How often have you found the barista is your FourSquare Mayor when you drink your coffee? Its more often than you think as social network FourSquare gets paid for advertising that on any other media would get scrutiny from the Advertising Standards Agency.
The trick is quite simple. Stores are advertising from FourSquare and if you are the person with the most check-ins there you will get a discount, a free item or some other special offer. The problem is that an establishments own employees are likely to be the people most often there, so are able to check in day after day, whether with management's approval or not.
Exploited advertising on the Internet is rife, but there is so much of it that it will never be contained. It's not something which FourSquare can consider as an own goal; they continue gaining interest regardless, its their customers who will lose out and its a big risk to take by a social network when there is a chance it could lose users. Legally FourSquare are not actually doing anything wrong, whether the multitude of companies that allow it is another question; and somewhat of a digression. It is also fair to point out that FourSquare do allow businesses to indicate their employees or managers details so that they can no be credited for their check-ins.
There is now an increasing number of independent and franchise operators offering one-off or first check-in discounts. While wandering through a relatively large commuter town, it has been obvious how some businesses use this and many of these specific types of offer are for low-frequency purchases such as car MOT's and hair stylists.... the kind of establishments where there is a reliance on up selling or exaggerating faults to make money.
One of the things that has always disappointed me with the FourSquare advertising model is the lack of targeted marketing. FourSquare knows that from my check-ins that I frequent a select number of areas and I very rarely go to others. So what is the logic behind offering me a special as a future "Mayor" when I have spent 12 months checking in across two countries and suddenly ending up 200 miles away in another?
In essence FourSquare has the ability from its data mining to see where I go , what I do and what is likely to be of relevance to me. Blanket advertising strategy should have be relegated to TV advertising at a time when the likes of Facebook and even Google AdSense manage to tailor their adverts to either your preferences or the website you are visiting.
Maybe this is not the way forward for retailers. With every Wetherspoon's, Domino's and sundry now providing saturation you would have thought that FourSquare would have provided a more focused approach. Keeping the advertising narrow increases the click-through rate in a niche and the satisfaction of the FourSquare users that little bit higher. As an advertiser, I would be looking for the ability to target those that are new to the area with a one-off offer as well as an offer for high-frequecy users; especially if I am a small business with a business model aimed at those generics.
I would have liked to see by now a distinction in the way of the market. If I check in somewhere in Liverpool, the system should recognise that my last 2,500 have been in Hampshire and Surrey; thus offering me a "first check-in" offer or "Welcome to this City, where we recommend....." offer, and not a Mayor offer.
Is that so difficult? or just waiting for the Paid-For Version?