What do you think of Foursquare? If you are a marketer, your answer to that question is likely to be somewhere on the spectrum from “I’ve no idea what you are talking about” to “I’ve joined because I keep hearing about it on Twitter, but I haven’t really done much with it yet”.
Me too. I joined today. It’s a fascinating experience, the badge-earning instantly addictive. I found myself wondering, though, whether it had any relevance for consumer brand marketing. Then I started to reminisce. I’ve been on Twitter since June 2007, which in social networking time is about a thousand years. When I joined, though, to be completely honest I didn’t see the point. Not only did I not know many people who were also there, but I couldn’t really see the application for all these micro-blog posts.
Wind forward to today and, whilst there is still a healthy debate in some corners about whether tweeting constitutes a healthy pastime, there is no debating that Twitter has become a major media in its own right. It’s a great way to sample opinions on any topic under the sun, and (critically for the marketer) a powerful way to connect with your customers. The holy grail of CRM has to be a great two-way conversation you have with your customer which has the potential to be overheard by thousands of others who can be suitably impressed with your responsiveness. This “one-to-one-to-many” communication has become a major part of the marketing mix for those businesses which “get it”. I’ve certainly experienced brands who invest in creating empowered groups of tweeting staff to champion them online, and get a great return from it. Increasingly the brands which are not present, or which only tweet their PR announcements and don’t respond to their customers, look old-fashioned and out of touch.
And it’s not just Twitter that provides a venue for this kind of marketing. I was struck the other day when standing in one of the UK’s largest retailers that the banners over the aisles advertising their new own-label product had, as a call to action, not a unique URL but a Facebook page. When I checked, that page had over 30k friends – a great platform for customer interaction by any measure.
Now, a note of caution. The fact that some social media sites like Twitter and Facebook become important business tools and powerful marketing media does not mean that they all will. I have no more insight than anyone else about whether Foursquare is the new Facebook, or a flash in the pan.
But there is a key point that as marketers we should reflect on. What online social networks have in common is their ability to bring groups of like-minded customers together. They can genuinely and quickly build tribes, not just of people who are friends “in real life” but of people who share hobbies, careers, geographies or interests.
Those tribes can be influenced, carefully, by active brands which choose to make themselves part of the social network landscape. But they can also form and share opinions about brands without any input at all, and in a way that can spread fast and wide around the tribe. Foursquare, chock full of tiny reviews of bars, restaurants and businesses, is a case in point.
So the question for us is this. Do we want our brands to be talked about behind our backs? Or do we want to be there to state and defend our case. And if our choice is the latter, how are we going to mobilise our teams to make it happen, and when are we going to start?