One of the more intriguing social media platforms and new loyalty programme shaping paradigms is Foursquare. The concept is simple: Download the Foursquare app to any smart phone and “check in” to let friends know where you are. By combining the GPS or geo-location information and contact data from your address book, Facebook and Twitter accounts, Foursquare notifies your “friends” whenever you “check in” at a location by automatically generating a message about the your location. Foursquare goes further and very cleverly has turned checking-in into a game and fun activity. Each time you visit a location and notify your friends you get points. As the number of points grow at each location you can compete with other Foursquareians to become a Mayor at said location. I’ve even come across tweets where people are doggedly returning to a Starbucks just to retain their Mayoral status.

This is a marketers nirvana and the implications for marketers are massive. Foursquare has the potential to radically reshape how retailers and merchants think about loyalty programmes. One of the problems loyalty programmes face is that very few are able to offer instant gratification. Not so with Foursquare. You get badges and points for visiting venues regularly or even for the first time – for example, a “Don’t Stop Believin’” badge rewards those who have checked into three karaoke venues in one month.

Foursquare is resulting in a mountain of social and consumer behaviour information that is making shrewd marketing companies mouths water. The opportunities are endless. Using Geo-location technology retailers can identify when a customer is in their vicinity and send them invites or promotional material to check in to their store.

My concern about Foursquare is that it is open to abuse by both marketers and consumers. There is nothing stopping shoppers from doing drive-bys to pick up “loyalty” points without even physically checking in or purchasing a product. Smart phone GPS technology is accurate but not that accurate. Marketers can abuse Foursquare by analysing behaviours that many consumers may prefer companies did not have access to – it’s one thing letting your mates know where you are, it’s a different story allowing retailers to access this information and the invite themselves into your live like a pesky friend who always turns up at a party unwanted.

Foursquare needs to move forward carefully and not abuse the personal nature of the information they are collecting. Trust is a fragile entity and if consumers begin to perceive that Foursquare and it’s retail partners are abusing that information they will move on to other social media platforms. Foursquare executives needs to protect this trust jealously and not jeopardise it by using this their powerful social media platform for quick commercial gain. The partnership they have exists with the users of Foursquare, not the marketers knocking at their door trying to get in on this next hottest thing.

Companies need to recognise that social media is about building long term relationships and not selling products. Zappos is one company that gets this and @HeathrowAirport is another surprising candidate. Social media is about connecting with customers, allowing them to invite retailers and product providers into their space and then just as we do with fledgling relationships taking one step at a time to get to know each other, build trust and allow the friendship to develop. My concern is that marketers will be driven by impatience for sales and revert to their age old and now fast becoming obsolete push marketing. Social media is about invitational marketing and building partnerships with customers, those marketers that get this will be ahead of the game

TomorrowToday Global