Category Archives: Business

Thanks for checking in: a look at Location

A new vehicle in the advertising realm, one that should not be underestimated, is location-based applications.

Location-based applications allow users to ‘check-in’ via smartphone and share their location with other users of the service or other social networks. Users are able to see who else is checked in at a given location (from all users) or friends in nearby locations. By checking in, users receive points and/or badges and can unlock certain specials determined by the retailer.

The most publicized of these location-based apps is Foursquare. Today, there are a reported 8 million Foursquare users, up from just one million a year ago. Foursquare’s growth is a reflection of not only the company’s success but the adoption of smartphones and our increasingly mobile lifestyles.

Foursquare was created in 2009 by Dennis Crowley and Naveen Selvadura. Prior to Foursquare, Crowley founded a similar service called Dodgeball, which was acquired by Google in 2005. Google has since shut it down. Foursquare, which is free for both users and merchants, is now the hottest thing on the block (literally).

 Four steps to Foursquare

  1. Check in
  2. Get points and badges
  3. Get rewarded
  4. Become Mayor

 Thanks for checking in

After joining Foursquare and downloading the free application for smartphones (iPhone, Blackberry, Android, Palm, Ovi, Windows Phone, etc), you’re ready to check in. While you’re going about your business — going to work, to the store or to a restaurant for dinner — simply launch the Foursquare application and view the Places around you. Foursquare determines a user’s location based on the phone’s GPS location.

For those that believe Foursquare is a bit too personal, keep in mind that the check-in is a manual process. Users decide when and where to check in or not to check in.

When checking in, users can add comments and/or tips for other users for that particular location. Or upload a photo. If the location you’re visiting isn’t in the Foursquare system, the application allows you to add it yourself.

Users find friends by linking Foursquare to their email, Twitter or Facebook accounts. Users are then able to view their friends’ latest check-ins. And even compete with them in a points contest on the Leaderboard.

By checking in, users receive points and badges based on where, when and how often they check in. The Mayor often receives the largest reward or the highest percentage off a purchase. All rewards are determined and set by the business owner.

A user becomes “Mayor” if he or she checks in more frequently at a location than other Foursquare users. And can be ‘ousted’ as mayor if someone checks in more frequently than the current mayor.

 Will you be the next Mayor…of Walmart?

Check in at Walmart and you’ll earn points. Check in often enough and you’ll become Mayor. If you’re lucky (by achieving certain milestones), you’ll get a badge. Sounds a little childish, I know. (Besides the mayor part. Who wouldn’t want to be Mayor of Walmart?) But there is actually a benefit to checking in. Many retailers are embracing Foursquare as a way to connect with customers. A small but growing percentage of businesses on Foursquare are even offering discounts or Specials for checking in. Watch for this to expand rapidly as both smartphone adoption and Foursquare use increase.

Foursquare’s message to businesses:

“As a business owner, you can use Foursquare to engage your increasingly mobile customers with foursquare ‘Specials,’ which are discounts and prizes you can offer your loyal customers when they check in on foursquare at your venue. Don’t forget to show extra love to your venue’s Mayor! Additionally, if you offer foursquare Specials to your customers, you will be able to track how your venue is performing over time thanks to our robust set of venue analytics — for free!”

 Well isn’t that Special?

From my home in Bellefonte, Pa (Foursquare specials vary depending on location) I can view 18 Specials nearby including: Gordon’s Jewelers – Check-in and unlock $50 off your $300 purchase; Radio Shack – Check-in and get 20% off your qualifying purchase; Penn State Book Store – A free Snickers Peanut Butter Squared Pack when you check in. Forever Tanning – Free tan or 10% off a hair cut with every third check in.

You’ll see there are both national chains and local businesses taking advantage of Foursquare Specials. In a post on Sept. 3, 2010, titled, Finally a reason to be on Foursquare, I first looked at Foursquare’s growth in my area (State College, Pa aka Happy Valley).

 New and improved

Foursquare has rolled out new versions over the last three years, each update improving upon the last and bringing new features to the table. The current version features five main categories on the mobile application:

Places: showing businesses and landmarks around a user’s current location. After selecting a location, this is where users check in. And choose to comment and/or share with Facebook and Twitter. A new feature to the check-in is the ability to take a picture with a smartphone and upload it to Foursquare. The photos are then displayed on both the user’s page and on the location’s page.

Friends: displaying the user’s friends; much like Facebook, friend requests must be sent and then accepted. Here users can view a friend’s Foursquare feed, displaying all of his or her check-ins.

Explore: a service similar to Yelp (founded in 2004), showing nearby businesses in a given industry like Food, Coffee, Nightlife, Shops and Arts & Entertainment. Like Yelp, Foursquare Explore finds your location with your smartphones built-in GPS. Once a category and location is selected, say Pizza Hut, Explore will tell you how many of your friends have checked in, and name them specifically. Explore also displays how many times you’ve checked in to the location as well as what Foursquare calls Tips (essentially comments) made by your friends.

To-Do: the to-do tab is a bookmark, allowing you to note a location and what you’d like to do there the next time you’re around.

Me: serves as the Foursquare user’s Dashboard (showing total number of Check-Ins, Badges, Mayorships, Points, Leaderboard, Most Explored Categories, Top Places, Tips and Friends).

The Leaderboard on the Foursquare Dashboard (the ‘Me’ tab) ranks you among your friends by total number of points over the last seven days. It offers a fun way to gauge your Foursquare influence among your friends. Points are awarded for checking in, adding a new venue or traveling.

 Who’ll come out on top?

Foursquare is gaining fame at a fast rate. And where there’s success, imitators won’t be far behind. With the introduction of Facebook Places and other location-based services like Whrrl, which was acquired by daily deals service Groupon in mid-April, companies are copying Foursquare’s model. And vice versa, as evidenced by Foursquare’s recent inclusion and emphasis on its Yelp-like service directory Explore.

Our favorite services are attempting to do it all by folding social networking, location applications and daily deals into one. What will win out? User base or functionality? Quantity or quality?

For a direct link to Foursquare’s business page, click here.

Source: Foursquare.com, Mashable.com, Foursquare application, YouTube

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Free ways to connect with customers and promote your local business

Nothing replaces positive word of mouth and a great ad campaign, but there are exciting (and free) ways you can connect with your customers and grow your business.

In many ways, marketing works like a machine, with all of the parts, large and small, working together in unison. Advertising, Customer Service, Social Media all play a part. Do not downplay any one of them.

In this post, I’ll take a look at four free ways you can connect with customers and help promote your business and events. All you need is a little time and some web savvy.

Facebook Pages

Facebook is a great way to connect directly with your customers on a daily basis. As long as you do it right. It’s all about content and frequency.

To do a Facebook Page right, you’ve got to update every day. Don’t have the time?  Then hire someone to do it for you. Don’t have the cash to pay them? Trade them. That’s right, offer your products/services for free if they update your Facebook page throughout the week. Find someone you trust to represent your business (then make sure he/she can spell) and tell your new Facebook front-man what you’re looking to do.

By the way, there is a difference between a Facebook Profile (like you and your friends have) and a Facebook Page (for a business, like a fan page). There’s also a Facebook Group, but groups are meant more for closed conversation like clubs or organizations. So you want to go with a Facebook Page.

Now, the content. What do you post? Make it somewhat relevant to your industry.

Facebook Fun. Want to do something exciting on your page to draw interest? Hold a giveaway. The goal is participation. Try to upload content that your customers will like (and “like”), comment on and hopefully share.

You can also hold fun giveaways or contests on your page.

Where do you get ideas, you ask? Look at what larger companies are doing and, well, copy them. Ikea photographed a living room set and announced that the first person to tag a piece of furniture got it. Tag the couch and it’s yours. Lamp, go ahead, tag it and it’s yours. You can do this too. On a smaller scale, unless you want to give away a living room. There are tons of ideas out there right now, happening every day. You’ve just got to keep your eyes open, then find a way to make it work for your business.

More of this under “Freebies” below.

Need help creating a Facebook Page for your business? Here’s a helpful step-by-step piece from eHow.com: How to Create a Facebook Page for your business.

QR (Quick-Response) Codes

QR codes are awesome. But it’s not exactly new technology. QR codes (a type of 2D codes) have been around since the ’90s. And use of the codes is on the rise. In fact, 2D code usage quadrupled last year. The rise in smartphones is likely the cause. So use them. Find a QR-Code generator online (free) and create some content.  QR Codes can be scanned by any smartphone equipped with a QR-Code reader (also free) just like the scanner at the grocery store scans the bar-code on your Cheerios. Codes can link directly to a URL (a website, landing page, Facebook page or to a video on YouTube) or Text, a message of your choice. But don’t just put a link to your website on there. The least you can do is link it to your Facebook page. Give people a reason to scan it. And make it worth it.

Where to put it?

On your website; on your Facebook Page; on your store signage; on your packaging; on your business cards; on employee shirts; in the restroom? Why not. Anywhere. Be creative.

Need help finding a QR-Code Generator? Google is a wonderful thing. Just Google Free QR Code Generator. I picked Quickqr. To generate a Quickqr code, after visiting the site, simply enter a URL or Text in the “Enter URL or Text” box (simple, no?).  Then, hit “Generate Code.”

The code (which looks like a funky matrix-like image) will display right on your computer. From there, you can do one of three things: 1) save the code by right-clicking on it and selecting “save as.” 2) Adjust the image size, of the code you made. Or 3) e-mail the code to yourself and grab it from there.

Oh, one more thing. Before you unleash the QR Code to the public, make sure it works. Get your smartphone (using a free QR-Code reader) and scan the code. Or find a buddy with a smartphone. To find a list of QR-Code readers, just Google it: Free QR Code Reader. Or browse through the available apps in your app store of choice.

Freebies

Freebies are a great way to get new customers in your door. And it is well worth the investment on your part. Offer vouchers on Facebook, maybe in a trivia contest or interactive game. Or maybe just offer them first-come, first-served, limit of the first 10 or 20. Friends will forward to other friends. You’ll create your own buzz. Maybe do this once a month, or on special occasions.

Freebies are also an easy way to acquire new customers.  But they’ll only be back if they’re greeted with a quality product. So make sure, whatever you do, that you do it well. If someone visits you for a freebie, if the experience is a positive one, they will be back. And they’ll pay cash for it next time. Bad experience, good luck. Not even a freebie will bring them back.

Start a blog

The most time-consuming of the four, but a blog is a great way to share your expertise in your field. To brand yourself as an expert, in a sense.

It’s also a great way to stay on top of trends, new information and stay connected with your industry.

There are resources out there for Blog Etiquette about the frequency of your posts and blog content. They (the blog experts) say if you have a blog you should post once a week. I tend to agree, though a post every other week would be adequate. You would be safe with two posts a month of average length, or four shorter posts per month, once a week. You get the idea.

Whatever you do, be consistent. If you post the first and third week of the month, always post on the first and third week of the month. If you are not consistent, you’ll quickly lose whatever following you have.

There are a number of blog services that do not charge for use. Three leading blog services are WordPress, Blogspot/Blogger and Tumblr. I use WordPress to host this blog, though I pay an annual fee for the domain, ericsadblog.com. The free domain would be ericsadblog.wordpress.com. If you don’t want the wordpress extension, you can buy a domain name for small annual fee.

Keep your content focused on truth, on topics that matter to your customers. Do not sell your business on your blog. That will happen organically after you’ve branded yourself as an expert in your  industry.

Click the above graphics [Wordpress, Blogger and Tumbr] to visit the sites.

Sources: eHow.com, Facebook.com, WordPress.com, Blogspot.com, Quickqr.com, Tumblr.com, mashable.com

Update: Two days after my post, I spotted the following stories, all three published on March 8, 2011. …for further reading on these topics.

1) eMarketer: Blogs and social media generate cheapest leads published 3/8/11

2) Advertising Age: Social Sampling Scores Big for Kleenex as a Million People Share Packs published 3/8/11

3) Mashable: Why QR Codes Will Go Mainstream published 3/8/11