Tag Archives: Foursquare

People ARE Talking. Are YOU Listening?

Infoweek Cover

Yes. They Are. You Need to be Paying Attention.

The title of this post used to be the tag line I put on my business card. It’s still on the vehicle sign that covers the rear window of my Honda Pilot, and it’s still in my Facebook Fan Page’s “about” section. The first paragraph of that section continues, “Your company – your brand – is being discussed publicly. Don’t you think you should join the conversation?”

Information Week made it the cover story of their June 25, 2012 edition and I pointed out the similarity in a graphic I created and posted on my Facebook Fan Page. In some respects, we weren’t quite talking about the same thing, though, but they’re closely related. Their article focuses on sentiment analysis and my thoughts were more directed toward overall engagement, which includes sentiment analysis. They are also far more attuned to the needs of larger brands, whereas my concern is for small businesses and the value they can get from what I see as the proper use of social media.

Today I was pointed to an article by Brian Solis of the Altimeter Group, entitled “Why Digital Influence is So Important“. Brian discusses the value of shared experiences, the building of trust, and the spread of influential content, pointing out the value of online recommendations from people we know and trust. He concludes with the following questions: “Do you know what’s being said about your business? And who’s saying it? How are you getting closer to your customer by examining your digital influence?”

Now the reason I bring this up is there are a number of people here in Simi Valley who have created Facebook groups designed to help us communicate or promote local businesses or both. One of the activities that’s taking place is what some call “Cash Mobs“. We are trying to pick out small, independently owned businesses that we might be able to help out (at least with their cash flow) by patronizing them.

As a result of this, one of the members suggested a location that might be able to use a small infusion of business and, consequently, cash. Since I have been trying to get locals to realize the value of using mostly free platforms, services, and apps to market and publicize their businesses, I’m always wondering how well certain ones are doing this. So I decided to check out this particular business with respect to a few things I think it could (or should) be doing.

I didn’t do extensive research, but I did find out some things I think are interesting in light of what Brian has to say about digital influence, as well as what I know about it from my research and experience. What I found was the following:

  • They have a Facebook fan page but do very little with it. The page has 45 likes and 10 people have gone to the trouble of checking in there.
  • They haven’t bothered to claim their venue on Foursquare (a very simple process) and, even though 30 people have checked in a total of 106 times (that’s an average of 3 times per person; an indication of some loyalty), they cannot create specials to reward that loyalty and, perhaps, entice more people to try them out.
  • They also have two listings in Yelp but have yet to claim either of them. Were they to do so, they would be able to correct one of the listings, as well as provide accurate information on what it is they do. What they do have is four (two for each listing) high quality, five-star reviews for their establishment. I say high-quality because all of the reviewers have numerous friends and have posted multiple reviews in Yelp.
  • I also checked Yahoo Local (basic minimum listing), Bing Local (basic listing w/two of the Yelp reviews), and they don’t show up at all in Google+ Local.

So what’s wrong with this picture? Here’s another quote from Brian:

“In the end, people are at the center of your business. And connections are the ties that bind in social media. Your next step is to see what people are saying or what they’re not saying about your business to learn how you can become part of the conversation and ultimately part of the decision making process.”

My contention is that by not taking the small amount of time required to at least claim venues and ensure they are completely populated with information about your business, you are showing you don’t really care what people are saying about you. Your absence from Yelp means you lose the ability to both thank people who take the time to say something nice about you, and to respond to those who take the time to report a problem they may have had. Without Foursquare you lose the ability to create specials designed to reward loyalty from current customers who are using the service and to entice new customers to try you out.

Even if you’re reading the reviews on Yelp and the tips on Foursquare (and it’s highly likely you aren’t) you have no possibility of “becoming part of the conversation and ultimately part of the decision making process.”

There’s another factor as well, which Brian discusses in his article. When people check in to your business on Facebook or Foursquare or Yelp, which they can do with their smart phones, tablets, and laptops there is always the chance some of their friends will see where they are or where they’ve been. Since the most trusted method of referral is that received from a friend, either online or in person, every business that doesn’t take advantage of these tools is shortchanging themselves. There are other issues having to do with gamification, peer response, and virality but we’ll leave them alone for now. They are important to fully understanding how to use each of these applications, but they don’t matter one bit if your business isn’t using them at even their most basic level.

In this economy I’m of the opinion not taking advantage of free marketing seems almost criminal and, while the tools may change as time goes by, the concepts aren’t going anywhere. What are you doing about it?


Hey! Long Time, No See.

Putting The Pieces Together

These Trying Times

So . . . I haven’t written much lately. I had been writing about things I believe will be helpful to the people and organizations I’m beginning to work with to build their businesses in these trying times. This has been, however, a period of transition for me and sometimes I feel the need to concentrate on what I’m doing, as well as on my current clients and others who have expressed an interest in using my services. One of those services is not yet writing a blog; at least not this one.

The last few weeks have been quite interesting for me. I’ve been working in earnest with two larger clients, both of whom require a lot of attention and even more learning on my part. They are helping me continue my journey from the corporate world to the world of small business. The differences are stark and, sometimes, very challenging to deal with competently. Frightening is a word that comes to mind some times as well.

I live in a comparatively small town. Simi Valley has a population – according to the last census – of nearly 125,000 people. Not tiny by a long shot, but pretty small compared to its neighbor, Los Angeles. Everybody doesn’t know everybody, but it can seem that way at times. It took a while, but I finally settled on a business model I though made sense and, slowly but surely, it seems to be working out. The model is simple. Provide social media marketing coaching for small businesses.

The model may be simple, but I’m discovering the execution of that model is fraught with difficulty. I think there are two things that make selling my services so hard. The first has to do with the lack of understanding – and misunderstanding – of the role social media plays in marketing one’s products or services; the second is tied to the economics of very small businesses and the current state of the economy. I am addressing the former in several different ways, but the latter is something I have little control over.

What’s both interesting and frustrating is that various surveys are showing greater and greater acceptance of social media within large organizations, but it doesn’t seem to be translating into the same interest and use by small businesses. For instance, I am working with a small development company/landlord that has approximately 30 retail tenants. All of these businesses could benefit from the use of social media to market themselves.

They are a combination of restaurants, retail shops, service organizations, and professionals – each with slightly different but closely related needs when it comes to marketing. The landlord is very supportive of the tenants, always looking for ways to increase traffic and visibility of their businesses. They’ve even offered to underwrite some of my services, and I’ve endeavored to offer a package that would be both useful and quite affordable.

Regardless, it feels like pulling teeth to get most of these businesses to take advantage of either the services available to them or the coaching and analysis I can offer in their proper use. This is an ongoing battle I’m not willing to forsake at this time, as I am committed to seeing my little town weather this economic storm and, if at all possible, even thrive. I’m working on different methods to help and am hopeful that some combination of offers will allow me to be both useful and modestly profitable. In addition, I hope to share more and more of what I’m discovering as I travel this new road. Stay tuned.

Photo Credit:

Winston-Salem-SEO.com


Would You Pass Up Free Advertising?

Foursquare Logo

Attract New and Reward Loyal Customers

I’ve been concentrating on a couple of new clients and have neglected to post for a couple of weeks. During this time I’ve been thinking about some of the subjects I’d like to cover. One of those is the use of Foursquare for small, retail businesses. Actually, it can be used for virtually any type of business, but the usage model it presents is most applicable to businesses with lots of traffic and churn. I see them as being in somewhat of a pyramid. For instance, those businesses that will get the most value from Foursquare are restaurants, bars, and clubs. Next in line are retail outlets and, finally, service businesses with a brick and mortar location.

Other types of businesses can use the service to get some free advertising, but if your business isn’t amenable to friends sharing the location (primarily because they want to enjoy each others’ company), it’s not going to have the same kind of value for you. As an example, there are Dentist’s offices who use it to present teeth cleaning and whitening specials. I am pretty sure people don’t check in to their Dentist’s office because they’re having a bang-up time and want to share it with their friends. However, everyone who uses Foursquare on their phone is going to get an impression of the special the office has created. You never know and, after all, it’s currently free!

Thanks to a heads-up from one of my friends, @mor_trisha, I read an article at ClickZ (authored by )  making essentially the same points I wanted to make. I’d like give you my version of why I think Foursquare is an important channel for small business to use, with a bit of local flavor for examples. I’d also like to expand a bit on how to use the service if you are a business owner considering using it.

First, let me say a few things about Foursquare in case you aren’t aware of what it is and how it’s used. Foursquare is a location-based, check-in application that consumers with smart phones can download and use to find nearby locations their friends frequent, as well as check-in when they are there. In addition, those merchants who have taken the time to “claim” their venue using the website provided for their use can create specials to entice new customers and to reward the loyalty of their ongoing customers. More about that in a bit.

As a user, Foursquare provides you with the ability to “check in” at a restaurant, pub, retail outlet, or service provider’s location whenever you are there. Using your phone’s GPS system you are provided, through the app, with a list of those venues that are close by. You can also see if any of your friends (or anyone else for that matter) is at a particular location so you can join them if you wish. In a rural environment or in a small town with few users, this capability is probably not all that useful. In my hometown, which is relatively small, the usage is now growing to the point where enough people are checking in for it to be useful. I imagine in large, urban areas it’s very useful – and likely lots of fun for some. There is also a couple of gaming aspects (points, earned badges) to using the service, but I’ll save that for another post.

Foursquare Globe

Think Global, Check-in Local

For business owners, Foursquare provides some interesting capabilities that are available for free. You cannot access them, however, until you take a little time to “claim” your venue. This is a relatively painless process that involves creating an account if you don’t already have one, finding your location on their website,  and clicking on the link that appears on the right hand side of your screen. It says “Do you manage this venue? Claim here.” Once you click on the link you will have to answer a few more questions, then agree to receive a phone call where you will be given a four-digit code to enter on another screen. After that, you will have access to some useful tools, which I’ll get to in a moment.

Now, I said relatively painless for a reason. I have had several instances where a business that’s been around for a long time was unable to use their phone number because Foursquare said they couldn’t verify it belonged to them. Since they had the number for quite some time, I’m unclear why this happens. Nevertheless, it isn’t the end of the road. Foursquare will give you the opportunity to have them contact you by snail mail, in which case you’ll receive the code you need as well as a cling to put in your window to advertise your presence on the site.

Once you have claimed your venue you will have access to their “Manager Tools”. These include venue statistics, which will show you number of check-ins, social reach (whether or not the info was sent to Twitter or Facebook), time, gender, and age breakdowns (as available), and the profiles of your visitors. This information can be presented in numerous time slices, e.g. today, last week, last 30, 60, & 90 days, or all. All of this information is useful for understanding the penetration and coverage you’re getting with people who use Foursquare.

However, in my opinion the most useful tool of all (and the one that will really make the stats worthwhile) is the ability to create campaigns and specials. To start a campaign you simply add a special, of which there are five designed to attract new customers and two designed to reward the loyalty of existing customers. These specials (with my suggested ways they might be used) are as follows:

  • Attract new customers
    • Swarm Special (If 10 people check in at the same time you all get 20% off your meal, etc.)
    • Friends Special (Check in with 3 friends and dessert is free for the group)
    • Flash Special (The first 10 check-ins after 8pm get a free beverage)
    • Newbie Special (Get a free appetizer on your first check-in)
    • Check-in Special (Get a half-price beverage every time you check in)
  • Reward existing customers
    • Loyalty Special (Get a free appetizer every fourth time you check in)
    • Mayor Special (The Mayor gets 25% off their entire bill)

Foursquare also provides some nice, printable flyers to hand out to your customers and your employees, so everyone knows how it works and what an “opened” special looks like. Hint – if it’s in black and white, it hasn’t been unlocked. There’s also a lock icon that appears as unlocked when it is.

Ms. Jenning pointed out four good examples of how to (and not to) use Foursquare specials to get the results you’re looking for. I’d like to do the same for four locations in my neighborhood.

Aeropostale

They offer a standard check-in special. Each check-in gets you $10 off a purchase of $50 or more. With a purchase of exactly $50 that works out to a 20% discount; large enough to entice new customers. Frankly, I would have used a straight 20% discount, perhaps with a min (maybe even a max), rather than a minimum purchase. As it stands, if you spend $100 (and who spends only $50 on clothing nowadays?) you’re only getting a 10% discount. Maybe not enough to bring in new business.

Cherry on Top

They also offer a check-in special of 10% off with every check-in. This isn’t a bad deal. Most people are going to go for ice cream or frozen yogurt after a meal, or as a summer-time treat, when they feel like it and, all things being equal, I would go to the place that offers a discount. Most don’t, so I suspect this is at least marginally helping them compete with the other venues in town.

Limon Latin Grill

This one is somewhat similar to the example given by Ms. Jennings of Bangkok Joe’s. It’s a bit puzzling to me why they think this would entice anyone. They actually offer three check-in specials presented as one. Your first check-in is worth $2.00 on a drink, the second is $5.00 off any entree after five check-ins, the third is a free drink after 10 check-ins. This is not an inexpensive restaurant and I believe a normal meal, especially if it includes a drink, will cost at least $20. This makes the second of the specials worth about 5%; not exactly something to write home about. The same goes for the other ones. None of them seem very enticing. I’d be curious to know if they’re getting much action at all. I actually used the first one, but only because I went there to see a friend’s band playing. The waitress was unfamiliar with the entire concept, which leads me to believe they aren’t getting much traction out of the campaign. I’m not surprised.

California Pizza Kitchen

This venue is using a Friends Special, stated so: “Show you phone to a manager and get 20% off when you and 3 friends check-in to the same CPK! Excludes alcohol, tax & gratuity, gift cards. Not valid w/other offers. Valid at participating locations.” What I get from this is the place is probably micromanaged, as I find it a bit mystifying they don’t trust their wait staff to validate the check-ins. It’s also a bit comical to me they feel the need to qualify the offer so carefully. Lighten up! Nevertheless, 20% off isn’t a bad deal for a mid-priced meal with 3 of your BFFs.

There are numerous other examples of specials being offered, many by venues you probably wouldn’t expect to find using them. I want to think about them a little more and maybe drop in to a couple to find out how they’re doing with them. The lesson here – if you’re running a restaurant, bar, nightclub, or a retail store with the potential for lots of foot traffic, your venue has probably already been entered into Foursquare’s database. Now you need to get out there, claim it, and start providing some specials to take advantage of what it has to offer. Remember, IT’S FREE, but that probably won’t last forever. Why not take advantage of it while you can? You’re welcome.


Can I Add an Extra Leg on That Stool For You?

It used to be there were essentially three things a restaurant could do to attract, satisfy, and keep customers; three things they had virtually total control over, not counting advertising and marketing, which has almost always been about pricing (coupons, two-for-ones, etc.):

  1. The quality of food

  2. The quality and attentiveness of service

  3. Atmosphere or ambience

These three things can be broken down into lots of sub-areas, e.g. type of food, number of choices, speed of preparation, cleanliness (or decor) of the bathrooms, etc., but just about everything restaurant owners and their staff have control over comes down to these three choices. Much like the mantra heard in large, project focussed organizations says, “Quality – Price – Speed. You May Choose Two“,  people might overlook one of these if the other two met or exceeded their expectations, but provide them with only one and it better be extraordinary if you want to survive for very long.

If your patrons are dissatisfied with any of these, they might decide sacrificing one for the other two is worthwhile. They might even think it’s a good bargain. On the other hand, they might not be happy about it and not only refuse to return, but also tell their friends if the subject happens to come up. If they had a particularly bad experience – say, a surly or inattentive waiter or a dish that wasn’t prepared properly – they could tell you and, if you cared at all, you could comp their meal or offer them a refund, etc. Unfortunately for many, a lot of people will not say a word; they just won’t come back.

Well, things have changed; dramatically, in my opinion. Thanks to the ever-growing popularity of location-based applications for smart phones, as well as the addition to those applications of review-writing and gaming aspects, this is no longer the case. People who are dissatisfied – I mean truly dissatisfied for good reason – have a bully pulpit from which to share their grief, and it’s no longer confined to just their friends and acquaintances.

The two services I am most familiar with inhabit two similar, yet distinct niches in this expanding field. They are Foursquare and Yelp. If you own a restaurant, or a retail shop, or even a service-based business and you don’t participate in these two applications, you are really missing out on a great bargain and, perhaps, even hurting your ability to compete. Here’s what you need to do.

  1. Go to both of these services and claim your venue. Upon doing so, you will have access to tools designed specifically to help you take advantage of their offering
  2. Complete as much information as they provide space for, e.g. business name, address, phone number, hours of service, general pricing, photos (especially good for pictures of food creations and other products), etc.
  3. On Yelp, create an offer (much like a coupon, but free!)
  4. On Foursqaure, create a special and, once you understand how it works and you have lots of foot traffic, a Mayor’s special as well
  5. Encourage your patrons to share their experiences or to provide tips (in Yelp and Foursquare, respectively)

Doing these reasonably simple things will give you access to the basic tools you need to start taking advantage of these powerful location-based services. Remember, if your marketing and advertising are only reaching people who read papers and their junk mail, or who only use the Internet, you’re addressing a shrinking part of the population. Young people are all carrying smart phones, and they’re talking to each other or, in the case of those who use Foursquare and Yelp, they’re actually playing games with one another as they use them. Why not have them spend their time at your place?

I will be writing more about some of the specific ways in which you can take advantage of these two services and truly engage with your customers/clients/patients, as well as explaining the value of other, similar services like Urban Spoon, Groupon, and local listing services you can take advantage of.

There is such as thing as bad publicity. Maybe not for someone who can thrive on notoriety, but most small business owners would soon be looking for a job if they were unfortunate enough to receive it. However, you can’t have enough good publicity, even if it’s only getting your name out in as many places as possible. Caveat here: You don’t want to spread yourself too thin, as each of these services may be free, but they require some time and energy to use properly.


The Wisdom of Engagement

Foursquare and Yelp Logos

Two "Big Hitters" for Retail

I just came across a couple of quotes that rather succinctly state the issue anyone using Social Media for marketing needs to keep in mind with respect to engagement with their customers. I think it comes from some of the activity surrounding a virtual Enterprise 2.0 Conference event. I picked them up in my tweet stream. I wasn’t able to attend, but found them because I have a continuing search on the hashtag #e2conf, which keeps me in the loop.

These two quotes appear to be traceable to Sameer Patel, a man I admire for his business savvy and knowledge of social media engagement. I have been using the tag line “People are talking. Are you listening?” His quotes are a bit longer than my tag line, but I think they state the issue rather well:

Part of the problem is trying to “control the message”. The conversation will happen with or without you.

This is one of the things that I’m trying to get across to some of the small businesses (I’m beginning with restaurants) I’ve been working with. The other line is even more important:

Your brand perception is now in the hands of strangers. Isn’t it time you got to know them?

This is so important for small retail establishments to understand. With the advent of services like Foursquare and Yelp, the conversations about their businesses are already taking place. They need to, at the very least, claim their venues in each of these and get involved in the conversation. If a customer has a bad experience, don’t you want to know about it? Don’t you want to have the opportunity to make it right . . . publicly?

It’s true and it’s only going to get “worse”. People ARE talking. Shouldn’t you at least be listening? Better yet, why not engage with them. I’m convinced the process will strengthen your relationships with your customers and do wonders to make you more accessible and easy to do business with.


Small Business and Social Media Marketing

Where I came from

I Was a Cubesicle Denizen

Yesterday (February 14th) marked the nine-month anniversary of my leaving Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. In this time I have slowly transformed from an employee of a large, multi-national corporation to a self-employed entrepreneur. In so doing I have changed my mindset from that of a community member and manager, responsible for greasing the skids of social interaction amongst workers with similar goals, to that of a marketer, responsible for understanding how social creates a different kind of community amongst people with a symbiotic, but not so insular connection.

I can’t remember where I read it, but I try to always keep in mind what someone said about marketing, which I can directly apply to my work – You can learn marketing, but you can’t be taught what is learned in over forty years of experience. So I’m busily studying marketing and, especially, how to utilize social media to provide a new level of engagement never before possible between a business and its customers.

In making this change I have joined the local Chamber of Commerce and a business network. I have also, since I am old and experienced enough, volunteered my services to my local SCORE chapter. My knowledge of social media was in great demand and I ended up helping a few people out even before I was officially a member.

As a result of my Chamber membership, I decided to do a little study of the restaurants in the Chamber and their use of four avenues often used for marketing and public relations, e.g. Foursquare, Yelp, Facebook, and Twitter. I looked at each channel a bit differently. For instance, for both Yelp and Foursquare I was most interested not in whether or not the business was listed or had either tips or reviews of it, but whether or not the businesses in question had claimed their venue so they would have some level of engagement available to them. What I discovered was surprising.

Despite the fact these services are all free to use (I’m not factoring in the expense in time necessary to wring the most out of using them), usage of all is abysmally low. The numbers are as follows:

  • Foursquare – 11% have claimed their venue (most all have been entered into the db)
  • Yelp – 26% have claimed their venue (most all exist in the db)
  • Facebook – 26% have business pages (many venues had close to 100 check-ins via Places)
  • Twitter – 26% have Twitter accounts (very few know how to use it, IMO)

I haven’t looked at all the other restaurants in the area. Nor have I considered bars, pubs, retail establishments that could benefit from the use of these four services (as well as other methods of marketing considered social, e.g. blogs), or professional services that could do the same. This does indicate to me a huge market for my services, although my experience tells me it will be a bit tough to crack, as these kinds of business owners are notoriously frugal and suspicious.

Nevertheless, I think the clear direction is for greater and greater use of social media to market small business and, especially, to engage with customers in a transformation of  how business relates to, and learns from, them. I think there’s a place for me and others like me to provide them with a bit of knowledge, some organizational help, and strategic direction.

One thing’s for certain. I am really enjoying connecting with my business roots, as I was in small business for over two decades before joining Rocketdyne prior to my 40th birthday – much of it actually in the food business. As I gain experience and knowledge in my new field, I hope to share it here on my blog. Stay tuned!


Please Help!

Please help

Hello. My name is Rick and . . . well . . . I’m a bit of a Social Media addict. I’ve been able to resist Farmville, but I still check in frequently to see what’s up on Facebook. I follow amazingly fascinating and informing people on Twitter and have connected with them on Facebook as well. Many of them are in far away locations on the planet, so there’s almost always a conversation going on; at any time of day or night. Today it became clear to me just how much of a problem this is for me.

I have an iMac, an iPad, and (I know this probably seems heretical, but what can I say?) an HTC Hero running Google Android. I use or have used Twitter’s web app, Nambu, Osfoora, Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, Twitter for iPad, and maybe some services I can’t even remember using. I ran my iPad’s battery down by about 3:00 pm PST today and had to switch over to my phone exclusively while it’s recharging. The process has me twitching a little bit. The alternative is to sit in my home office, tethered to my Mac, but the weather is gorgeous and at least I can be somewhat ambulatory with either of my other devices.

It’s not that I’m on Twitter all the time; it’s just that I feel compelled to at least pay attention. I also find myself checking in using Foursquare or Facebook Places, and writing reviews on Yelp. I’m fascinated with the quality of information available via Twitter or, lately, Quora.

I can’t seem to disengage, and I don’t even work in Tech or a large enterprise (at least not anymore). What can I do? My children are begging me to help them be less bored. I should get them their own smart phones I suppose, but they’re only 7 and 9. Still . . . the temptation is strong.

My name is Rick. I’m 63 years old, semi-retired, and wondering what to do with this addiction. Please help!


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