Foursquare: The Bridge Between Offline and Online

There used to be distinct purposes for what we did offline as humans and what we would accomplish online. Watching movies, shopping and researching used to be all offline activities; going to the library, a movie theater or strolling down the boardwalk to do our shopping.

But those lines are changing and in those changes, we’re learning how to connect the two.  As a result, buying behavior is continually changing and businesses have the opportunity to use this insight to their advantage to earn loyal customers.

How do we bridge the gap between offline to online?  Is it a good thing? Here are some stats that reveal the emerging trends of buyer behavior (Source: Matt Hessler, Trada & Dennis Glavin, Microsoft: SMX West 2011):


Mobile capabilities and other portable devices like tablets are laying the foundation of the connection from offline to online.  Now we have the ability to bring “online” wherever we are “offline.”  There are tons of applications for our phones and tablets that make it fun and easy to be online while we’re on the go but I think there is one company in particular is really mastering this bridge: Foursquare.  I recently had the opportunity to see Tristan Walker of Foursquare talk about the application.  And that began my app crush.

No, Foursquare is not a virtual game of the old school playground game. It is a location based “Check In” application for GPS-enabled mobile devices.  They also have a website but the main functionality is used in their app for mobile devices.

foursquareI never understood the “check-in” craze on Facebook but I see how Foursquare has built an application with a purpose.  There are incentives for everyone; I want to check in places so that I can become a mayor or get badges but I could also be getting discounts for being the mayor or checking in. Through Foursquare, businesses have the opportunity to offer and promote discounts as incentives to bring in new and repeat customers.

In the past, consumers were either online or offline. Either exploring around town or at home or work on the internet.  Applications like Foursquare connect the two. Foursquare has reviews, location details, discounts, social networking, rewards (virtual badges) and most importantly it’s accessible on the go. Foursquare has taken what consumers look for online and connected it to the offline, physical locations.

I think the most important element is their incorporation of coupons.  Based on your location, not only does it list what businesses are around you but also lists deals offered nearby.  Coupons aren’t new but they are making a comeback.  What I love about Foursquare is that it requires engagement to earn these discounts. Depending on the location, you may have to check in once, check in three times or be the mayor (meaning you’ve checked in more times than anyone else at that particular location).  And having access to location-based coupons on the go is what Foursquare does best.

We already know that users of GPS-enabled mobile devices are growing and with coupon usage up as well, why not combine the two? (Source: Matt Hessler, Trada & Dennis Glavin, Microsoft: SMX West 2011)

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Looking for local information is done by virtually all smartphone users and consumers are ready to act on the information they find.  These stats are results from “The Mobile Movement: Understanding Smartphone Users,” a study from Google and conducted by Ipsos OTX.

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So besides downloading and using the app to explore your city, how can you use this to promote your business? Walker told a story of a restaurant owner that used Foursquare to promote the opening of a new business. There is a Swarm Badge on Foursquare means 50 people have to check in to one location over the course of three hours.  The restaurant owner threw a “Swarm Party” and within an hour, there were 150 people checked in to his restaurant.

That’s just one example of leveraging this free app to promote a business.  But it’s more than just an application or a party; it is connecting offline activities with online engagement.  The statistics and consumer behavior reveal a rapidly changing environment.  Mastering the integration of offline and online interaction is key to connecting with consumers.

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