Changing Up The Check-in: Foursquare Updates Specials

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Foursquare, the popular location-based social media platform, decided to shake things up a little at the annual South by Southwest festival last week. Rolling out their new 3.0 version, Foursquare has made some significant changes to their platform in the way it operates, most notably in the way it recommends venues and offers specials.

I'll be covering the changes to the recommendation engine in an upcoming post, but today I really want to talk about the new ways arts organizations can offer specials on Foursquare. A "Special" on the platform refers to an incentive that organizations and brands can attach to a venue that is unlocked when a Foursquare user "Checks In" and meets a certain criteria. Up until last week, these specials were limited to either the frequency a user checked in (1st time, 5th time, etc.) or if the user was the "Mayor", a title held by the user that checks in the most frequently at a particular venue.

While a great idea in concept, personally I felt the result was a little lackluster in practice. Becoming the Mayor of a venue is tough, requiring checking in at that venue a large amount of times to temporarily steal the title. While this may be easy to do for somewhere like a local coffeeshop, frequented everyday, it is unrealistic to offer this incentive for an arts organization. Then there is the average check in, some organizations have offered incentives like reduced ticket prices for having a certain amount of check ins, but this is often a one-time special. The hesitation to use a more tantalizing incentive may be the fact that organizations want a little more involvement than having a user hit a button on their cell phone once.

The game has changed with the release of Foursquare 3.0. More types of specials have been added and split up according to whether they are loyalty specials or customer acquisition specials. Plus, nearby specials now appear when a user hits the "Places" tab in Foursquare's mobile platforms, showing users which nearby venues are offering incentives for their foot traffic. Here's a look at how the new specials work:

Customer Aquisition

check-inThe Check-in Special - This is the run-of-the-mill, every-time-you-check-in kind of special. It allows organizations to attach an incentive that users can claim with every check-in and is the one most often seen on the platform. Many organizations may still want to take advantage of this by offering cheaper incentives, such as a dollar off admission, to encourage visitors to adopt Foursquare and take advantage of more rewarding specials in the future.

newbieThe Newbie Special - Most of the new specials say it right in the name and this is no exception, this rewards users only for their first time check-in. Organizations may want to take advantage of this for the same reason as the regular Check-in special, to encourage initial use of the platform.

flashThe Flash Special - Now we start to get into some of the more interesting specials. The Flash special works like a flash sale, once a certain number is reached the special expires. It is first come, first serve. For example, say your special events are dragging a little bit for the first few hours, on average. A Flash Special can be used to create some interest in showing up first, such as "First 10 people to check-in unlock a private meet and greet with ______ !".

swarmThe Swarm Special - Swarm specials are all about building a crowd. Swarm specials are only unlocked if a certain number of users, set by the organization,  check-in at that organization's venue within a set three hour period. This can be a great way to reward a large crowd with an incentive that would be more attractive for a group event than for an individual. For example, an organization could  have a special encore from a performer if that night's swarm special is unlocked.

friendsThe Friend Special - This is by far my favorite new special. Users can only unlock this special by having a certain number of their foursquare friends, not just users that happen to be at the venue already, check-in alongside them. When paired with a great reward, this can be a great way to incentivize people to bring their friends along to your venue. The number of friends required to unlock the special is completely up to the organization.

Rewarding Loyalty

mayorThe Mayor Special - Hey now, we can't forget about the Mayor! This special works the same way as the old special, it is unlocked by the current Mayor of the venue. The Mayor is determined by which user checks in the most times in the previous 60 days and the check-ins only count once per day towards mayorship. This is so a user cannot stand in your lobby and just hit the check-in button over and over again until they have the mayorship.

frequencyLoyalty Specials - A little bit like the regular check-in special, this special rewards frequent visitors who are regularly checking in. One version of a Loyalty special gives users a goal of total check-ins to unlock a reward. Since you can set the number, organizations may want to pair this with a sweet reward for that user who visits over 100 times. Again, only one check-in counts towards this special per day. Another parameter organizations can set with Loyalty specials is the time that user has to reach the set goal, such as having a goal of 10 check-ins for one month. This type of special could be paired up with a more temporary event like an exhibition or a performance series.

It will be interesting to see if and how arts organizations take advantage of these new specials that Foursquare has launched. The biggest advantage to the service is that it is one of the few social media platforms out there that require users to physically be in the space. Coming up in a future post, I will go into some of the other improvements Foursquare has made to its platform, including the ways their new recommendation engine will help direct users to your organization.