Turn on, check in, eat out

Turn on, check in, eat out

Check out what your customers are using to “check in.”

Location-based social media, led by the buzz-generating platform Foursquare and the Gowalla application for Android-powered smart phones, as well as Urban Spoon and Twiddish, are “definitely increasing the sense that local is the next big frontier” for restaurant marketers, said Reggie Bradford, chief executive of Atlanta-based social-media consulting firm Vitrue.

Location-based platforms, which essentially combine the local-reviewing power of a Yelp.com with the sharing capability seen in social-media powerhouses like Facebook and Twitter, have the potential for widespread adoption, experts and restaurateurs say.

Using a Foursquare mobilephone app, users can find a page for any restaurant or store where they’re eating or shopping and “check in.” Most users link their Foursquare accounts to a Twitter or Facebook feed, notifying their followers and friends automatically with each check-in.

But these apps don’t just let friends broadcast where and what they’re eating; the new technology also turns going out to eat into a friendly competition. When users check in, Foursquare rewards them with points and recognition, handing out digital badges and titles like “super user” and “mayor” of their favorite hangouts.

Hip to be ‘square’

Foursquare is out to an early lead in location-based buzz. The application, accessed mostly via mobile phone but also from the Internet, has been racking up high-profile partnerships. Last month, it announced a deal with Zagat Survey to award Foursquare users a “Foodie” badge for checking into Zagat-rated restaurants in New York, Chicago and other major cities. Foursquare also has forged similar partnerships with Bravo TV and Warner Brothers to integrate themes from their shows and movies into the application.

“I think it’s early to say, but Foursquare’s got good traction,” Bradford said. “We’re definitely excited about it in terms of our clients’ ability to bring penetration and traction to local social media.”

Because Foursquare links with users’ Twitter and Facebook accounts to spread the news of check-ins, its not likely to supplant those platforms’ popularity, but to localize it, Bradford said.

“Yelp proved that local is a big deal, and marketers are trying to leverage local for the first time,” he said. “Restaurants never had that local emphasis before social media.”

Enthusiastic adopters

Milwaukee restaurateur Joe Sorge has embraced the potential Foursquare has for complementing his prolific use of social media at his three restaurants Swig, Water Buffalo and AJ Bombers, where guests write their Twitter user names on the wooden booths.

Sorge constantly monitors the social-media pages for his restaurants—that is, when he’s not doing table visits to introduce himself to customers who have just checked in on Foursquare.

“I’ll see a customer check in, match their picture to the face I see, and then go introduce myself,” he said. “Or if I’m not there, I can tweet back and say the same thing: ‘Hey, thanks for checking in. Talk to this person, and he’ll take care of you.’”

He agrees that Foursquare’s reach multiplies greatly when linked to Twitter and Facebook, which is why his use of all three platforms keeps growing.

“Foursquare is only more fun when people can see you checking in, and broadcasting that to your friends and followers is what makes it work,” Sorge said.

Sorge’s social-media efforts, including his Foursquare practices at AJ Bombers, where guests get free “peanut bombs” for checking in, free cookies for leaving tips and a free burger for dethroning the mayor, are paying off.

“We can directly link sales increases of as high as 20 percent to the individual restaurants as a result of actively engaging with both our customers and people in our community,” Sorge said.

Check out the ROI

Tasti D-Lite, a mostly franchised chain of 47 frozen-treat shops, integrated several social-media sites into its TastiRewards loyalty program, including Foursquare. Currently in place at about 10 units but soon to be systemwide, the program allows customers to register the Tasti TreatCard to their Foursquare, Facebook and Twitter profiles. When that loyalty card is swiped, custom messages, such as “I just earned TastiRewards points at Tasti D-Lite,” automatically get sent out to the customers’ friends and followers.

Since rolling out the program in December, Tasti D-Lite has garnered healthy participation and has determined that the typical TreatCard user has an average of 91 friends and followers, said BJ Emerson, director of information and social technologies. That gives the chain the number of impressions the program makes across social media.

Starting soon, however, Tasti D-Lite also will attach an online coupon that will go out to Treat-Card users’ friends and followers with each automated post and will track the redemption rates of the offer.

“With check-ins, you have a whole other point of measurement,” Emerson said. “You see the impressions, click-throughs and check-ins. You tie those things together, you can actually see the incremental result of the campaign with Foursquare.”

Tasti D-Lite and other chains will have the flexibility to tailor more offers to different social-media platforms, including whichever new ones come along, because they all work off an application protocol interface that is open-sourced, which is what allows individual businesses to work with Foursquare and create badges and proximity offers.

Often, businesses find that their Foursquare fans have done a lot of the work for them. If a restaurant doesn’t have a Foursquare page, any individual customer can create one and check in.

“Foursquare is smart; it’s all about consumers generating content,” Emerson said. “They’re crowd-sourcing some of the maintenance of their application. They don’t have to pay for overhead to do these things—it’s all customers that are driving it.— [email protected] [3]