Greetings From The Mayor

Sneak peeks at tomorrow's functionality

Foursquare takes mobile marketing from SMS text messages to true one-on-one engagement.

I'm the mayor of Morningstar Café — at least according to location-based mobile social network Foursquare.

What this means is that I've "checked in" to Morningstar on Foursquare — visited the venue on its mobile site and noted that I was there — more than anyone else on the network.

Unfortunately, Morningstar, a diner on Second Ave. and 50th St. in New York City, which makes the best spaghetti and meatballs in the world, isn't using New York-based Foursquare in its marketing, and my mayoralty doesn't earn me any privileges.

If I were the mayor of my local Starbucks, however, I'd receive $1 off a Frappuccino beverage by confirming my status to an associate when I place my order. At a Domino's Pizza in Chicago, you don't even have to be mayor to get specials — the quick-service pizza chain offers Foursquare members a free Dessert Lavacake the first time they check in with any order above $5.99.

Foursquare encourages people to explore their neighborhoods, and then rewards them for doing so by combining friend-finder and social city guide elements with game mechanics — users earn points, win mayor status, and unlock badges for check-in frequency and other criteria. For example, users who check in to five different Starbucks stores earn a "barista" badge.

When a user logs in to the service using an iPhone, Android or BlackBerry mobile device, Foursquare displays those member venues in your area, which is determined via the phone's GPS service or by triangulating local cell towers. Basically, if you're a Foursquare member, it knows where you are (yes, it's a little Big Brother-ish). To check in to a venue, just click the "check-in" button. The network also enables users to post comments about venues they check into, and create "to-do" lists that other people who check in can see. To date, about 1.5 million people use the service, and its popularity is growing with a velocity similar to that of Facebook.

Unlike simple SMS promotions, Foursquare enables you to engage your shoppers when they're outside the store and, more importantly, when they're inside the store. This presents a wealth of loyalty options for grocers. You can use the network to engage increasingly mobile customers with "specials," which are discounts and prizes offered to loyal customers when they check in on Foursquare at your venue. Foursquare has developed a suite of tools to help businesses create different kinds of specials, manage multiple specials and ultimately track how they perform.

The company also has prepared marketing materials for promoting your venue inside the store, and recommends that venue managers also promote their venues online, particularly on their Twitter feeds and Facebook pages, as members of these social networking platforms would be the most likely to use Foursquare as well.

For instance, Sephora and BravoTV have teamed up for a promotion in which a specific store location in New Jersey or New York will be announced via Sephora and BravoTV Twitter feed. The first eligible person to appear at that store following the Tweet who shows the Sephora store director the Foursquare Bravo Badge on her phone will receive a $100 Sephora gift card. Further, Zagat blogs "Meet the Mayor" interview profiles of Foursquare mayors of the dining guide's listed venues.

Additionally, as Foursquare members check into more and more venues in search of badges or mayoralties, they're also creating a new source of consumer lifestyle data. Since members earn badges for completing a certain number of check-ins at specified venues or categories of venues, the badges a member collects tell a lot about what type of consumer he or she is.

For example, a member with Hair Aware, Fashionista and Gym Rat badges would be more likely to pay attention to health-and-beauty-related Foursquare specials. Several hundred badges have been created already, covering venues of every category.

So, by sifting through your venue's check-ins, you can easily see whether those shoppers are health fanatics, parents, couch potatoes, green consumers or simply spaghetti-and-meatball aficionados like myself.

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