Foursquare Day: Word of Mouth Advertising is Back


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If you’re already a member of Foursquare, you know damn well it’s Foursquare Day, and have probably already been ‘playing’ for a couple hours. Good luck, and godspeed.

For the rest of you, let me tell you all about the most bizarre alternate reality game you’ve never played, and why it’s important.

I’m a pretty cheap guy, and as such do not yet own a smartphone. My phone is an LG 8100, if you must know: takes MiniSD for memory (MicroSD’s completely useless and defunct cousin), looks like it was designed by Rubbermaid, and has suffered a veritable gauntlet of alternative applications: hammer, doorstop, hackysack. …Okay, so maybe the fact I don’t own a smartphone is actually out of protection of my potential new phone from myself. But I digress, this isn’t about my phone. This is about your phone.

Paridoxically to my smartphone-free nature, I’m a social media whore, and get my rocks off all over Twitter on a half-hourly basis – hell, I quite literally never close my Facebook page. It’s open right now! But, due to my phonelessness, Foursquare is something I must love from afar.


Foursquare is a social network slash game slash advertising platform that takes the geotagging trend to new heights. Played with one’s phone, Foursquare allows users to ‘check-in’ their location at any ‘venue’ (meaning named public place (park, restaurant, business)) in an effort to become ‘Mayor’ of that location. How do you become Mayor of a venue? By checking in the largest number of times. Sounds pretty simple. But if it isn’t genius, forward-thinking, gamechanging marketing across multiple levels, nothing is.

Say I want to become mayor of the Burger King down the street (I probably don’t, but for ease of example we’ll use BK). I’m gonna start visiting Burger King a hell of a lot more often in an effort to secure the belt. After a time, a rival notices that through devout and regular patronage, I have become mayor of Burger King. But he wants the top spot, if only for prestige and bragging rights. So now he, too, is vying for dominion by visiting BK regularly and checking in. The fight is on.

Is it a pissing contest? Yes. But think of what it means for businesses: this is advertising money can’t buy. People are your coming to your business, just to best other people, who are also coming to your business. Users can leave notes and tips with particular venues, touting the best food, the best activities, and other useful information to other visitors in Foursquare’s network. Owners of these venues can just sit back and let the patrons sell product for them. People competing to ‘rule’ a business in a figurative sense is a level of devotion only found with a haggard metal fan wearing the same smelly band shirt for months on end.

4sq mayor nearbyAnd the businesses are getting involved, too. Especially today – FOURSQUARE DAY. (4/16, get it? 16 = 4^2? Cute.) Though an unofficial celebration conjured by Foursquare’s userbase (led by a Tampa-based optometrist who just happens to love Foursquare), nevertheless, mayoral candidates are getting free stuff, discounts, and all sorts of swag, just for frequenting particular hotspots today – EVEN MCDONALD’S. If McDonald’s is on board, you know a service is for real. Foursquare is even launching an official program for businesses who would like to have their patrons clamour for their products while competing for imaginary mayorship. Quite frankly, I for one would certainly endorse a restaurant that was giving me a free sandwich just for more or less tweeting about it.

This is truly the beginning of something wonderful: a dynamic, invisible, free (for now), and most importantly, extremely effective advertising platform that brings all businesses, both big and small, to an equal level. Finally, Chuck’s Diner can compete with Denny’s for patronage as equal opponents, their respective fanbases battling in secret through Foursquare’s API. While other efforts for this type of advertising (Twitter being the biggest example, of course) are reasonably effective, only Foursquare requires you visit a business before endorsing it, and only Foursquare rewards you for doing so. True word-of-mouth advertising is back, and it sure beats a gaudy Times-Squareian billboard any day. If Foursquare’s influence in the marketing sphere continues to grow, we could soon see the traditional visual advertisement regress to an internet-only phenomenon. And even then, there’s AdBlock.

Of perhaps secondary importance to all this advertising ballyhoo is that Foursquare dares bring the word ‘social’ back into the real world by requiring users leave their homes and get out into an IRL social environment (if only to tell each other about and go spend money at venues). Even so, it encourages us to get off our collective ass and mingle, and who knows? Through regular, face-to-face contact thanks to Foursquare, we could soon see the obliteration of txt language, u kno?

Probably not. But a boy can dream.

If you need me, I’ll be pricing smartphones.

  1. One important downfall of this service is that you don’t actually have to visit the business at all to check in… And many people, especially those with tons of mayor badges, don’t. It’s just about getting the mayor title, in which case it becomes just an odd online obsession. It will become a lot more interesting once they can confirm geolocations, either by forcing check-ins via the business wifi, or adding some kind of barcode scanner at the business. Then the geolocation phenomenon will become more than just an online game.

  2. Good call, Paul. I suppose there’s no policing an honor system; the friend who alerted me to Foursquare’s existence a couple months ago is a devout follower of the rules, and as such actually takes the time to walk to each venue. A business can’t buy that kind of draw power, and I’m with you – with the inevitable big changes in how the system will confirm a user’s location as the service continues to explode, this is going to be one wild marketing ride.

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