If you’re not checking in, you must be checked out. Years after mainstream devices began relying on the Global Positioning System to pinpoint location, the technology can finally be put to use by the owner of one of these devices instead of their operators and service providers. (See “Here, There, and Everywhere,” from CRM’s January 2010 Innovation Issue, for more.) As a result, a wave of startups is vying to provide information about where customers are and what they’re doing. The early leader is Foursquare, a service allowing a user to “check in” wherever she happens to be, whether it’s a bar, train station, conference session, or Heatpocalypse NYC 2010 (as a summer heatwave came to be known). The service crowns the most-frequent visitor at a given venue, but its uses are far more interactive, engaging, and social: Users provide tips or reviews that pop up when others inquire about a location, and earn badges through location- and brand-specific activities.
“It won’t be long before social CRM will be like real estate—all about location, location, location,” says Brent Leary, cofounder of consultancy CRM Essentials. “Foursquare is showing us how location-based applications [offer] more opportunities to connect at critical times to those we’re trying to build meaningful relationships with.” Foursquare’s early partners—more than 60 brands, from Starbucks to MTV—suggest the breadth of possibilities. NBC Universal’s The Today Show awards a badge to users who check in at the show’s summer concert series. The Wall Street Journal’s Foursquare tips link back to WSJ.com content about a given location, and check-ins at restaurants reviewed by the paper count toward badges. The IFC cable channel went a customer-centric step further, inviting users to suggest brand-relevant real-world locations that IFC then made badge-eligible check-ins.
Naming Foursquare a Rising Star is a “good choice,” says Michael Fauscette, group vice president for software business solutions at IDC, who notes the service’s “real opportunity in the local market and in the local search [and] data markets.” And Foursquare’s geolocation data, says Ray Wang, a partner at Altimeter Group, offers a “unique opportunity to improve the customer experience.” Vendors such as Awareness are already offering integrations. By July, just 15 months after debuting at South by Southwest 2009, Foursquare notched its 2 millionth user and 100 millionth check-in, appeared as one of Entrepreneur’s 100 Brilliant Ideas and Fast Company’s 10 Most Creative Small Businesses, and landed $20 million in venture capital pegging the company’s value at $95 million. Check that out.