How Hotels Can Use FourSquare

A question that should be on every hotelier’s agenda these days is: How do we use social media to reach our customers?  Many companies already have a strong plan already in place for the big three: Facebook, Twitter and the corporate blog. On top of this, most savvy businesspeople are sufficiently acquainted with the ins and outs of social bookmarking sites.

However, hoteliers should take note of the latest tech trend, that of mobile sign-in services. The big players here include the likes of FourSquare, Gowalla and Facebook Places. For the sake of not being overly complicated, let’s focus the remainder of our attention on FourSquare – a company that grew a purported 3400 percent last year – even though all three work by similar means.

FourSquare is designed for smart phones as a fun way for people to state to their online community where they are at any given moment. Once a person has an account, they “check-in” to wherever they are via their phones and this serves as their online status. FourSquare uses GPS technology to verify where the cellular is in the world and to keep things honest. On top of this, people can be awarded “Mayor” status by having the most check-ins for any given location, or earn specific “Badges” by logging in from a given combination of places.

Sounds like fun, but how does it apply to hotels? Well, take Gap for instance. Last year, they launched a notorious FourSquare campaign where anyone who checked in at one of their locations received 25 percent off their purchase. Other large-scale corporations have followed suit – even offering additional discounts for holding mayoral status.

This doesn’t exactly transfer to independent lodges or mid-sized chains that lack access to national advertising channels and the programming resources to seamlessly integrate these types of services into their operations. FourSquare boasts that they are universally applicable for small businesses and the hospitality industry, albeit a word of caution. Like most of the contemporary social media tools, if you don’t plan ahead and know your customers, then you might as well not even try.

First, there aren’t enough people who understand FourSquare, let alone use it on a regular basis. The 3400 percent expansion statistic is a tad bloated as it encapsulates users who have made an account to try the novel software and have since lost interest. Metrics for FourSquare’s second full year on the market should be more realistic in this regard, but the fact remains that the service still primarily caters to a younger, tech savvy demographic. The boomer and mature populations are still catching on to the likes of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and it’s likely that they won’t be “checking in” for next few years. Moreover, at its present juncture, FourSquare is an urban craze with only the big metropolises sharing in the excitement. Like MySpace and Friendster, it’s still too early to decide whether this is a bees-knees or just another Internet dud.

That being said, there are some definitive strategies for hotels, especially if they are trying to reach out to a younger crowd. With many users forwarding their check-ins to Twitter or Facebook, it’s an excellent way to garnish some free press across several networks. Usage can also be encouraged by placing a notice in the window or leaving a “Please Check-In on FourSquare” marker by the entrance.

Hoteliers seem to be an obvious benefactor of this new wave of social media as they already work within a place where you check-in. By extension, FourSquare could serve as an “online concierge” in some form or another. This is something that would need to be constantly monitored – easier said than done. Gourmands have already largely gained from FourSquare’s recent deals with third-parties like the New York Times and Zagat, and so this could be great for promoting a hotel’s in-house restaurants.

The developers behind this location-based network appear to have a long-term plan for aiding their users and subscribing businesses alike, as noted when they launched FourSquare 2.0 in September 2010, which offers recommendations on nearby places and activities.

So, the question remains, do you get on board or not? It’s one thing to register a company on FourSquare; it’s another entirely to maintain it and exploit it as a promotion vehicle. Judging its practicality on this level, most evidence points to no. Your time spent on this niche service would be better allocated to the bigger, content-oriented networks like Facebook, Twitter and your blog. In addition to this, FourSquare may soon feel the full wrath of Zuckerberg as Facebook Places stretches its clout. Even with its present day cool factor, FourSquare is at a relentless disadvantage when sized up to the vast expanse of network that Facebook Places already has to build upon.

In a broader sense, what’s important here is to be a forward thinker and to be receptive to the ever-changing world of cyberspace. Just look at the rise of Facebook; it’s only in its seventh year. FourSquare turns three on March 11, 2011 and who can really say how fast it will grow. One thing is for certain: emerging social networks favor first movers. That is, if you are planning to commit to FourSquare, do it sooner rather than later, and give it 100 percent.

Whether it stands the test of time or not, FourSquare is a hot product for 2011, especially when astronauts like Doug Wheelock are checking in from the International Space Station and unlocking the NASA Explorer badge in the process. Adopting mobile sign-in services may just be the edge you need to lure in a new crowd.

(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, published in Hotel Interactive on March 2, 2011)

Larry MogelonskyHow Hotels Can Use FourSquare