Technology & Tools: It’s Hip to Be on Foursquare

Location-based social networks allow users to “check in” to restaurants, theaters, clubs—and your store. Here’s why you should check them out.

Jennifer Lieu didn’t think twice about her store getting involved with the social media phenomenon that is Foursquare. “We as a company are very proactive and want to get the word out,” says the marketing director of the Wedding Ring Shop in Honolulu. “We’re on Twitter, Facebook—everything.”

But she likes Foursquare in particular because when someone “checks in” to the Wedding Ring Shop via mobile phone, the shopper’s status is broadcast to that person’s friends. That can build “a bit of buzz,” says Lieu. “Especially when a guy comes in. People start talking online. ‘Why is my boyfriend in there? What is he doing?’”

Jennifer Lieu, marketing director of Honolulu’s Wedding Ring Shop, says her store’s presence on Foursquare is a good way to build buzz.

Lieu is one of a growing number of jewelers with a presence on location-based networks, which, despite the industry’s nascent level of participation, have become the hottest trend in social media. Unlike the traditional networks, these sites—including Foursquare, Gowalla, and Brightkite—don’t focus on people, but rather on where they go. Think of it as Placebook.

Probably the biggest name in the field is the New York City–based Foursquare, which has seen explosive growth since its launch in March 2009. In December 2010, the company passed 5 million members, more than 10 times the 500,000 it claimed nine months earlier, according to digital technology blog Mashable. Its success even prompted Facebook to jump on the bandwagon; in August 2010, the king of social networks launched Facebook Places, followed two months later by Facebook Deals. The review site Yelp now also offers a check-in feature.

What’s most notable about these services is the age of the audience they attract. Forrester Research found that while only 4 ­percent of online adults currently use these networks, 86 percent of those users are under the age of 40, and 70 percent of those 40-and-unders are college graduates. The typical fan, the survey concludes, is a “young adult male with a college degree”—which correlates almost exactly to the target demographic for engagement rings.

Fred and Phil Foster of Foster’s Jewelers in Front Royal, Va., appreciate Foursquare for the brand awareness it generates every time a check-in appears on the store’s Twitter feed.

“The younger generation enjoys these things, and they are just going to grow,” says Donna Jolly, founder of Los Angeles–based Interact Social Media, which provides social media and marketing services for the jewelry industry. “I don’t think their time has quite come yet, though there is certainly a lot of buzz. People were talking about Facebook and Twitter a good year or more before the mainstream caught on.”

Unlike Facebook and Twitter, Foursquare and its online brethren contain a competitive element. While the sites don’t all work the same way, they typically allow users to announce their presence at different venues, thereby notifying “followers” of their locations. Users often get an incentive for these check-ins; sometimes it’s real (a discount, for example) and sometimes it’s simply symbolic—like being crowned “mayor” on Foursquare. (Lieu says the quest for mayorships “gets quite competitive,” and that some visit her store just to claim the title. The Wedding Ring Shop recently displayed a photo of its newest mayor on its Facebook page.)

All this has certain business implications. Every time you announce you’ve arrived at a store, it raises the retailer’s awareness among your peer groups. Foursquare, in particular, is often tied to Facebook or Twitter feeds.

Jewelers can also reward frequent visitors—and possibly lure new ones—by “claiming” their locations and making special offers available to people in the area. (See “How to Claim Your Store.”)

Social media whiz Daniel Gordon of Samuel Gordon Jewelers in Oklahoma City believes engaging with customers on Foursquare helps increase their comfort level­: ”You become less of a big intimidating jewelry store.”

“Let’s say someone checks into the Apple store,” says Veronica Wei Sopher, formerly the social media evangelist for Ben Bridge ­Jewelers, now working with a luxury marketing firm in Seattle. “When they check in, a tip can automatically pop up that there is a special at the jeweler nearby.”

As these functions are free, there is no reason not to take advantage of them, argues Jolly. “They are great tools for retailers,” Jolly says. “But they should be looked at strictly as an ‘add-on.’ You don’t want to make them more important than Facebook. If you are in a college town and most of your clientele is in their 20s, it’s something you may want to think about.”

Jolly notes that, unlike Facebook, Foursquare and Co. rarely require updates and don’t consume much time. But if you do join any of the sites, promote that on your radio ads and your Facebook page. “Let people know you’re on Foursquare,” she says. “It’s definitely a statement to your client base that you follow the latest trends and are into community outreach.”

Yet very few jewelers are taking advantage of—or even seem aware of—these services. (Most, however, probably do have a presence there, simply because these sites’ rosters of venues come from local address listings.)

Some of the best results have come from Samuel Gordon Jewelers, the Oklahoma City store that’s widely recognized as an industry trailblazer in social networking. Currently, the retailer is giving free jewelry cleaner to anyone who checks in. The store has seen more than 200 check-ins—most thanks to a contest that awarded $1,000 gift cards to one random Foursquare and one random Gowalla user. It also gave the person with the most total check-ins a $500 gift card. 

“Contests don’t necessarily equate to selling,” admits store president Daniel Gordon. “But what happens is you get business months later. This breaks down the barrier. You become less of a big intimidating jewelry store and increase the comfort level.”

Conversely, Foursquare hasn’t done much for Waterfall Jewelers in Waterford, Mich., according to store partner Mark Ettinger. “Every now and then it brings in random people,” he says. “A couple of businesses around here use it, and some of our employees are on it. But it is still in its infancy.” Still, he thinks “it builds brand awareness. When someone checks in, it goes through their feed and it gets your name out there.”

Likewise, there hasn’t been much action at Michals-Kagan ­Jewelers in Chicago, even though the store offers a 20 percent ­discount on ­jewelry to anyone who mentions Foursquare. “We haven’t gotten anyone,” says manager Chris Meyers. “Foursquare might apply to Starbucks, but I’m not sure anyone wants to be mayor of a jewelry store.”

Phil Foster, co-owner of Fosters Jewelers in Front Royal, Va., hadn’t seen many Foursquare users either, but he likes that checking in to his store helps populate his Twitter feed. “It keeps up the brand awareness,” he says. “It’s not as offensive as just posting on Twitter that you should come buy something.”

At press time, only 16 people had checked in via Foursquare at Craig’s Fine Jewelry in Ridgefield, Conn., perhaps lured by the “free glass of champagne while we clean your jewelry.” Manager Laura Verses doesn’t consider it a big business factor—Facebook gets much more traction—but is glad Craig’s maintains a Foursquare presence.

“I feel strongly we should stay involved with these things,” she says. “People say, ‘I never expected Craig’s to be on that.’ That’s good— particularly for the younger generation, who we are trying to reach.” 

For now, only one major is on the network: Zale gave customers who checked in during the Christmas season $50 off any $300 purchase—the same deal it offered fans on Facebook. Three Zale brands—Zales, Gordon’s, and Piercing Pagoda—are currently on Foursquare, and the company “is seeing a response for all three,” says spokeswoman Roxane Barry. Zales’ Stamford, Conn., store seems particularly popular; at press time, it had received 208 check-ins. 

If few jewelers have gotten into Foursquare, even fewer are taking advantage of Facebook Places and Deals, despite the fact that many jewelers already have their own Facebook pages. Places is different from a store’s official page, and claiming a Places page can be time-consuming, requiring proof of business ownership (Gordon says he had to fax several “confidential” tax forms). Only when a store is claimed can it offer a Facebook Deal.

Gordon thinks that Facebook has given the idea of location-based networking a lot more respectability. But he points out an irony: The more populated these services become, the more skittish people may become about using them. “I have 1,000 friends on Facebook,” he says. “If it’s just my friends and family knowing where I am, that’s one thing. But I don’t need to inform everyone I know.”

That’s doubly true for jewelry shoppers, speculates Jolly. “The downside is that many people would rather you not know where they are. And if you are at a jewelry store buying a gift for someone, you don’t want that someone to be on Foursquare and see it.”

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