Posted by Rainier Sky on March 19, 2011
The popularity of smart phones, tablets and other GPS enabled mobile devices has a lot of marketers re-thinking geosocial networking. Individuals use these networks and other location-based services to share their location with friends, search for goods and services nearby and check the reviews and ratings of unfamiliar places. Organizations can use these networks as a form of permission-based marketing to reach potential customers with special promotions at opportune moments.
The overall number of people using geosocial networking remains small, but is growing at an incredibly rapid pace. Just how big is the opportunity? There are more than 60 million smart phones in the United States and some sources expect that they will become the predominant means of surfing the Web within the next year or two. Nielsen projects that smartphones will comprise the majority of all mobile phones by the end of this year. Meanwhile, the number of Foursquare members grew by 3400 percent in 2010. With Facebook now moving aggressively into the space, the growth potential is staggering.
Meanwhile, a battle for dominance in the geosocial space is raging among major players that include Facebook, Foursquare, Google, Gowalla, Yelp and others. Each competitor keeps adding newfeatures and capabilities that are generating a lot of buzz and presenting new opportunities for organizations of all types and sizes.
So, is the time right for your organization to start using geosocial networking? The answer might depend on your type of business and the technological sophistication of the people it serves. Right now the possibilities look pretty good for organizations in the hospitality, tourism and retail sectors, particularly those that cater to individuals exploring unfamiliar surroundings. Yet organizations of all type can can use geosocial networking for creative promotions, such as rewards for loyal customers who “unlock” a special offer after so many visits or “check ins”.
Here’s a few more examples of how geosocial networks are being used today:
- You are walking through the mall when you pull out your smart phone and you fire up Facebook Places to help your family decide where to meet later. As the GPS on your phone pulls up a list of various locations, you notice that your favorite bookstore is offering an extra 20 percent off to the next 10 customers to check in. Well, you might want to tell the family you will need a little more time.
- You are traveling on business and you just arrive at your hotel. You pull out your iPad while the clerk looks up your reservation and you fire up Yelp to look up the nearest ATM machine. You see that your bank has one right across the street. Now you can avoid the high fees charged by the third-party ATM there in the lobby.
- You and your spouse decide on a whim to stop and check out the hot, new restaurant in town. The waiting list is too long, so you decide just to have a glass a wine in the bar. You pull out your Android phone and when you check in on Foursquare you discover your good friends are already there. One of them also has a smart phone set to alert them a friend checks in nearby and the friend comes over and invites you to join them at their table.
- You are looking for an attorney to look over a real estate opportunity, but no one you know can offer a recommendation. So you pull up your favorite search engine and two law firms nearby with Google Places listings under the keyword ”real estate attorney”. You check them out and one of them has a recommendation from your dentist with whom you have an upcoming appointment. She’s always trying to talk to you while her hands are in your mouth, so why not make it worth while and ask about her experience?
Can you imagine your organization fitting in any of these scenarios? Like most social media, geosocial networking is user friendly and relatively easy to get started. Your greatest expense – unless you go crazy with promotional offers – will likely be the time you invest setting up and managing it.
Want to give it a try? If so, here’s a few tips on how to get started.
Get Yourself a Smartphone
It’s not an absolute must for everything, but you will need a GPS-enabled device for some tasks and it sure can make managing it a lot easier. I’m also a big believer that using such a device is the only way to really keep up with this rapidly changing technology. Besides, what better way to see how other organizations are using geosocial networking to their benefit.
Claim Your Locations
If you do nothing else, I recommend that every organization register their locations with every geosocial network and location-based services. Not only will it give visitors one more way to find you, but its the only way to take control of your online identity. Adding a few extra back links with each profile will also enhance your search engine optimization (geosocial sites rank pretty well these days), and most services notify you so you can respond quickly when someone posts a review.
The easiest way to claim and manage your locations is with your GPS-enable wireless device. Each network is a bit different, but the overall process is relatively the same. Just download the application for one or more geosocial network from your devices online market or app store. Enable your device’s GPS feature and fire up the app. Search for locations or places nearby and add yours. Your location may already be registered with one or more service, but they all have procedures in place to help legitimate representatives assume control of their location and correct any basic information. Other businesses can also show up at your address if your business is relatively new to its location or if it resides within a multi-story building.
Test a few Promotions
Whether you call it a promotion, offer or deal, most organizations will have to offer some incentive to encourage their patrons to check in at their location. It might take the form of a discount, free merchandise with a minimum purchase or even a branded chotchkie like a sticker, button or keyring. Who knows, you might even have a few items somewhere in a back room you could use for a quick experiment.
Do you need something different for each network? There are two schools of thought. On one hand, offering unique promotions on each network is the easiest way to measure whether your customers prefer one network vs. another. It may also the only reason why an individual would connect with your organization on more than one network. On the other hand, why would you want to limit yourself if the promotion is profitable? Then again, each network likes to differentiate itself so you may have to customize your promotions for each network whether you want to or not.
Consider the following examples.
Facebook uses a program for promotions on its network that it calls “Deals” and they are categorized into four basic types:
- Individual deals are one-time offers.
- Loyalty deals allow you to reward frequent customers.
- Friend deals offer incentives for users to share your promotion with their friends.
- Charity deals help develop deeper bonds through rewards that benefit the charity of your choice.
Facebook has a couple short videos that explain how Deals work for customers and how a business can make a Deal available through Places. You can also read more by downloading a copy of Facebook’s Deals Guide for Business. Deal sponsors must claim their place of business and all deals are subject to review that can take up to 48 hours. Facebook Places can also be merged with your Facebook Page to add additional capabilities and features to both. Of course, you first have to officially add and claim your Place.
Foursquare allows a business to set up various promotions that network members “unlock” by fulfilling specific criteria you set up in advance. The only conditions are that your promotions offer some economic value and are unique to their members. Examples include the following:
- Newbie promotions reward first-time visitors to your business.
- Flash Sales reward customers who check in on a first-come, first served basis during a limited time.
- Friend rewards encourage members to patronize your business with a group of their network friends.
- Swarm sales reward any group of customers when a minimum number of check in.
- Loyalty rewards encourage customers to be frequent customers.
- Mayors are rewarded for being the most frequent visitor during the previous 60 days.
Foursquare also allow you to share administration of a location, which can help you be more responsive and provide better service.
Location-based promotions through Google are the most basic. The new “Tags” program allow you to place information about an offer or coupon next to your highlighted Google Places listing that appears both in normal search and Google Maps results. Just select the locations where the offer is available, write a few lines of text and set up an expiration. Google ran a free trial of Tags for registered Google Places accounts, but it has since expired. Regardless of whether you use tags, every organization should create their free Google Places listing.
Promote Your Profiles
If you are going to invest the time to be active on any social networks, you want to make sure your customers know about it. Promote your participation on your website and post about on Twitter, Facebook and other social networks. You can mention it on print materials and inside your business on a blackboard or a sign at the cash register. You could even place a computer, television or even a digital photo frame in a key location to promote your participation or even acknowledge guest check-ins as they arrive. Just be aware of any limitations that may apply when using the network trademarks.
Educate Your Employees
You also have to make sure your employees know how to honor your promotions or your customers might just have a bad experience or even give you a poor review. It might just be as simple as letting your employees know how to input the promotional code in your cash register, but they will need to know how to make it work with your systems.
Of course, yous might also want to set some expectations for your employees who might just be using geosocial networks themselves. Are they eligible for the same promotions when they check in? Do you really want them to become the Foursquare mayor of your location (It’s easy to relinquish, but they will have to sign in to their account and do it themselves.).
Finally, one last thought…
Thank your guests
Geosocial networking can also present organizations with the opportunity to extend a thank you to their patrons. A quick note to ensure they had a good experience can go a long way, and may even help uncover problems that might otherwise go unreported.
Thanks for reading,
Kevin Bush, Principal & CEO
Rainier Sky Marketing & Public Relations
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