if inconsequential technology? And will the current interest from big advertisers help transform Foursquare into a major player capable of displacing Twitter? It’s too soon to tell – but one way or the other, chances are Foursquare will become a player that online marketers will be have to take seriously.

About Barry Silverstein

Barry Silverstein is a freelance writer/marketing consultant. In addition to writing for ReveNews, he is a contributing writer to Brandchannel.com, the world’s leading online branding forum. He is the author of three marketing books, The Breakaway Brand (co-author, McGraw-Hill, 2005), Business-to-Business Internet Marketing (Maximum Press, 2003) and Internet Marketing for Technology Companies (Maximum Press, 2003). Barry ran his own Internet and direct marketing agency for twenty years. You can find Barry on Twitter @bdsilv.

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