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Monday, June 27, 2011

Mobile as a Social Media Platform

Recently, my wife and I were in New York City and took in a Broadway play on a Saturday afternoon. As we left the theater it was raining. Immediately it seemed that several hundred people around us pulled out their Smartphones and began texting. My initial impulse was to think that they were calling cabs. Then it hit me. They were simply plugging back in to their social networks. What had they been missing the last two and a half hours?

Many were simply checking for text messages and voicemails. At the same time, a significant group was using social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. A smaller subset of them, were using a location-based service (LBS) that allows friends and some business associates to track each other. In other words, you let these friends know where you are at any point in time.

Let me confess that this has been a hard concept to wrap my head around and it is definitely a generation gap issue. Were my wife and I to meet someone after the matinee broke up, we would text them or call them to let them know that the play was over. But with LBS, you let a designated list of friends know exactly where you are.

LBS offers marketers some new and interesting ways to reach the Smartphone user who is increasingly referred to as the “untethered’ consumer. The most prominent LBS company right now is Foursquare although several others are getting traction in the category as well.

The basic principal behind LBS is that friends can see where their friends are (all participants agree to this). Early on very large cities such as New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Atlanta, and Chicago were where Foursquare thrived. How do marketers benefit from it? If you have a brick and mortar location, you can offer your current customers and importantly, future customers some nice incentives. Should someone introduce friends to a location, they can be rewarded. Or, all friends of Tom can be notified that, as his friend, you will receive an introductory discount. This type of approach, sometimes called “social mobile” is not to be confused with location-based marketing. In a social mobile situation, the conversation is between mobile friends based on location. The company gets in to that conversation via the friend.

If you check in to a location often, services often provide rewards such as a badge or elite status a la an airline frequent flyer plan. If a person checks in at a location more than any one else over a week or a month then he or she becomes the “Mayor” of that location. You get nice discounts for being the Mayor as you are raising awareness of the location.

If this is going to work, EVERY employee at a retail location has to be thoroughly familiar with the Foursquare or other LBS promotion. Apparently, in a famous case study, a well known chain ran a promotion where any Mayor of a unit would automatically be given a dollar off on drinks. At checkout, someone would announce that they were Mayor and show their phone and the counter person would say something to the effect of “so what.” Things often go awry during tests, but LBS execution has to be tighter than normal to work.

There are many services out there besides Foursquare. Do you know about Facebook Places, Loopt, Whrll, SCVNGR, Gilroy, Gowalla and Brightkite? If not, check them out. One of them may offer you something that could be inexpensive and effective and hit an upwardly mobile young demographic quite well. You can test in a location or two or an entire market before a big rollout.

A long time associate raised an issue about this. He said, “My days of bar-hopping are long over. So, if I join Foursquare, I would let people know that my wife and I are having a drink at the bar at Angelo’s while we wait for our table.” In a word, yes!

To many of us who are a bit long in the tooth, this is a product that will not likely be part of our lifestyles soon as is e-mailing, texting, blogging, and tweeting. But, if we want to reach people half our age effectively, we have to consider it and test it.

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com

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